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Lighting Design Guide

A good lighting scheme can really define a house and its interior design. Getting it right is all about planning at the early stages of a project — not leaving it as an afterthought, says Natasha Brinsmead.

Make the Most of What You’ve Got

Before embarking on setting out a lighting scheme, consider the sources of natural light

The role that natural light can play in the overall feel and ambience of your home should not be overlooked when creating a lighting scheme — it should in fact be a starting point, as it is not just electrical light that can make a difference.

When designing your home, it pays to give some thought to the type of natural light that will be entering each room. Main living areas and kitchens should, where possible, be south facing, as southfacing light is warm and bright all day long. West-facing light tends to provide sunlight at the hottest part of the day, so opt for rooms which you spend time in during the late afternoon/early evening to be west-oriented, as they will get a softer light at this time. Northfacing rooms often get a cold, rather harsh light, whilst those facing east will be bright first thing in the morning, followed by periods of almost no sun later in the day.

Selection of lights from GE Lighting (0800 169 8290)

Coming Up With a Scheme

A successful lighting scheme takes into account each possible use of every room

There is much talk about getting lighting designs right and how important a well-designed scheme is to the finished look of your house, but knowing where to start can be a little daunting. You should ideally begin planning and making provision for your lighting scheme at the same time as the plumbing. Make a start by ‘walking through’ your plans, or house in the case of a renovation, and in each room, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What will this space be used for? Consider all possible uses of each room. Will the kitchen double up as a dining or homework space? Will a spare room also be a study?

  • Will there be pieces of furniture, architectural features or artwork that you want to highlight in any of these rooms? This will determine your accent lighting.

  • Who will be using this room? It is interesting to note that someone of 60+ years generally needs 15 times more light than a ten-year-old.

  • At what time of day will the room be used the most?

  • Where does natural light enter the room and from what direction?

Once you have the answers to these questions, draw a plan of the room to help you determine the best points for lights to be situated. On your plan you should mark down permanent fixtures, such as windows and doors, alcoves, fireplaces and other heat sources, like radiators. Next, mark with arrows the direction in which occupants of the rooms are likely to spend most time facing, for example the television, a desk or the cooker. Mark where light switches will be most conveniently placed, concentrating around doorways and at the top and bottom of stairs. Finally, have a think about where you plan to site major items of furniture, such as beds and sofas.

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Know Your Regs

Installing low-energy light sources in new build homes is now a must

The Building Regulations now require that a minimum of 25% of lights installed in a new build home must come from a low-energy source — typically meaning fittings that will only take lights that have a luminous efficacy greater than 40 lumens per circuit watt. Fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), LEDs or discharge lamps would conform to this, whilst fitting low-energy bulbs with bayonet or screw-cap bases do not.

Living Room: This is where a really flexible design is required, to fit in with the multiple ways in which this room is used — socialising, relaxing and entertaining. Although it was once common for almost every living room’s background lighting to be provided by a central pendant, this is no longer the case. More and more people are choosing to provide background lighting through a combination of downlights and table or floor lamps, which tend to provide a much cosier feel, although for others, the room will not feel complete without a central focus, such as a daring chandelier, even if it is rarely used for anything other than decoration. In terms of accent lighting, consider uplights beneath fireplaces, downlights in alcoves, picture lights and then use concealed lighting behind cabinets. Finally, if you plan on reading in the living room, don’t forget a few sources of task lighting.

The Bedroom: The main requirements of the bedroom are that it can be bright in the morning and restful at night. In addition to a soft background light, best achieved by table and floor lamps, the bedroom can really benefit from accent lighting that draws attention to a stylish headboard, or wall washers that soften the boundaries of the room. It is useful to have switches to control the lighting not only at the entrance to the room, but also either side of the bed. Some practical task lighting can also be really useful, such as low-level recessed floor washers near the doorway or at the entrance to an en suite. This is a particularly good idea in children’s rooms or along landings.

The Bathroom: With so many reflective surfaces, bathrooms respond well to lighting. You will need to pay some attention to the various zones when it comes to bathroom lighting and to the IP rating of fittings. Zone 0 is the area inside the bath or shower, for example. The IP rating denotes a fitting’s resistance to water and what is needed will depend on which zone the light is to be fitted in.

Recessed downlights work well in bathrooms as background lighting. Task lighting, above mirrors for example, can be provided through an illuminated mirror or by lights than run the width of the mirror, or that sit either side of it. Avoid one single downlight above the mirror, as this will be really unflattering.

This article is sponsored by Flairlight