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TOP TEN LIGHTING TIPS - by Bill Noble (lighting designer)

Here are my top ten tips for a successful lighting scheme.


Position is key © Deltalight

Enter a room where one of the pictures is not quite straight and you will notice it almost immediately, and it will bug you, even if only slightly. You may even get the urge to straighten it. You will get a similar, smaller, most likely subconscious reaction if other items, such as the light fittings, don’t quite line up properly.

When we enter a space, and particularly when we enter a space for the first time, our brains, subconsciously, try to make sense of all of the things that we see. Whilst consciously we may be appreciating the colour and texture of the objects there is also a subconscious process that involves calculating the size and relative position of the objects. An attempt by your brain to make associations between the objects. It is important therefore that when you consider where to position your light fittings you should pay particular attention to the proportions and relative positions of the fittings both with each other and with the other objects in the room, such as the doors, windows, fireplaces, beams, pictures, beds, etc.

Take for example the use of an adjustable ceiling recessed spot to illuminate a picture above the fireplace. It is very likely that you will naturally position the picture centrally above the fireplace and the adjustable spot centrally in front of the picture. This is a natural process because it obviously looks better if those items are centred in that way. What is less obvious perhaps is that the position of the spot to the other ceiling recessed downlighters is also important. Ideally the spot should be in line with the other fittings or half way between the other fittings. If this is not the case the ceiling will look in some way uncomfortable to your subconscious. If everything is positioned carefully and thoughtfully your subconscious will purr like a contented cat!

This is one of the many areas where employing a lighting designer can make a big difference. It is a natural part of the lighting design process to meticulously consider exactly where each light fitting is to go. The lighting designer will whenever necessary liaise with the builder to refine the position of light fittings when structural issues dictate.


It often happens that the lighting design is only thought about in any detail towards the end of a project; typically when the electrician asks you where you want the lighting. If you leave your lighting design this late you may well have left it too late! By this time all of the structural decisions will have been made and fixed. You will then be severely constrained as to where the light fittings can be placed.

Take for example the lighting in a kitchen. You will probably have spent a considerable sum of money on your kitchen furniture and will want to show it off to good effect. If the doors of the kitchen cupboards are particularly attractive you may like to highlight them with small ceiling recessed spots positioned centrally in front of each door so as to cast a plume of light down onto the front of the door. If you plan to do this before the ceiling is constructed there will not be any problems. If however you leave this decision until after the ceiling has been constructed it is very likely that the position of the joists and noggins will make it impossible to ensure that the recessed spots are positioned centrally in front of each door.

The construction of the ceiling, walls, and floor will also impact on other recessed fittings such as floor recessed uplighters, wall recessed step lights, ceiling recessed downlighters, etc.

If you are intending to use a lighting designer to create your lighting scheme then ideally you should get them involved before any building work has started. The early input from a lighting designer can be particularly crucial in complex spaces when considering how to get task lighting to work surfaces, or, for example, in ensuring that there are sufficient recess depths for recessed fittings in ceilings and walls.


Orlight 7W GU10 LED ©Orlight

Low energy lighting is good for the environment and good for your pocket. But choosing the most appropriate low energy lamp can be quite challenging. The first choice to make is fluorescent or LED? Where budget allows, and where there is a suitable LED lamp for the job, it is usually best to choose the LED version. They last up to five times longer, come on to full brightness instantly, are cheaper to run, and are better for the environment.

When choosing the best LED lamp to use make sure you look at:

  • The amount of light produced (don't necessarily rely on the manufacturers equivalence claims as some claims are very misleading, the important figure to compare is the number of lumens).
  • The colour of white light produced (to be equivalent to the warm white light of a filament lamp the LED lamp needs to have a colour temperature of 2700K).
  • Compatibility with the dimmer switch you are going to use (this is crucial as currently there are lots of compatibility issues between dimmable LED lamps and dimmer switches).


Get the lighting wrong and you could look like this!

You should think very carefully about where you place light sources in relation to mirrors. Get it wrong and the lighting will make you look old and tired.

Get it right and you could look years younger! Ideally the light sources will be positioned either side of the mirror, or, in Hollywood style, all around the mirror. Definitely to be avoided though is a single spotlight above the mirror. This is the worst position for a light source as it will highlight your wrinkles and blemishes, which is the last thing you want to see first thing in the morning! The simplest solution is to buy a mirror with built-in lights. Just make sure that the lights are functional and not purely decorative. Alternatively, you could have small wall lights mounted either side of the mirror.


Darklight downlight with recessed lamp © Deltalight

Dark light downlights. Ceiling recessed downlights can be a very effective way of lighting a space but, if you choose the wrong type of fitting, they will act as little glare bombs in the ceiling and act as an unwanted distraction to the features of the room that you want to highlight. Some recessed spots are worse than others. If possible you should choose so called ‘dark light’ downlighters where the lamp is recessed into the fitting, significantly reducing glare.


Invisible lighting © Deltalight

Hidden light sources can be quite dramatic as they add a level of mystery to a room. They can allude to a hidden or secret space or a non-existent window. Light sources can be hidden in walls, or floors, or ceilings. All that is required is that the lamp cannot be seen and the light fitting is discreet or invisible.

The installation of hidden light sources can sometimes present installation and technology issues, so it is often worth consulting a lighting designer for help with this.


Highlighting architectural features © Deltalight

If you’ve got it flaunt it. The easiest way to add drama to a room is to highlight one of the architectural features. Beams, nooks, recesses, and columns are all good candidates for being lit by a discreetly positioned spot. Not got any suitable architectural features? Then why not make one! How about a dropped ceiling with lighting around the edge to make it appear as if it is floating? Or how about creating a false wall that lets you add recessed nooks, each individually lit.


Layered lighting © Deltalight

In living spaces such as lounges, dining areas, and bedrooms it is likely that you will want to adjust the lighting to suit your mood, and the way the space is being used. This is particularly true of open plan kitchen, dining, living areas where you will want to adjust the lighting depending on which area is dominant at any particular time. The easiest and simplest way to achieve this is to have separately switched and dimmed layers of lighting. This lets you easily choose which lights you want and how bright you want them.

Ideally, if your budget allows, you should use a lighting control system so that you can easily set the lighting scene you want with the press of a single button. Single button lighting scenes for an open plan living area might include: Cook, Read, TV, Entertain, Relax, Dine, Work, Clean, All Off. If you are using a lighting designer they will program the lighting control system for you, and ensure all of your lighting scenes are exactly as you want them.


This is so important and essential if you want to avoid installation problems further down the line. By getting samples, or if necessary by ordering early, your builder can check exactly where the wiring points need to be, what type of cable is required, what cutouts and recesses are needed, and whether or not joists and noggins are likely to get in way, etc. Unfortunately datasheets cannot always be relied on as they can sometimes be out of step with changes in manufacture. There really is no substitute to having the light fitting on site so that all potential issues can be resolved. If you are using a lighting designer they will work with the builder to ensure they get all of the information they need before it is too late.


Astro floor standing uplighter ©Astro Lighting

One of the most effective lighting techniques that you can use is also, as it happens, one of the simplest, and cheapest. By using a floor standing uplighter you can create a discreet source of light in the corner of a room, possibly behind a chair, table, or potted plant. This mysterious and decorative light source washes up the walls and onto the ceiling, adding texture and mood to the overall lighting scheme. These uplighters can be simply plugged into a standard 13A power socket, or, for better control can be plugged into 5A round-pin lighting sockets controlled by a light switch on the wall. In my work as a lighting designer this is the technique I get most pleasure from using. So simple, yet so effective.

WowLighting aims to make the use of a lighting designer affordable on all projects, no matter what the budget. Call us to discuss your needs and we will tailor our services accordingly. We even offer free advice over the phone!

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Some of the images used in this article are courtesy of: DeltaLight, Astro Lighting, and Orlight.

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