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Let there be Light!

As a designer, one of the regular faux pas’ I encounter in residential home design, is not spending enough time considering light, how it works and how to harness it.

All too often I see clients design their dream space, only for it to be compromised by an inadequate or not-fit-for-purpose lighting scheme.

So how does a professional consider lighting in a design project, and how do we use it to create impact?

Natural and artificial light are both functional and aesthetic considerations of any interiors project.

Understanding the directional orientation of a building and how natural light enters a specific room at any given time of day is essential, and will affect every choice you make on how that room will be decorated and finished.

Blue wall’s in a shady, North facing room will feel cold and stark, much as orange walls in a South facing room will feel warm but bright to the point of over powering.

A much better alternative to decorating the walls of a North facing room, would be to utilise warm colours like creams, beige’s and biscuit's on walls, and blue’s as the accent colour.

Before commencing any design project, it’s worth spending some time in the space being re-designed in order to assess how natural light enters the room.

A South East facing bed is great if you are an early riser and love a sun filled bedroom, but not so great if you cherish your sleep and don’t want to be woken at the crack of dawn.

Consideration should also be made to the type of window treatments and fabric used on windows that are South facing.

Certain materials such as non-colourfast fabrics and silks will fade and degrade quickly if placed in direct sunlight for any length of time.

One of the great aspects of light that is often overlooked, is the way it can be used to reflect off walls, ceilings and floors.

Some colours, surfaces, textures and finishes can also absorb light.

Have you ever stayed in a boudoir styled boutique hotel and observed its dark jacquard walls, plush heavy velvet soft furnishings and opulent upholstery.

Rooms designed with dark colours and heavy textured surfaces are produced that way in order to absorb the light and require a mixture of both ambient and accent lighting to stay in keeping with its romantic moody theme.

Rooms filled with mirrored or reflective surfaces, gloss or metallic walls or soft furnishings and glass chandeliers, allow light to bounce around the room, often with dramatic effect.

In order to understand light and how colour temperature is measured, you must first understand its properties. Natural light, as we know, changes constantly throughout the day and its these changing characteristics that we measure using what’s known as a Kelvin temperature scale.

The warm yellow flame of a candle registers at about 1900K, whereas a deep blue sky on a sunny day, around 10,000K.

With the evolution of artificial lighting and bulb varieties offering warm white, cool white, daylight, it’s important to understand this scale and consider how natural and artificial light might work in conjunction with your project, especially if seeking to achieve a specific result.

Window placement, size, design and treatments also play a critical part in how a room is illuminated.

Large windows painted white or with glossy, reflective surfaces and little or no windows treatments, will flood a room with light creating a bright, modern, minimalist feel.

Dark heavy curtains coupled with low hanging roman blinds on small windows, may sap the light and make the room feel lacking in space.

There are numerous devices a designer can employ to manipulate natural light. Skylights, light wells, reflective materials in window recesses, mirrors, variations to room structure are just some.

Artificial light however, has very little limitations and can be used to transform a light airy space by day, into a warm, cosy space by night.

There are three types of artificial light you need to consider when designing a room.

Ambient, task and accent.

Each plays a very different role in room design and functionality. Indeed, it is important not to get too carried away with style over function.

Ambient lighting should be the primary light source, with task and accent brought in to compliment the overall scheme.

As your primary light source, ambient lighting will no doubt sit in the centre of your room and provide level, overall illumination of the space in question without any hot spots. The most common ambient lighting is a fixed, dimmable pendant light or recessed ceiling lights spread out across a room.

Although very necessary, this type of lighting lacks interest and often not terribly atmospheric.

Task lighting is a concentrated stream of light, conduce for carrying out specific functions such as under cupboard kitchen lights for food preparation, mobile spot lights for working or reading, low pendant lights installed over a kitchen dinner table or recessed floor lighting on a staircase. The positioning of task lighting is important as the source of the light should be minimal to eliminate glare.

Accent lighting is used more for visual effect or to highlight a decorative or architectural feature and is normally discreet and low level so it does not compete with task or ambient lighting. Soft lit, low watt table lamps, recessed illumination behind artwork, symmetrical bathroom lights either side of a mirror, a multiple teardrop glass pendant light hung in the corner of a room as a design feature.

A well styled interior will incorporate a variety of different lighting effects that create interest, mood and compliment the overall design style.

Photo credit: Pinterest and The Cornish House.

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