Q&A: Planning a lighting scheme

Julia Kendell offers her expert advice on what to consider when planning your lighting scheme

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Julia Kendall

Image above: Moka XXL two-tier white steel pendant, (H)158x(dia.)50cm, £34.98; Neda twinpack touch table steel lamp, (H)23x(dia.)15cm, £14.98; recessed downlights, (dia.)7cm, £7, all B&Q

How much should I spend on it?

Depending on whether your light fittings form a pivotal role in the overall design of the interior (for example, an expensive statement piece), as a rule of thumb, I would advise that lighting receives the same budget as the flooring. Remember that of all the fixtures in a room scheme, lighting is the least likely to be changed in the future, so it’s a worthwhile investment.

Where do I start when putting together a new design?

With a huge choice of fittings and many effects available, breaking down the process will help to simplify the task of creating a successful lighting scheme. First, consider natural daylight and the orientation of the room. If it is south-facing it should receive warm, bright light for most of the day, only requiring additional illumination after dusk. East-facing rooms are generally bright in the morning but might need artificial lighting if used in the afternoon, whereas west-oriented rooms provide a warm and bright afternoon/early evening light. North-facing kitchens and home offices may require a boost of light throughout the day, particularly in winter.

Make a list of what the space is used for and when these activities occur. Homework areas will require bright, even light, whereas entertaining and dining areas benefit from dimmable, mood-enhancing low lighting.

Who uses the room? Over-60s may benefit from better illumination, for reading and watching TV, for example – as much as 15 times brighter than a child would need.

Think practically – a big chandelier might look magnificent suspended over a staircase, but consider how you will clean the fitting and change the light bulbs.

How can I create a design that is beautiful yet practical?

Lighting from one source or level, such as the ceiling, will create areas of shadow and a ‘flat’, uninviting feel. When the sun is low it produces interesting highlights not present in the middle of the day. Designers replicate this to ensure schemes come to life, layering lighting at different levels and at acute angles. Concealed fittings can also be used to produce a soft, ethereal glow.

Park lane wall light from Astro Lighting

Image above: Park Lane bronze metal wall light in 0424, with white fabric shade, (H)20.5x(W)25x (D)13.5cm, £60 each, Astro Lighting

What sort of lighting should I include?

There are four main types of lighting:

  • Task lighting illuminates specific activities within the space, such as food preparation, study, and bedtime reading.
  • Ambient lighting sets the mood of the room by creating background ambience. It should be inconspicuous, with flexible levels.
  • Accent lighting highlights a specific architectural element, artwork or sculpture. The most successful design schemes include concealed, directional fittings that give either a narrow spot beam for pinpointing specific areas, or provide a wash of light onto a textured wall, for example.
  • Ornamental lighting might not add much to the overall light level, but creates a feature, being decorative in its own right.

A combination of these elements will produce a balanced and blended design.

Tisdag wall lamp Helg rattan pendant lamp Tisdag LED work lamp from Ikea

Image above: Tisdag LED wall lamp, £35; Helg rattan pendant lamp, (H)28x(dia.)38cm, £35; Tisdag LED work lamp, (H)58x(dia.)57cm, £55, all Ikea

How do I decide where to place the light fittings?

Using a furniture plan and a list of practical requirements for each area to determine the best positions, group the fittings for each lighting type on individual circuits to give flexibility in mood and operation. Use dimmable switches for versatility and plug side lamps into a five-Amp lamp circuit for ease of use from one position.

With this year’s trend for dark, dramatic room schemes, clever lighting is paramount to put energy back into the space, but apply with care – choose lamps and fittings with a metallic finish and covered bulb to maximise the light while avoiding glare.

What about kitchens and bathrooms?

The temptation in a kitchen is to fill the ceiling with downlights to ensure enough light to work in, but this is unnecessarily costly and not very attractive. Uplights and strips fitted above wall units to bounce light off the ceiling provide an effective way to illuminate surfaces. If downlights are the only option, position them 50cm from the wall to ensure they light the surfaces and not behind where you stand, which would cast shadows onto the work surfaces.

In an open-plan layout, it is important to be able to dim the lights, as an otherwise elegant mood-setting in a dining area would be ruined by bright light spilling from the kitchen. Plinth lighting can give the illusion of floating cabinetry and will add another layer – it can be fabulous at night, but be aware that every crumb or pet hair on the floor will also be magnified.

Bathroom lighting must be water-resistant to varying degrees, dependent on the position of the fitting. The degree of water-resistance is rated by ingress protection (IP). Within a bathroom there are zones from 0-3, each requiring an IP category; for example, zone 0 is within the shower or bath and therefore totally immersion-proof, or IP67. Zone 1 is the area above the bath, requiring fittings of IP45 or greater. Zone 2 is an area 60cm adjacent to the bath and within a 60cm radius of any tap – fittings with a minimum rating of IP44 are needed to comply. Zone 3, where there is no likelihood of water reaching the fitting, is not classified, although common sense should prevail. Try concealed strip-lights under wall-mounted cabinets and behind mirrors, and always incorporate lighting to the sides of mirrors for the best light possible to apply makeup and shave, for example.

Tesino clear glass LED mirror from Pebble Grey

Image above: Tesino clear glass LED mirror, (H)80x(W)60x(D)50cm, £286, Pebble Grey

Do I need to consider building regulations?

If your renovation involves building control, due to an extension or if an existing lighting system is being replaced as part of a whole rewire, current Part L regulations apply, where at least 75 per cent of fittings must be low-energy (defined as a luminous efficacy greater than 45 lumens per circuit). The majority of LED fittings are compliant, but halogen designs are not – low voltage isn’t the same as low energy. Most fittings will be labelled and all light bulbs now need energy efficiency details on their packaging. Fittings less than five Watts are exempt, as are those in infrequently accessed areas (such as in cabinets).

What are the latest trends for lighting?

All new technologies are geared towards greater energy efficiency. When Part L first came into force it was difficult to achieve the percentage of low-energy fittings while creating a beautiful scheme as LED lights were still of a ‘cold’ colour temperature, leaving rooms resembling doctors’ surgeries. The new generation of LED lights are much more akin to low-voltage designs: they’re dimmable and ‘warm’, but long-lasting and energy-efficient. As a result they are much safer and are fire-rated.

If you have room in your budget, a lighting control system is the ultimate toy to switch on predetermined mood settings remotely. Lutron’s system allows you to turn off all the lights as you exit your front door, and program different lights to turn on and off while you are on holiday to make it look as if someone is at home.

Featured image: Plaster rectangle LED wall light, (H)18.5x(W)31x (D)11cm, £209; LED eyelid aluminium under-cupboard light, (dia.)5cm, £81, both John Cullen