The art and science of lighting in interior design

The art and science of lighting in interior design Interior Design

Exceptional lighting has the power to sculpt moods, highlight architectural features, and amplify the visual allure of a home. A thought-out lighting scheme is not just a means to brighten up a room; it can transform and define the ambience of any environment, which underlines why lighting ought to be a forethought when it comes to interior design. Join us in this quest and learn how to design the perfect lighting that suits your every need and mood. 

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The importance of lighting in interior design

Research has shown that harnessing natural daylight within our living and working spaces has the ability to uplift our mood and boost productivity. As lighting designers, before we start planning with artificial lighting, we consider natural light first, as this is vital to the health and well-being of people. As the evening draws in, the support of artificial lighting takes centre stage.

It is likely you have experienced how the sun’s rays create a dynamic atmosphere from the warm morning glow or how the cool diffused light of twilight dramatically alters the mood of a room. This is how observing the space during the day and illuminating the darker corners at night allows us to create from the most comfortable and restful environments to the utmost luxurious designs.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend low-level lighting at night, which is designed to reflect what is happening outdoors and with your circadian rhythm, your internal 24-hour body clock. A wide range of businesses and industries are exploring the benefits of lighting that follows the natural sleep-wake cycle of the human body. Noteworthy is that having those higher levels of light during the day and dimming them down –or turning low-level lighting only– can have a positive effect on your health, alertness, and productivity while preventing the disruption of your sleep cycle.

Understanding the basics of interior illumination

Creating a good lighting scheme involves the interplay of different lighting layers, all working together to establish the ideal ambience and evoke the desired mood in a specific area. The conventional way of lighting a space is using a grid of downlights. This grid layout often floods space with light, making the room feel quite smooth and uniform.

A creative lighting scheme is an artful combination of various lighting layers, meticulously balanced to illuminate a space in a way that captures attention on intriguing focal points around the room. Such a design works by accentuating artwork and architectural elements or can seamlessly integrate lighting within joinery, where the source of light remains discreet, allowing you to appreciate only the illuminated ambience.

The three main layers of light we work with are ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting.

  1. Ambient Lighting – Also known as mood or general lighting, this is the lighting that gives overall illumination to a room. This can come from ceiling pendants, wall lights, downlights or even floor and table lamps.
  2. Task Lighting – Whether for the joy of reading, cooking, or working, task lights are designed to provide focused and additional illumination to the precise areas where your daily activities take place. Table or desk lamps are all good sources of task lighting, as well as illumination recessed to kitchen cupboards to provide task lighting on the worktop. Downlights can also be used to provide task lighting by placing them directly above desks or a kitchen island where higher levels of light are required.
  3. Accent Lighting – This is used to highlight objects or architectural features you wish to draw attention to, such as artwork, cabinets, or sculptures. Directional spots, inground uplights and hidden LED strips within shelving or coves are all good examples.

Lighting guide to choose the right fitting

To design an exceptional lighting scheme in your space, consider a combination of decorative lighting and architectural lighting. The decorative lighting such as pendants, wall lights, table lamps and floor lamps not only complements the interior design but provides soft ambient lighting that sets the general mood of the space. Decorative lighting can throw light across the entire room, whilst architectural lights, such as recessed downlights, are more focused to only shine light downwards from the ceiling. There are many different architectural light fittings that can be used to illuminate a space, such as adjustable recessed downlights, primarily used to focus light on furniture and highlight walls or artwork.

Surface-mounted spotlights can also be used to accent light. The benefit of using a surface-mounted feature is you get more adjustability from the fitting to angle it exactly where you require lighting; this is especially useful on a sloped ceiling.

Another alternative used to illuminate spaces is to use track-mounted spotlights. Aside from offering more of a modern look, you get complete flexibility to place spotlights along the track, which is beneficial when you haven’t finalised a furniture plan or the placement of artwork on the walls. The track can be recessed, surface mounted or suspended, depending on your visual preference.

Architectural light fittings like inground uplights, miniature downlights and LED strips are a neat complement in architecture for ceiling covings or joinery. Inground uplights are effective in highlighting door frames, arches, and feature columns you may want to draw attention to.

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Good home lighting is energy-smart

Another crucial aspect when planning the different lighting types for your home is energy efficiency. I recommend an LED light source for all projects. LED technology has advanced over the years, and you are now able to get a quality of light that matches that of a traditional halogen light bulb. The main advantage of using a high-quality LED is the low power consumption, thus saving energy and money with a longevity of approx. 50,000 hours.

How to design your home lighting

Whether your goal is to craft a snug nook, accentuate cherished artwork, or completely reinvent your living space to meet your sustainable vision, it is essential to explore the tools and techniques that will orchestrate a masterful balance of light and shadow within your home.

Lighting Design - The-Boathouse-Guildford

Colour temperature

Achieving the right colour temperature can significantly impact the ambience of your room. We have all experienced homes or rooms where the lighting casts a subtle blue hue, lending a cold feel to the area. In essence, blue is not the ideal choice if you aim to infuse a soothing and relaxing atmosphere into your space.

The colour temperature of LED’s is measured in Kelvin and for residential lighting. We always recommend using 2700K colour temperature as this will produce a warm colour tone. Anything higher would bring up a cooler white colour temperature better suited for bathrooms, offices and sometimes kitchens. We traditionally use 3000K or 4000K colour temperature within commercial spaces like offices, schools, and hospitals.

Whilst it is good to keep the colour temperature consistent throughout your home, you can achieve more than simple functionality and enrich the experience of each space. Say you want to make a focal point of your joinery; you can go much warmer in colour temperature to create a contrast and make the piece of joinery stand out; this is an easy-to-implement interior lighting idea that transforms features into a focal point.

Tuneable white lighting is a further variation to infuse an ambient with adaptability. This is when the lights change from a cool colour temperature to a warm colour as you dim it down or tune it. We conventionally used white-tunable lighting within the hospitality sector in spaces such as restaurants and retail spacesStill, this type of lighting is slowly being introduced to homes.

White-tunable illumination is an ideal solution if you prefer a brighter, cooler light source during the day and warmer at night, but also going back to circadian rhythm and the lighting following your body clock, which can have a positive effect on your sleep/wake pattern.

Dimmability

Having the ability to change the level of light in your home is crucial to creating the perfect balance of light throughout the day.

Dimmable lighting gives you the flexibility to create different lighting levels for every occasion or mood. However, any back-of-house areas, such as storage and laundry rooms, do not require dimmable lighting. However, these areas are best controlled with a PIR sensor, so they turn on as soon as you walk through the door and off once you leave the room. Moreover, PIR sensors are an easy fix to modernise your home’s interiors with sustainability principles.

Beam Angle

Most lights will come in a variety of beam angles, carefully selecting the beam angle to suit the object you are lighting will make an impact. A narrow beam is ideal over coffee tables, architectural columns, or feature sculptures. In contrast, a medium beam can be used over task areas such as kitchen worktops or desks. If you want to have a uniform light for your gym or garage, wide beam angles are best suited.

Adjustability

The advantage of having adjustable light fittings is that you can direct the light exactly where you require it. This is particularly useful for artwork or any areas you would like to accent light (more on this later).

Likewise, suppose you are looking for more flexibility down the line or are still deciding on the exact placement of furniture; you will have the option to adapt the lighting at a later stage. Once you’ve finalised a layout, you need only to adjust the lighting exactly where and how you need it.

Glare

A good quality light fitting will often have a glare control or an accessory such as a honeycomb louvre, glare shield or cowl. Such features let you reduce the intensity of light at any time and make it more comfortable to look at. This is an excellent attribute for all product types, particularly for light fittings mounted inground, which can be pretty bright to look at from above.

CRI

The Colour Rendering Index (CRI) serves as a gauge for how accurately artificial white light replicates the natural colours we see in sunlight. Firstly, a high CRI of the LED will bring out the true colours of what you are lighting; this is particularly important when illuminating artwork or coloured walls or furniture. CRI is measured from 0-100, and CRI 90+ will ensure the colour under this light will appear the same under natural sunlight.

Illumination plan for your space

Designing a well-thought-out lighting plan for your home is more than just an aesthetic choice; this is about tailoring illumination to the specific needs and functions of each room. Whether it is the focused task lighting of a home office, the calm ambience of a living room, or the practical brightness of a kitchen, understanding the role of light in each area can transform a house into the ultimate harmonious and functional home.

Kitchen Lighting

When thinking about how to light your kitchen, you need to illuminate for functionality first. The kitchen island is a good place to start. Here, pendant lights above the island would not only offer functional lighting but they also create ambient lighting in the space.

Recessed downlights can also be considered above the island for task lighting and in front of cupboard doors, mounted centrally for accent lighting. LED strip lights are beneficial when recessed to the underside of wall-hung units to provide task lighting above the worktop. If your kitchen has open shelves, do consider decorative wall lights above the shelves as a feature, or again, LED strips can be recessed to the shelves.

Living room lighting

Living rooms are multifunctional spaces where people gather for relaxation, entertainment, or socialising. A well-balanced lighting scheme will be produced in layers. Begin by thinking of the ambient lighting layer, which may come from a central pendant and wall lights or table and floor lamps at night.

If there are focal points in the room, such as artwork or furniture, these can be accent-lit with adjustable downlights. Picture lights also work to illuminate pieces of art and be used as an interior feature. If you have joinery within the room, integrated lighting LED strip lights or miniature downlights can create drama and depth, again introducing focus to the space.

With all these layers, it is recommended to have each circuit on separate controls so lighting can be dimmed down to accommodate different scenes, from day to night and from relaxing to entertaining.

Bathroom Lighting

In a bathroom, functionality and ambience are the main focus and it is essential to incorporate lighting that serves both purposes effectively. Given the damp-prone nature of this environment, using ingress protection (IP) rated fixtures is imperative. The specific IP rating needed for your fittings will vary depending on their placement within the bathroom, ensuring safety and functionality in this wet setting.

For the lighting design, whether you add a bathtub to relax in the evenings or you envision a spa-like feel to the space, it is good to consider low-level lighting. Uplights hidden behind the bathtub will create a soft light and also make a feature of the bathtub. The indirect light is perfect for inducing a sense of leisure, and you won’t need any other lighting switched on. You can also integrate lighting within bath or shower niches and shelves to intensify the evening ambience or have it as a feature.

Lighting to the sink area can be done in a variety of ways. We always recommend wall lights on either side of the mirror as this is one of the best light sources to illuminate your face whether you are brushing your teeth or doing hair and makeup. Wall lights will provide even facial illumination and minimise shadows, which usually get cast by downlights above the head. In addition, you can use ceiling recessed downlights to accent light the centre of the sink, toilet, or shower.

If nighttime visits to the bathroom are a factor, low-level marker lights are a thoughtful addition. Strategically placed beside the toilet or under the sink, these lights activate through a PIR sensor exclusively during nighttime hours. This eliminates the need for overhead lighting, which can disrupt sleep or fumbling for a switch, as the lights seamlessly illuminate and dim, all thanks to the PIR sensor, ensuring convenience and comfort during nocturnal trips.

Design Lighting – Bournemouth House

Bedroom Lighting

Bedroom lighting should evoke a sense of tranquillity and comfort but also adapt to different activities. Pendant lights are great for general illumination. For the evening scene, wall lights or table lights on either side of the bed are always recommended. If you prefer to read at night, you can also have reading lights on each side of the bed. Recessed ceiling downlights can be used for functional task lighting, centred on cupboard doors or above a desk or dressing table. If you do have a dressing table, wall lights or a table lamp would be the preferred light source to illuminate your face.

Finally, to accentuate features in the room, these can be lit from uplights, ideal for fireplaces, or picture lights for artwork. Even illuminating the curtains at night will create a more inviting space. Yet again, it is advised to have these circuits controlled separately and able to dim the lighting so you can enjoy low levels of illumination at night before bed.

Layering lighting in these rooms adds depth and versatility. Combining ambient, task, and accent lighting allows for flexibility in creating different moods and serves various functions within each space. Additionally, don’t overlook the importance of lighting controls such as dimmer switches, which offer the ability to fine-tune the atmosphere in any room.

Lighting controls

By tailoring your lighting plan to each room’s unique requirements, you can transform spaces into functional, visually appealing, and inviting environments that cater to the needs of the homeowners or visitors in the places open to the public.

There are various options to control the lighting. Traditional dimmer switches can be used when you have three or fewer circuits to dim in the room. If your space incorporates more than three or four circuits, then it is best to lean towards intelligent lighting systems.

With a smart lighting control system, you can preset scenes in each room, meaning you won’t need to play around with the dimmer switches time and again to your preferred setting. This is particularly useful in open-plan living, kitchen and dining spaces when you can zone areas and create scenes to suit how you use the space.

For example, within the kitchen area, you can create a ‘cooking’ setting where all the lighting is on full output above the task area or a ‘dining’ scene where the lighting is turned on above the dining table, and the kitchen lighting is dimmed down with maybe the under-counter lights staying on at a low level. There are several systems from Lutron, Rako, Control 4 and Casambi, that can be used to control your lighting from a keypad, from your phone or via voice command, with some systems even allowing you to manage the blinds and curtains.

Architectural features

Architectural elements can be found all around us, from exposed structural beams to exposed brick walls, unique ceiling designs or pitched ceilings; these give your space identity and character. Using lighting to accentuate these features will elevate the design of the space.

Here are effective techniques to illuminate architectural features:

  1. Uplighting – Positioning fixtures at the base of exposed beams or columns and aiming the light upward can create drama and emphasise the height and grandeur of the space.
  2. Wall grazing – Using narrow-beam spotlights to graze textured walls brings out the depth and character of materials like stone, brick, or textured plaster, adding a dynamic quality to the surface.
  3. Cove lighting/shadow gap – Installing LED strips or linear fixtures in ceiling coves, shadow gap details or along the tops of cabinets can softly wash light across the walls and ceiling, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.
  4. Silhouettes – Placing a light source behind architectural elements, such as decorative screens or ornated room dividers, creates striking contours that showcase their beauty and fineness. This can also be achieved within joinery by deliberately illuminating behind objects.
  5. Layers of light – Combining various lighting techniques, such as up-lighting, wall grazing, and cove lighting, can create a multi-dimensional effect that highlights different aspects of architectural features and ambience of the space.

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With the constant development of LED technology, there are increased possibilities of what you can now do with the lighting design of your space. LED light fittings are now getting more efficient; this is not just a trend to use these fittings but a necessity in today’s eco-conscious world. LED is lasting longer, becoming more efficient, and even getting smaller in size, so you don’t need as many fittings as you may have thought, keeping your ceilings clutter-free.

We spoke about lighting controls earlier, which have really revolutionised the way we interact with light in our space. These systems allow for remote control, customisation of scenes sensor controlled and integration of voice assistance and other smart devices just from a click of a button.

Human-centric lighting focuses on the impact of lighting on human well-being. More and more people design spaces to enhance their health and well-being; therefore, lighting that changes intensity, colour temperature, and timing to boost our mood, productivity, and overall health is a huge consideration.

Minimalistic lighting has always been a vision of clients, architects, and interior designers. With the new LED technology available to us, it is possible to achieve this effect. Light fittings are being designed so they can be discreet, often deep recessed within the ceiling and plastered in. This allows the ceiling to remain clutter-free free, and your attention is only drawn to the light effect rather than the fitting itself.

Your top takeaway for interior design lighting

I hope this overview of lighting design inspires you and shines a light on how you can harness it to influence mood, add functionality, and create character in living spaces. Lighting certainly can transform any space, whether by easing the mood for a cosy evening or maximising productivity in your study.

When you start designing your home, remember that lighting is not just a technical aspect; it is an art form. Careful consideration of the placement of light fittings, product selection and lighting controls will yield a significant overall impact on your space. You’ll discover that sometimes, less can be much more and how embracing shadows can contribute to creating contrast and infusing ambience into your environment. Overall, it will significantly enhance your space and well-being.

Partnering with WindsorPatania for lighting solutions

At WindsorPatania, our mission is to craft a unique interplay of beauty and functionality for every space. Our lighting designers are masters in elevating interior environments to evoke the perfect atmosphere tailored to your vision while upholding the highest ambitions for sustainability and energy efficiency.

Arrange a discovery call with our experts to discuss your lighting design project. We are eager to offer your vision the ideal platform to shine.

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