Lighting Tips for your Home
Good lighting is such an important element in creating the right atmosphere in your home. I mentioned in a previous post, that I grew up in a house with alarmingly un-ambient lighting. My father was into ‘task lighting’ in a big way, so we had a giant, flickering white fluorescent light mounted above the dining room table. It felt more like you were going in for open heart surgery than sitting down to an intimate meal, though he is a German engineer so practicality was always paramount. But I digress.
I’ve always been a fan of using as much natural light as possible in a home. It’s energy saving and can be beautifully different through the day. In my studies this week though, I’ve been learning there is a lot more that one can do with artificial lighting than I have ever been game to explore. So here are some lighting tips that I hope will be handy in your own home.
In Canberra’s reasonably extreme climate, north-facing houses are a precious commodity, and now I know why. When you face the equator, light shines much more evenly through the day and seasons. This is important if you live in a relatively hot or cold place. So, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, having large windows towards the north will be helpful both in terms of light and climate in your home.
Eastern and western light is also different. Light from the east tends to be quite bright and clear, whilst western light is warmer and more ‘golden’ as it has had time to heat up the air throughout the day. Light from the east or west tends to reach deep into a room as it is low on the horizon, which is also something to keep in mind in terms of space planning. Western light is generally hotter temperature wise, which is helpful in cool climates, but may be uncomfortable in summer, so make sure you have suitable window treatments for western facing windows.
Another thing to keep in mind is how natural light can affect furnishings and textiles in a house. Silks, non-colourfast colours, vegetable dyes, antique rugs and artwork may all fade if exposed to too much sunlight.
Natural light also affects the colours you paint a room. Cooler morning light or shady rooms tend to have a blueish tinge. So for example, we decided to paint our east facing rooms in a warmer white undertone to balance out the blue light. Generally speaking, light colours reflect light, whilst dark colours absorb it, which is also something to consider in paint choices depending on the atmosphere you’re going for.
There are so many fun things you can do with artificial lighting! Just having one central ceiling light may be the default, but isn’t the most effective way to light a room. What you want to avoid is ‘hot spots’ – glaring halogen lamps that burn into your retina from a badly positioned globe or lamp (and these are all too common – they definitely exist in my home!).
A room ideally has three layers of lighting.
Ambient Lighting – this is your main overall illumination, usually from a pendant light or several small recessed lights spread across the room. Most people choose a ‘warm’ light for this (not a white fluorescent bar light!).
Task Lighting – this is a well positioned reading lamp (usually over the left of a chair), desk lamp or for food preparation. It should ideally be in front of or beside the person working, so that shadows don’t fall over the work area.
Accent Lighting – This optional, decorative layer of lighting is used to highlight artwork, a shelf, stairs etc.
Lighting Tips – Room by Room
Entrance/Hallway – This is in area you can really use lighting to make visual impact, as there usually isn’t much furniture in this part of the house. A pendant light looks great in a larger space, or a lamp on a console table works well too. It sounds obvious, but always make sure you have a switch next to the entry door too!
Living Room – The living room is obviously used for many things, so there needs to be a variety of practical and aesthetic lighting options. Dimmable downlights are always a safe and versatile option. People commonly put a few too many downlights in their house, so consult your electrician on how many you really need to light the space. I’d always go for a dimmer so you can adjust the mood in the room. Task lighting like a reading lamp over an arm chair or floor lamps or uplights are also important in a living room.
Kitchen – Lighting in the kitchen obviously needs to be practical, so you want to make sure there is adequate task lighting over your worktops. Downlights, tracklights or pendants are a good option over an island bench, but remember pendants need a decent ceiling height to not look awkward (about 70-80cm above the bench).
Dining – Pendant lights are again a common choice for dining rooms. The size, shape and height of the pendant needs to be carefully considered so it doesn’t cause glare or interfere with conversation or movement around the table. You’ll also have to be quite committed to the positioning of your dining table! Lighting tracks are also a good option for dining areas and I like to use a dimmer to adjust the atmosphere as needed.
Bedrooms – Soft lighting is usually used in a bedroom to create a restful atmosphere in a bedroom, but you’ll also need some task lighting for reading. Bedside lamps are obviously a good choice and it’s also essential you have a switch near your bed so you don’t have to fumble in the dark.
Bathrooms – Safety is paramount, so make sure whatever bathroom lighting you choose has a suitable IP rating and is fitted by a professional. They must be a certain distance for showers, baths and basins. Heat lamps are a popular choice in bathrooms, but you can also use more ambient lighting for a relaxing atmosphere, with task lighting either side of a mirror. Lights mounted above a mirror, though common, are not ideal as they cast shadows on your face.
I hope you’ve found this article thought-provoking in terms of the many possibilities for using light in your home! I am certainly going to try some more creative ways of lighting in my next reno project.
Men vennlig Hilsen,