I Can See the Light

When I was at college learning the principles of Interior Design I walked in to a lecture hosted by the amazing lighting designer Sally Storey. I was young and naive and wasn't looking forward to this talk at all, surely my skills were in my designs, so what difference could a light make to a room except the ability for it not to be dark? Within 5 minutes my opinion was changed for ever. I was shown the richness & drama you could bring to a room, the way you can layer light and create isolated spaces in much vaster ones and turn small spaces into larger ones. It was like being shown a magic world and being given the tools to be a magician.

Curiousa & Curiousa Pendant Lights and the Nimbus Pendant

So how do we use that magic? Commercial spaces use lighting design at its best, drawing your eye to the display they wish you to see, creating atmosphere in a bar and restfulness in a hotel. Our homes are no different. Each room has different roles to play, therefore address your lighting to meet the mood and function accordingly. Bedrooms have a lot of demands placed on them. Foremost they are a place to sleep and relax but also a place for us to prepare for the day with dressing and getting makeup on. You will want your lighting softer here but with focused lighting in areas like dressing tables. The kitchen is a working space. This needs a crisper cleaner light to prepare and cook with. However many kitchens now have eating and entertaining areas where you may wish a more restful feeling.

great use of lighting at ONE Bar in the Hazleton Hotel in Toronto

The best way to create different moods is with layers of light, each on a separate circuit. Start with the “Ambient” light which is the general light that washes the room. I favour recessed downlighters for this as they give an even light. The rule of thumb for fitting is a space of 1 meter between each downlighter. I also will only fit downlighters with white surrounds. In my opinion the aim of downlighters is to disappear, the chrome or brass ones stand out and makes a ceiling look like it has broken out in acne. Within this I will play with directional downlights to pick out features by “cross lighting” paintings and sculptures. You can also use pendants and wall lights to give “Ambient” light which is softer and great for setting the scene in a welcoming hallway.

entry lighting in Sheila Narusawa's loft and a dramatic entryway by Michael Dawkins Home

My next layer is my “Task” lighting. Unsurprisingly this is lighting that helps you do a “Task”. These will be table lamps and floor lights, within kitchens they can be the lights under the wall mounted units. When putting task light in start with these questions, what task am I doing and where am I doing it? Then localise you light source to answer these questions. If you read in a cosy corner, then you need to add a light here to illuminate your book. A dressing table or bathroom mirror needs “Task” lighting for applying makeup and shaving. A little tip, light that comes from the side is more flattering that light from above or below which cast shadows on your face.

great task lighting for the bedside table and for getting ready at the vanity

Finally it’s time to have fun with your “Accent” lighting, which you can use to emphasize certain aspects of your room and add drama. Even though your table lamps can do this, is great to bring in more. Custom shelving with integrated lighting is striking. Niche lighting is fantastic at highlighting displays adding depth to a room with the play between light and shadow on the objects. A great and affordable way to bring focus to a corner is a display of the light up twigs, and another fun thing to add is white fairy lights in a large glass bowl and place in unusual spaces.

beautiful stairway and bookcase lighting design by John Cullen

we used fairy lights on a console table and a decorative lamp in these Smartstyle designs

By using these three basic lighting groups you can manipulate a spaces. Enhancing it, creating atmosphere and picking up on the textures and colours. Light changes the mood giving us the chance to relax or inspiring us to work. Always be looking to enhance a space with good lighting. I heard another great lighting designer Lucy Martin say “Light doesn’t have to be complicated to be dramatic” and these are good words to design to.