How to achieve an effective lighting scheme

February 2017

Lighting can make or break the ambience of a room, and can hugely influence our mood, so it is essential to get it right. It’s all about planning at the early stage of a project – not leaving it as an afterthought. It’s a vast, and often complex area, as well as one of the most rapidly growing areas with advances in technology, together with changes caused by new environmental regulations. However, below are some helpful pointers on how to get it right.

Without guidance many electricians will just work out the amount of light required to fully illuminate a room, and fit a grid of down-lights to suit. What I have aptly heard described as “ceiling acne”! Useful perhaps for carrying out detailed work, but most of us don’t want our homes to feel like an office! Instead, it’s important to think of lighting as a series of layers: natural light, general light, ambient light, accent light and decorative light. It’s the combination of each of these layers that is responsible for creating a beautiful lighting scheme.

Sutton House Interiors - Kitchen Lighting

Above, the Kitchen Lighting Scheme I designed displaying the different layers of light

Natural Light

Increasing the amount of natural light which floods into a room, not only makes a room feel larger, it also creates a calming, relaxing environment. During our renovations I relocated our kitchen and added a large glass extension. As can be seen in the photo below, it brings so much light into our home, and creates the most wonderfully relaxing ambience. In the music room (seen below right), a window was replaced by French doors which open out onto the garden. This is a really effective way of allowing much more light to penetrate a room, again making the room feel larger.

Sutton House Interiors
Sutton House Interiors - Music Room Interior Design

Above left, natural light flooding into the kitchen, above right, the music room with French doors opening out to the garden

Removing secondary glazing also allows much more light to filter into a room. Whilst it can provide a useful barrier against noise and heat loss, I’m a firm believer that this needs to be weighed up against the loss of light. Furthermore, they are often unsightly! In our renovation, I removed all the secondary glazing! We are lucky enough to have beautiful mullion windows, and their beauty can now be fully appreciated. It has also vastly enhanced the amount of light which filters through our windows, and our rooms feel more spacious as a result.

Another useful tip, is to consider placing a large mirror in a room, as they reflect the light brightening a room. Careful consideration also needs to be played to the colour scheme. Lighter colours do have the effect of making a room feel brighter, although care needs to be taken not to choose a colour with cold undertones. I painted the music room above in Off-White by Farrow & Ball, which has a lovely warm undertone, and prevents the room from feeling stark or uninviting. Care does need to be taken when choosing a paint colour for a room, as the same colour can look dramatically different from one room to the next.

Ambient or General Light

This is general illumination, which should fill a room with a glow and soften the shadows on peoples faces. On its own ambient light is featureless – shadows are less and it is free from glare. However, ambient light is the essential basis for any room. It is easily achieved by using the walls and ceilings as giant reflectors to soften and diffuse light from an artificial source.

Sutton House Interiors - Interior Lighting
Sutton House Interiors - Lighting Design

Above left, the ambient light (also combining as accent light) can be seen washing down the wall above the fireplace, and Above right, the hallway with LED lights in the bookcases providing the ambient / accent light

Recessed lights were not possible in the hallway (top right photo), so instead strips of warm white LED lights were placed in the bookcases. This is also regarded as accent light (discussed below), and provides a wonderful background glow. In the kitchen recessed halogen lights (top left photo), provide the background light. As well as washing down the walls, these have been placed in front of cabinetry, so to also provide visibility when looking for items in the cupboards – doubling up as task lighting. It should be noted that halogen lights now need an energy efficiency rating.

Accent or Feature Lighting

This is directional illumination, with the focal point being an object and the brightest point in the room, such as in the images below. Overdoing accent lighting is fatal, too many focal points and the interior appears busy and the drama is lost.

Sutton House Interiors - Lighting design

Above left, the horse has been illuminated with surface mounted directional halogen spot lights and Above right, with a recessed directional halogen spot light. 

Sutton House Interiors - Homewares
Sutton House Interiors - Homewares Home Accessories

Above left, accent light is provided by small LED up-lights washing up the beams, as well as surface mounted spot lights washing along the ceiling beams, and Above right, a cosy corner created again with the light washing up the beams

Sutton House Interiors - Shower Lighting

Above, accent light in the shower provided by a strip of water approved LED lights and another strip of LED’s in the recess for the soap

In the photo above of the shower, it’s a good tip to leave a gap at the back of a shower to fit a water approved LED strip, as well as in the recess for the soap. It creates a wonderfully atmospheric light, in contrast to a centrally mounted recessed spot. It is worth noting that outside a 60cm radius from bathroom taps, lights do not need to be IP rated – which means that any lighting can be used. This dramatically opens up the choice of lighting scheme for a bathroom.

Task Lighting

This is illuminating for performing work related activities, such as reading, brushing teeth, cooking, etc… The angle poise is the archetypal task light.

Above, task lighting is provided in the form of under-counter LED lights. I have chosen individual recessed LED lights, so that the beams of light can be seen – more suited for a traditional kitchen than a strip of LED’s which would create a more modern block of light  

Sutton House Interiors - Bathroom Lighting

Above, task lighting is provided by the wall-lights either side of the mirror.


Decorative Lighting

Decorative lights are luminaires such as chandeliers, wall sconces and table lamps. They create the illusion of lighting a room, but in reality the other accent, task and ambient lighting should be providing the illumination. If it were to provide the main light source, it would just dominate the lighting and interior scheme.

For lighting

Above, a gas mask lamp provides decorative lighting and a touch of fun in the downstairs loo!

Sutton House Interiors - Lighting design
Sutton House Interiors - Lighting design

Above left and right, decorative lighting provided by lamps.

With lamps it is important to consider the type of lampshade. Shades which don’t allow much light to penetrate, throw the light above and below, as can be seen in the images above. The painting above would have been thrown into shadow if the recessed directional accent light was not added. A picture light or surface mounted spot light could have also been used – directional spots provide more flexibility if the artwork has not been decided or may be moved at a later date. However, never place a directional light at a mirror, as it creates unsightly glare. The material used to construct the lampshade, and even more so, the lining also effects the illumination. A gold or cream lining, for example, will throw a much warmer light than a white lining.

A decorative light above a table should always be fitted with a dimmer, so it can be adjusted for different occasions. Too dark, and you won’t be able to see what you are eating, and too bright it drains peoples complexion’s and creates unattractive shadows – not mention killing the atmosphere! The situation of the light is also of vital importance, so not to cast shadows on peoples faces -the light needs to fall towards the centre of the table.

Sutton House Interiors - Homewares
Sutton House Interiors - Lighting design

Above left and right, candlelight providing atmospheric decorative lighting

Candlelight should also not be overlooked for its fabulous ability to create a wonderful ambience with its warming glow, adding another dimension to an interior lighting scheme.

To conclude it is early planning and the combination of layering these four basic types of lighting within a space which provides the key to a successful lighting scheme. First determine the focal point in a room, which is where the brightest accent light is directed. Next the middle layer is added to provide interest in specific areas without detracting from the focal points, and the last layer fills in the background. The first two layers generally use task or accent lighting, depending on what is being lit. The third layer, or indirect “fill” light, is ambient. Finally, as a rule of thumb, these different types of light should be on different circuits and always fit dimmers.

Next month I will be discussing how to choose an interior colour scheme…