Whether renovating or decorating, lighting is an essential component. Some lighting has a practical role to play, such as lighting a kitchen workbench or security lighting around the perimeter of your home; other forms of illumination are used to set a mood. Getting the lighting right is about achieving the right balance between the placement of lights, the type of light, the bulb used and the look of the light fitting itself.
1. Let the experts enlighten
The best way to become ‘enlightened’ is to talk to lighting experts and you’ll more than likely find one at your nearest specialist lighting store. If you’re panning lights for the whole house, he or she will make a free visit to your home to help you decide on fittings and where you want them.
Your expert will come armed with various types to explain their features, where the light beams fall and what is right for each room.
2. Planning ahead is important
This brings us to a very important point – with lighting, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Just as you should with power points, heating and cooling ducts, computer cabling and any wiring for home automation systems, it’s wise to think about lighting at the planning stage. Don’t wait until building work is finished.
Decide in advance where you want ceiling and wall fittings, (and whether you want recessed or under-bench lighting) so wiring can be done as work progresses. That way you won’t make expensive mistakes and you’ll have your lights exactly where you want them.
3. Low-voltage can overheat
A word of warning about low-voltage incandescent lighting. Fittings can overheat if ceiling space is limited. A flat roof, in particular, can mean problems so check with your lighting expert to see what clearance is necessary.
And carefully investigate transformers. Each low-voltage light needs a transformer. Some are significantly longer lasting than others. Cheaper light bulbs will also have a shorter life than better brands.
4. Plan for function first
Whatever you plan, make sure lighting is appropriate to the room’s function. First, consider the colouring and tone of the light. A room for relaxing needs a softer light, particularly if you will be sitting in it for any period of time. Dimmer controls are great from atmosphere because they give you fingertip light control.
Task lighting needs a different approach. The light needs to be brighter and directional, such as downlights over a kitchen bench.
5. Background light should balance
When it comes to background lighting in a living room, make sure it’s balanced.
Place lights in a triangle so the light is evenly spread. If you have two lamps, spread them around, or place them diagonally opposite to each other so one end of the room isn’t dead or dark. And for impact, don’t be afraid to spotlight a special print or painting. But don’t forget to plan for that in the early stages of renovating, or you could be faced with a messy wiring job.
6. Downlights most versatile
Unless you have especially high ceilings, downlights are probably the most versatile option.
They give plenty of light and don’t obstruct the view through the room or draw attention from other more interesting things in it. Low-hanging pendant lights can get in the way, although they can look very effective in the right setting. The trick is to not have them hanging low enough to risk bumped heads.
7. Shed light on the subject
For reading or sewing, you want a comfortable chair and a lamp casting light over your shoulder. There are special globes available which are claimed to simulate daylight for particularly delicate work.
If you read in bed, choose a lamp that will beam light down onto your book rather than a low light with the glow coming up. Tall candlestick lamps are ideal for the bedside for this reason. Lights fixed to the wall either side of the bed work well because they beam down onto the reader. Some models come with a flexible arm.
8. Put your all in the hall
There are several views on whether a hall light should be grand or unobtrusive.
Some experts believe that if ceilings are high but the budget is limited, spend up big on the hall light, create a grand first impression and be more circumspect in the rest of the house.
Others say that in any large hall, a lavish fitting can be overwhelming and annoying. The safest, most relaxing and welcoming option is to have a downlight with a lamp on a side table.
9. Know all your measurements
When researching fittings, go armed with the ceiling heights and dimensions of the rooms you want to light. This will help the experts assess the size and number of the fittings you’ll need. Ceiling height determines whether the room can take pendant lights or downlights and how far the light will radiate. Remember you’ll save energy – and money – if you light the area you’re using, rather than the whole room.
10. Make energy efficient choices
Most home lighting is incandescent. To cut greenhouse emissions and energy costs by as much as 75 per cent you can use fluorescent lamps. They come as circular or linear tubes, or as plug-in Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). Another way to be more energy efficient is to use LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting outside the home.
In NSW, the state government’s BASIX sustainability regulations require people undertaking a home alteration or addition to make a commitment to install fluorescent or LED lamps in a minimum of 40 per cent of new or altered light fixtures marked on the Development Application plans. And within the next couple of years, the federal government plans to phase out incandescent lighting, so now is a good time to consider your options.
11. More about LED lighting
LEDs have a lifetime of up to around 20 years. These 12-volt lights are cool to the touch, don’t emit insect-attracting UV light and come in a range of colours. They can also be wired to 12-/24-volt battery systems, solar panels or mains power through a transformer.
LEDs don’t shed as strong a light as incandescent lamps so an outdoor lighting scheme may also need other forms of lighting, especially with security and safety lighting.
12. Using lights for security
Light front and back doors so you can see who’s coming – friend or foe! Light systems that detect movement with the help of special sensors are ideal to install over doors. The toughest burglar will be deterred if the garden is instantly illuminated the minute he walks down the path.
There are also automatic lights that work with push-button garage door openers. And put a couple of automatic timers on several indoor lights, too. That way, when the lights go on and off, it looks as if you’re home when you’re not.
If you have a smart wired home then control of all lights can be connected to an automatic controller and pre-programmed (or remote operated) to do what you want.
13. Lights that do double duty
You can save space, or add a little fun and intrigue to an indoor or outdoor decorating scheme, by using lights that perform dual duty. We’ve all seen fans that incorporate a light fitting (and today there are some very sleek options) but you can also find plant pots that emit a warm glow as well as illuminated stools and ice chests (the latter doubling as seating when the lid is down).
14. How to set the right mood
Dimmers can help to create the desired mood in a room, or you can create a soft effect by the lamps you choose. You can get tall cylindrical floor lamps with paper or natural fibre shades that shed a warm glow and contribute a sculptural look to a room. Then there are egg- or moon-shaped table lamps which can be grouped to create a lovely display.
Similarly, you can use light fittings and shades to add drama to a room and make a strong design statement.
15. Candle power for romance
The other lighting essential is candle power, considered more for its decorative effect and the mood it can create than for its practical application. In dining rooms, bathrooms and anywhere else where you want to create a little romance, consider including candles by way of wall sconces and as features on the mantelpiece and tabletops. And don’t forget the wonderful flickering effects that can be created with firelight in the hearth.
16. Selecting your switchplates
Don’t forget about the switchplates which today come in an array of styles and colours. These of course need to be co-ordinated with your decorating scheme for the room but you first need to decide if you want them to be a decorative feature in their own right (such as in a period home) or camouflaged into the wall for a more streamlined modern look.