Dawn's Interior Design Tip No. 2 | Lighting Design

Dawn's Interior Design Tip No. 2 | Lighting Design

Hello again... I'm back with some tips on lighting design. This is lighting design from an interior designers skill set and I should stress that I've had no formal training on this subject but I have learnt quite a lot over the years. If you want a true professional then you should employ a lighting designer because they'll have all the training and experience required for a larger project. I myself would tend to use a lighting designer on the bigger projects when I feel I wouldn't be able to cope with both the interior design and lighting with all the technical specifications, calculations, circuits, wattages, drivers etc etc... But on the smaller ones I'm fine working by myself with a good electrical contractor who doesn't mind me asking questions every now and again.

So.... a couple of pet hates when I go into a property. No 1 is when there are multiple rows of down lights on the ceiling turning the space into a helicopter pad! They create no atmosphere and there's been no thought involved. Lighting is important and shouldn't just be symmetrical rows of down lights because you don't know what else to do!! No 2 is when down lights should have been lined up on the ceiling but the contractor hasn't bothered and they are a little skeewiff! This is only ok when a light is highlighting something specific on the wall like a piece of art but not when it's though lack of attention to detail or sheer laziness! No 3 is when there is a single cheap pendant bulb in the middle of the room and it doesn't light the room properly and takes 10 minutes for the bulb to reach full capacity! I hate to say it but I tend to see this kind of thing mostly in properties which have obviously been developed for profit by property developers or contractors. Not all of them but a reasonable percentage are looking for the quickest, easiest, cheapest set up for a building and it offends my eyes! Please just take a little thought in how to make something a bit nicer or more practical rather than on how to turn the maximum profit from the least effort! And yes! I hate Magnolia!!! Enough with the rant... Hopefully in the next few paragraphs I'll give you a few ideas on how to improve your lighting scheme in case you were planning on renovating your home.

So... What different lighting options are there? Well this is a bit confusing but there are quite a few types of lighting and although LED's are brilliant don't rule out the other options available. I've listed them below with some of their pro's and con's to go with it. Hopefully this will clarify the advantages of sometimes using different lights to get an alternative effect.

Different Types of Lighting

LED - Fabulous! Energy saving, long life and low cost. Although the technology is getting better LED's can still feel a little cold and stark despite having a warm white option. They are constantly innovating them though so this might all change in the near future.

Halogen - This is what we are used to seeing in a common light bulb. Lovely warm light although the fitting can get hot and it's not as energy efficient as an LED.

Cold Cathode - There is a softness to cold cathode that no other lighting seems to be able to achieve. It is however quite expensive. You can see an example of cold cathode in the ceiling shelf detail in the project below. This is at the Sands Hotel in Margate and was designed by the lighting designers, Lighting Force.

Florescent - Cheap as chips and good for task lighting. It can quite comfortably be used instead of LED tape where the budget is restrictive or to backlight something light a light box wall with a reasonably even glow.

RGB - This just means coloured lighting and is usually seen as an LED. It uses Red, Green and Blue lights mixing at different levels forming a spectrum of colours which can then be used in an interior scheme. Generally a colour wheel controller is used to get the correct colour effect you want. Looking at the design below you'll see I've used RGB LED strips in shelf details around the pendants which have been pre set to different colours for events like weddings or parties. You could have a blue green tone for a wedding to tie in with the decor or set a colour for a party theme. Here you can see the lighting has been set as purple but using the colour wheel you can set it to what ever you like.

Why is Lighting Important?

There are a few different things to consider when designing a lighting scheme. Lighting can make or break a design which is why it's essential as a designer to have knowledge on the subject. Lighting can affect peoples moods dramatically and is used by designers to create an atmosphere in a design. For instance, you wouldn't design a beautiful restaurant interior and then light it like a hospital waiting room. It just wouldn't feel right and would probably drive customers away to a restaurant with a more comfortable atmosphere. Lighting can make a space feel comfortable or stressful, make a room feel larger than it is, make a dark space feel moody and atmospheric or draw peoples attention to something you want them to notice in a room. The list goes on! Lighting can also be multifunctional depending on how you want a space to feel at different times. You can have a room lit one way to accommodate a party and another way for a board meeting or conference. Two very different uses of a space both needing the lighting to fit a function. This is commonly done through a control system or on a smaller scale with the use of circuits and dimmers. When my other half and I moved into our first house together in 2014 one of the first things I did was rip out all the awful lighting and re-design it. I wanted my home to be a functional sanctuary. It needed to be multifunctional so that I could relax or work (I work from home) and it needed to compliment the interior design. Lighting and interior design are inseparable and should be designed closely. For me you can't design one without the other which is why I learnt early on in my career how to integrate lighting into my design process.

How to Apply Lighting to an Interior

Think about how the space is going to be used. The function of the room is important and will define how you light it. If it's a living room then you know it's going to be a space to relax and watch TV or occasionally entertain in. If it's a kitchen it will need good task lighting wherever there are counters where food will be prepared but it's also nice to have a bit of decorative or ambient lighting for effect. What's the layout of the space? This needs to be in place before you can plan the lighting scheme and is why I have previously said that lighting is integral to the interior design of a room. You need to know how you are lighting the room according to furniture, artwork, or if you need task lighting. Once you have a furniture floor plan then you can start to layer your lighting in.

See the example below of a living room project I did a while back. There are layers of of lighting all adding and creating different effects. I've listed these so that you can understand the function of each layer and what effects they can give you all adding to the atmosphere of the scheme.

1. General lighting | This is represented by the 10 down lights in two rows above and below the dining table. General lighting isn't alway necessary and depends on the use of the space. In this dining room though I wanted an option of having the room well lit in case the clients wanted to use the space as an office or have meetings in there.

2. Decorative lighting | This is shown i the plan by the central pendant hanging over the dining table and the table lamps on the end console. Decorative lighting is any kind of lighting which is part of the aesthetics of the room. Chandeliers, pendants, lamps etc.

3. Task lighting | In this situation the task light is doubled up as the pendant in the centre of the table which is also a decorative light. Task lighting is what we use to light up anywhere that we will be performing a task... so... dining table lights so that you can see at the dinner table, kitchen work tops, reading lights, mirror lights etc.

4. Ambient or Accent lighting | I had the opportunity to create a central coffer and shelving detail in the ceiling. That is when you drop the ceiling and cut sections out which in this case we created shelves for strip lighting to be hidden in. I designed a white LED strip to be hidden on these ceiling shelves as well as behind the art work. This gave a soft glowing effect on the ceiling around the dining table and by the top of the curtains. The art work sits on batons about 20mm off the wall and the LED tape sits hidden behind the frame so that it shines down the wall. The image below shows the design although at this stage the art work hadn't been implemented.

All these layers of light build up an overall lighting scheme which we can then manipulate to create different atmospheres in the room. To do this we need to be able to control them effectively. This can be done either with a series of dimmer switches or if you want to go a bit more techy you can use a lighting control system. We were going to use regular dimmer switches in the dining room but instead changed it to a Rako lighting control system. There are a few companies around but the most commonly used are Rako, Lutron and Crestron. They allow different scenes to be pre set so that you don't have to fiddle around with dimmers to get the right lighting levels for your needs. For instance, you can set scene 1 as a low level relaxing mood. If we're looking at the dining room again this might be leaving the main lights off and then setting the decorative lights as 50% on and the ambient lights as 70%. Scene 2 could be all lights on at 80% and so on. You can also control your lights using apps on your phone or tablet which is quite a nice little gimmick especially seeing as everything seems to be moving towards phone and tablet control anyway.

Some Tricks and Techniques

I've listed a few techniques I've learnt and used over the years when designing a lighting scheme to give you some ideas for your own projects.

Tip No.1 Multiple circuits. If you are designing a space then think about whether you can add in an additional circuit. If it's a living room then can you have wall lights on one circuit and the down lights on a second circuit. If it's a bathroom can you use some down lights on one switch and then have a few marker lights under a unit or in alcoves on a separate switch. By adding in multiple switches (preferably on dimmers) you make it possible to have more than just one lighting scene. You could just have the ambient marker lights on in the bathroom if you're having a relaxing bath or the wall lights on when watching a movie. Multiple circuits on dimmer switches is the simplest and easiest way of making a room multifunctional.

Tip No.2 Reflecting a decorative light. If you have a decorative light like a chandelier or pendant sometimes in the right situation it can be effective to place a mirror behind the light so that you see the reflection and bounce the light around a bit further in the room. The type of situations this would work well in would be a pendant over a dining table with a mirror on the wall behind or in a hallway with a console table and wall mirror. I've shown a commercial design where I've used this technique over a bar. I've placed 3 chandeliers in front of mirrors (which double up as drinks shelves) in a bar area to give this double chandelier effect.

Tip No.3 PIR sensors. A nice little trick to use in a bathroom is to put your marker lights on a PIR sensor so that they come on when someone enters. I find this particularly useful because you don't have to switch any of the main lights on and blind yourself if you need the toilet in the middle of the night.

Tip No.4 Lights on an object, wall or mirror. If you have a beautiful painting or a lovely wall covering you want to high light then design a directional downlight in front of it to make a feature of it. Directional lights are great at throwing light on to something you want people to pay attention to in a room. I'll normally design them to be placed in front of a textured wall, piece of art or a wall length mirror to throw light onto them. This is great for a mirror because the light reflected will then bounce onto the person standing in front of it. This method can also be used with up lights. By placing marker lights in front of the textured wall at the back of this bath we are highlighting the beautiful texture of the tiles. Lovely for a feature wall.


Sooo..... I hope you found this little blog on lighting useful and that the tips I've shared you can apply to your own homes and projects. Thanks for reading and stay in touch to hear more tips from an interior designer that I'll be sharing every now an again. I also, share case studies so follow if you want to find out what work we are doing.