The A-Z of Interior Design - L is for...

Lighting - Rules, Tips and Tricks

We often take the lighting in a room for granted, but it can be used very creatively.  Lighting can add drama and style.  Clever, well-thought-out lighting can reflect mood and can be adapted throughout the day, or as required.  A flat and uniformly-lit room can feel dull - so use different types of lighting depending on what the room is used for.


The interior design rule book encompasses five different types of lighting:

General lighting - also known as background or ambient lighting.  This replaces sunlight and should be bright enough for movement and use of the room without eyestrain.  Avoid fittings which cause glare.  Use pendant lights, chandeliers, spotlights and recessed down lighters.


Task lighting is specific and localised to work, read or sew by.  Use desk or table lamps, directional spotlights and floor lamps to light specific areas, such as the classic Arco lamp (above).  Task lighting is especially important in kitchens where the lighting is usually located between the work areas and the chef, ideally below eye level.  Avoid placing lighting solely behind the areas where users of the space will stand as this will create shadows and make it impractical.  


Local/accent lighting is always directed into one area.  Use standard or table lamps on side tables.  Create pools of light and shade to create atmosphere.  Picture lights or spots cast a soft glow over paintings, plants or other decorative objects.  The installation of subtle, hidden lighting, such as behind panels or recesses is a wise way to wash walls with light or to emphasise textured surfaces.

Neues Designhotel, Berlin

Decorative lighting is of no specific use - it just looks pretty!  Think of pretty chandeliers or fairy lights. This basket lamp by Nendo and Kanaami-Tsuji is inspired by the wire netting cooking utensils made by Kyoto artisans in Japan.  When lit it creates interesting shapes to reflect on the ceiling.


This beautiful Nid table lamp casts a soft, decorative glow.


Kinetic light refers to any moving light such as candles or fish tank, which help to create atmosphere and mood.

A well-lit room is one where people feel comfortable, at ease and relaxed.  Lighting is practical yet subtle.

Lastly, don't forget to install dimmers to all overhead lighting.  Not only do these make the general lighting scheme flexible but they also reduce energy and increase bulb life.

For more inspiration see Lighting Tricks to Transform Any Home .

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