Lighting 101: what every designer and renovator needs to know

Learn the language of lighting so you can make an impact in your interior project: looking past the jargon.

Lighting a room well can be a tricky process, especially if you’re not in a position to completely switch out the fittings and rewire. If you can do this, then you’re in the enviable position to make magic happen. A beautifully lit room will change the mood of a space, highlight the architecture and bring to life the interior decoration. It will highlight the colour and add depth to the texture. In short, its the icing on the cake, but in no way should it be the last thing you think of when you are redesigning a space. I’ve pulled together a short primer or lighting 101 so that you can understand the vocabulary involved and plan effectively.

Before I even trained as an Interior Designer, I had a fixation with lighting and undertook a 3-day course at KLC which included the wonderfully insightful Sally Storey, Creative Director of John Cullen Lighting guest lecturing. Then I took the advanced lighting course to build on that knowledge to create balanced lighting schemes. Fast forward a couple of years, to when I actually started working in design studio’s, and I realised how the really great designs had lighting plans developed in conjunction with architectural detailing and furniture layout plans. My favourite word that baffles every client? Luminaire.Lighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trend

Natural Light

Natural light is exactly as you’d expect, that beautiful light that emanates from the sun. We spend 90% of our life indoors, so it’s not surprising that light is one of the most important factors in decorating and designing our homes. Natural daylight helps to elevate mood as well as balance circadian rhythms to help regulate sleep. Installing large bi-fold doors and skylights all make our spaces more inviting when bathed in lots of natural light.

You also need to know that when choosing lamps (light bulbs!) to check the colour rendering of the light sources. Sometimes talking about lighting can feel like you’re speaking another language, it’s so full of jargon. But stick with me, what I’m referring to is 4500K-6500K or the colour temperature of light that gives off a bright amount of blue-white light, similar to that of daylight. This probably isn’t suitable for most residential spaces, BUT, I have seen it used really effectively in bathrooms without natural light, where having crisp light can make all the difference when applying makeup, for example.

Ambient Light

Essentially ambient light is the background lighting level. It’s the source that gives out the most light across the widest space and is the foundation for your lighting scheme. A rule of thumb that I use, is that the ambient light should not be too bright unless it’s for a workspace or sometimes in a kitchen. Most designers use recessed downlights for this task, but there is a temptation to flood a space with light, by including too many. Lighting down from a ceiling is very effective, but beware of the ubiquitous row or grid of ceiling spots that are so tempting sometimes to position and install. Position a light fitting where we need the light.

Lighting Tips By Sally Storey, Creative Director at John Cullen Lighting

Unless you are selecting a decorative feature light, try to select fittings which have a baffled light source ie recessed away from the ceiling to reduce glare. This will draw attention to the object being lit rather than the lights themselves.

Lighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trendLighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trendLighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trend

Task Light

It might seem a bit obvious, but task lighting is for helping to light “task’s” that you may be doing.  Do you need extra light to cook in the kitchen, to read a book, or do you need more light to put on your make-up? Task lights will be table lamps, floor lights, adjustable wall lights, lights under the wall mounted units in the kitchen etc. This layer of lighting requires a little bit of homework on how the space is going to be used by the people in it so that you can provide the right level of lighting for tasks.  A great focused spotlight for reading a laptop, or phone for example at one end of the sofa; I mean who doesn’t multi-task these days?Lighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trendLighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trendLayering Light

Interior Designers talk about layered lighting regularly, particularly about living rooms. But do you know what that actually means? Yes, you need to know where to place the fittings, but the light source is equally important. Layering involves combining natural, ambient, accent and task lighting to create a balanced, visually comfortable space. It’s as much about creating shadow as it is about introducing light so that the light does not fall uniformly across the space.  To create drama or even calmness you’ll want to highlight certain features and areas more brightly than others. Using lighting, you can manipulate a space; you can enhance it, creating atmosphere and also importantly pick out the architectural details, the fabric textures and colours. As well layering the different light sources (natural, ambient, task etc) it’s also important to layer the zones within a room  – ceiling height light, human eye level and lastly low or floor level illumination.

Lighting Tips By Sally Storey, Creative Director at John Cullen Lighting

Always give yourself the option to dim your lighting. You will be amazed how much difference dimming a light can do to transform the atmosphere in a room.

Lighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trendLighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trend

Lighting Tips By Sally Storey, Creative Director at John Cullen Lighting

Lighting should not be the first thing you notice when walking into a room. We want clients to walk into a room we have lit and just say “wow, this room looks/feels great!”. They may not realise but the lighting will be working very hard behind the scenes to make it happen.

Lighting Tips for your home, John Cullen Lighting, hellopeagreen, Lighting Design, interiors blogger, lighting trend
Building Regulations Part L

In all new building and refurbishment is the requirement to comply with Part L of the Building Regulations, this requires that energy efficient lighting is used in both domestic (Part L1) and non-domestic (Part L2) buildings. That sentence alone is probably enough to have you hide your head under a cushion and say this seems like it might be tricky. What this means is that new homes require 75% of lighting to be energy efficient.  With more and more light bulbs and fittings being energy efficient this is getting easier and easier, especially when using architectural lighting to highlight shelving and cornices alongside LED ambient lighting.

But if there is only one thing you take away from this Lighting 101 is to never underestimate the power of daylight.

Please let me know in the comments if you’d like to know more about lighting jargon. Maybe you’d be interested in finding out about colour temperature or lux, just let me know? If you enjoyed this lighting 101, you might want to have a read of this post about new lighting from Stockholm furniture fair.

Images by John Cullen Lighting and by Mary Middleton for Hellopeagreen.com

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8 Comments

  1. Nicola Capper
    August 5, 2018 / 9:50 am

    Another must read post Mary, I’ve learnt such a lot. I may need to go shopping now x

  2. August 5, 2018 / 11:33 am

    Wonderful ideas! As an interior designer myself, these were very useful – some reminders and others some great tips to remember for future projects! Thank you for sharing x

  3. August 5, 2018 / 1:28 pm

    Currently obsessed about recessed lighting. Great timing for this post as I am sourcing my lights for the bathroom renovation!

  4. August 6, 2018 / 9:16 am

    Great post Mary – I feel that lighting is so important to the atmosphere of a room – even more so with the dark colour schemes that appear on instagram. It’s the lighting that creates the drama in dark room sets. The colour temperature is of the bulbs also makes a huge difference in a lighter room set.

  5. August 6, 2018 / 12:16 pm

    This is a fantastic post Mary and so insightful. Also great tips from Sally. Thanks for sharing! I think lighting is so underrated and it’s something that is very hard to get right. It’s often completely overlooked by Joe public. I wouldn’t have a clue where to start if I’m honest, but I’d love to get a professional in to work some magic for me.

  6. August 6, 2018 / 7:56 pm

    i love your posts they are always so informative hun , i love mood lighting i hardly ever use ceiling ligts as seeting the mood right is so important

  7. August 6, 2018 / 9:09 pm

    Such a great resource! I’ve bookmarked this for when I get to the lighting section of my KLC diploma – would love to do the lighting course one day too.

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