Lighting ideas for your home
Before I designed and produced contemporary lighting and furniture I was a lighting design consultant full time. Whenever I told people what I did they usually asked what being a lighting designer actually involved. Most people assumed I was designing the lights themselves. I was actually designing the lighting schemes for various projects. Anything from Olympic parks (Rio and London), museums and places of worship (The grand mosque, Mecca and most recently working for the Queen!) to high end residential and hospitality developments (4 seasons hotels). I still work as a lighting design consultant but the majority of my time is now spent furthering Norris Green Design.
Your probably wondering why I am telling you this. I thought you might be interested in some free general tips about lighting ideas for your home. Usually when I see articles like this online they have lots of nice ideas which are often quite specific but with no advise on how to consider the overall lighting approach. This is by no means a detailed tutorial on how to design lighting for your home, whole books have been written on the subject, its really just a general quick-guide to get you started.
A good place to start when looking at lighting ideas is deciding what sort of light distribution you want in various spaces or rooms. Light distribution is really just the direction of the light emitting from the luminaire (as a lighting designer you sound much more professionally calling light fittings luminaires:)
So without getting into too much detail, light distribution types for a home can be split into two types – diffuse and focused. Diffuse light is usually scattered light perhaps from a lamp shade or indirectly bounced off a wall or ceiling, it creates very soft or imperceptible shadows, has no glare(direct view of light source) and is good for social activities and creating an intimate atmosphere. Focused light is exactly that, usually a reflector is used to create various beam angles, in a home this is usually a downlight/spotlight, good for task areas where you might read. There is usually some level of glare from focused light so try not to place them somewhere people will naturally be looking (i.e. in front of your TV).
So with that in mind you can decide what light distribution you want in which rooms or spaces. Diffuse light is nice to have in most rooms in your home but the obvious ones where you might want predominantly diffuse light are living rooms and bedrooms. Focused light is best used in conjunction with diffuse and placed where its needed. For instance over kitchen tops, eating/reading areas, studies and in offices, all areas focused light should be considered.
Below is a photograph of my open plan living/dining room illustrating my decisions on light distribution:
Diffuse light fills the space from a cove LED strip (top left) this is indirect bounced off the ceiling (we often have just this on and dim it up/down)
Focused light from 30° recessed spotlights above the sofa/coffee table for reading and eating
Diffuse light from the floor lamp
Focused light from the pendants over the dinning table
Diffuse light from an LED strip inside the chimney
Focused Light on the books from LED strips within the shelve lip above
There is a lot more to it than this but hopefully this will help with some basic decisions on what lighting types to chose.
Earlier I talked about general lighting choices; diffuse and focused light. As I said, there’s a lot more too it than that but its a good place to start. Now I’m going to talk about a few other things you should consider when deciding on lighting in your home. I’m mainly going to talk about the colour of light but also the quality of light and very briefly dimming.
Firstly the colour of light. I’m not talking disco lighting here! I’m talking about the subtle colour variations in whats generally described as ‘white light’. These variations in the hue of white light are measured and described as colour temperature. So we are talking warm and cold light. To keep things simple lighting for consumers is usually described as very warm white, warm white, cool white and daylight. The professional way to specify colour temperature is in degrees kelvin. Loosely speaking this is based on the colour metal glows when heated. Most people will know that metal starts to glow reddish orange when its hot, the hotter it gets the closer to white it glows (you might of heard the term ‘white hot’) then its start to go blue when it gets really hot. So the higher the temperature in degrees kelvin the cooler the the colour of the light (a bit confusing I know). Here’s a chart to help.
Now choosing the right colour temperature for the right space is actually fairly easy. Areas you want to relax, socialise and be intimate are best suited to a warmer light. Areas where you have things to do and want to be energised and active in, a cooler light is better. This is all derived from research into whats known as the circadium rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
So your body actually reacts to the colour and intensity of light throughout the day, historically this was the colour difference in daylight. You might of noticed that towards the end of day and at dusk the light gets warmer and in the morning is colder. Here’s an image to illustrate.
Earlier I mentioned that you can now get lighting that remotely changes colour temperature. If you get that then you can change it whenever you want. However its quite pricey so you will probably want to choose a colour temperature for each room/space. So you might choose very warm white (2700k usually) for your bedrooms, warm white (3000k usually) for your living room/dinning room and cool white (4000k usually) for your study or office. Higher colour temperatures(cooler light/daylight) are often used in security lighting. That has a lot to do with the efficacy of LED technology but I wont bore you with that.
The quality of light is also very important, this is usually measured by whats known as colour rendering and measured on a colour rendering index – CRI also sometimes refer to as CIE Ra or abbreviated to Ra. I could write another full blog post on this subject but to summarise, for your home you want colour rendering of at least 80 CRI upwards. Most good lighting manufacturers don’t sell consumer/home lighting products with worse colour rendering than that anyway. These days I would always go for good quality LED lamps and lighting rather than fluorescent or tungsten halogen. When it comes to buying lamps you wont go far wrong with Osram or philips. Soraa lighting make some of the best LED lamps but they’re pricey. Other reputable companies are Integral, GE, verbatim and Kosnic but there are others, these are just a few that spring to mind. Go for high colour rendering in the home when lighting artwork or food (dinning table) If you can. High colour rendering is better than 90 CRI.
Last but not least I want to quickly talk about dimming. Dimming is great and I would recommend you at least have dimmable lighting of some form in your living room and bedrooms. Dimming can be a bit of a mine field especially with LED’s so always check that the lighting you buy will work with the dimming switches you have or are planning to get. If its a new build or you are re-wiring consider extra cores in your cable to facilitate more reliable dimming like 1-10V dimming.
I hope you found this post useful/interesting. If you have any questions or are in need of lighting design services please get in touch.