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Beyond the downlight


Putting the shine on good design

Architects often have a bit of a whinge about how undervalued they are as a design commodity. They say, “If only the people out there knew how we could change their lives for the better. Can’t they see the value we bring to their daily life is huge compared to the dollars we cost?”

As a fellow architect, I sympathise, because a good architect can change people’s homes and lives in an affordable and valuable way. But as we all know, there are good ones and bad ones, and it is the bad stories

Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t know this about downlights — not many Australians do. But see it as an opportunity
that seem to proliferate. One of my missions is to get the good stories out there.

However, there is one group that is more undervalued than architects and more undervalued as a design commodity in the home — and that is the poor old lighting designer. First of all, lighting designers rarely even get a look in when it comes to designing a home, and if they do, they are brought in very late in the project. Rather it is the architect, designer or decorator specifying the lights for your home. Or the sparky says, “I’ll do the lighting.” And then your home could become a great worshipper of the downlight! You have no idea how many times I have been taken around homes where the owner has proudly shown off their newly installed grid of bright, glary downlights. And as we walk around the room, squinting in the light-shade-light-shade-light- shade — my heart just sinks.

You see, it doesn’t matter how amazing the planning of your home is or how great the design is, if you haven’t got the lighting right, you have nothing.
Light is part of our existence, not far removed from our need for air, water and food. Good lighting is increasingly being linked to better health, and we know it can relax you and help you concentrate. Yet why is it this design element is considered last in our homes? And in the event lighting design is considered, why is it always brought in at the end of the project when it is too late to create real quality?

Like many of these issues, it is about education and changing the culture. If we can get homeowners to understand the importance of lighting and see how it can make their daily life better, then the culture will change and then lighting design will be brought into projects.

The exciting news is the lighting industry is undergoing a revolution, not only based on amazing LED technology, but on the personal control of your home. Google with Nest and Apple with HomeKit are investing big in the home environment, connecting all the smart objects in your home so you can control them via your smartphone or device. And lighting is a key part of this.

In fact, the lighting technology is already here with smartphone-controlled products such as Philips Hue, LIFX and others available on the market. We have Philips Hue in our home, and the versatility it brings to our lives is amazing.

Connected to your smartphone through a bridge on your router, Hue knows when you are approaching home so the lights come on. It can change the lighting to any colour, so we can go from a brighter concentrating mode to a warmer, amber relax mode in an instant.

There is even a downloadable disco app that’s great for parties and when the boys are in spy mode, we can send the whole house into a secret agency blue.

It is important to note, however, this new technology alone won’t give us a great life. Design is still the key to harnessing the opportunity and turning our homes into places that make our day better, which brings me back to downlights.

Downlights are wonderful things, but they are actually designed for task lighting, bringing an intense light to a specified area so you can get a specific task done.

Downlights should never be used for illuminating your living room. They are not designed for ambient lighting and are too intense, creating bright and dark spots, hence the experience of light-shade-light-shade and unattractive shadows on faces. In our lighting consultancy LLIGHT, we have an office rule — no general downlights in living rooms. Instead, we often use uplighting that bounces a soft, attractive diffuse light off the ceiling and then we use floor and table lamps for living room task lighting.

Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t know this about downlights — not many Australians do. But see it as an opportunity. As new technology arrives, consider incorporating them into your home, with a mind to how light can make your life so much better.

And finally, maybe even consider using a lighting designer? Like architects, they can bring design value into your home and your life. Do your research into your prospective lighting designer, identify past projects and talk to former clients, because there are good ones and there are bad ones.

Written by Joe Snell

Originally from Home Design magazine Volume 18 Issue 5