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Top Ten Lighting Tips

ONE - Location, Location, Location

It matters where you put your light fittings for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, they need to be put where the light is needed. But it is also important that they are carefully positioned in relation to each other and in relation to the walls, ceilings, windows, doors, beams, etc.

When we enter a space, and particularly when we enter a space for the first time, our brains, subconsciously, try to make sense of all of the things that we see. Whilst consciously we may be appreciating the colour and texture of the objects in the room, there is also a subconscious process where our brains try to make associations between the objects by calculating, amongst other attributes, their sizes and relative positions. It is important then that when you consider where to position your light fittings you should pay particular attention to the proportions and relative positions of the fittings both with each other and with the other objects in the room; such as the doors, windows, fireplaces, beams, pictures, beds, etc.

If you enter a room where one of the pictures is not quite straight you will notice it almost immediately, and it will bug you, even if only slightly. You may even get the urge to straighten it. You will similarly notice when recessed ceiling lights don't line up in an obvious way, or when a pendant isn't located in the centre of the ceiling.

If everything is positioned carefully and thoughtfully your subconscious will purr like a contented cat!

TWO - It is Never too Early

It often happens that the lighting design is only thought about, in any detail, towards the end of a project; typically when the electrician is onsite and wants to know where you want the lighting. If you leave your lighting design this late you may well have left it too late! By this time all of the structural decisions will have been made and fixed. You will then be severely constrained as to where the light fittings can be placed.

Take for example the lighting in a kitchen. You will probably have spent a considerable sum of money on your kitchen furniture and will want to show it off to good effect. If the doors of the kitchen cupboards are particularly attractive you may like to highlight them with small ceiling recessed spots positioned centrally in front of each door so as to cast a plume of light down onto the front of each door. If you plan to do this before the ceiling is constructed there will not be any problems. If however you leave this decision until after the ceiling has been constructed it is very likely that the position of the joists and noggins will make it impossible to ensure that the recessed spots are positioned centrally in front of each door.

The construction of the ceiling, walls, and floor will also impact on other recessed fittings such as floor recessed uplighters, wall recessed step lights, and ceiling recessed downlighters.

THREE - Shades of Green

Going green with your lighting is pretty much a no brainer, it is good for the planet, and it is good for your wallet (in the long term!). But some greens are better than others, and it is worth considering both the impact on the lighting in your house and the impact on the planet. Options you should consider include:

• Using dimmer switches. If you dim filament lamps by 10% you double the life of the light bulb, as well as reducing the energy used. In most cases you will not even notice the change in brightness. Be careful though as most fluorescent light bulbs are not dimmable.

• Using PIRs (passive infra-red motion detectors) to automatically turn lights off when rooms are not being used. PIRs work particularly well in halls, stairwells, corridors, shower rooms, and WCs.

• Using low energy light bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, although very popular, are not the best for the environment. They use up a lot of energy in the manufacture process, and are very costly to recycle as they contain non-recyclable components and dangerous chemicals such as mercury. Also, the cheaper compact fluorescents do not produce a very good quality of light and are not dimmable. There is however a much better alternative, which is rapidly gaining in popularity as the prices come down and the varieties available increases. This is the LED lamp, which is even more energy efficient, and which can, if chosen carefully, produce a better quality of light. LEDs also have the distinct advantage that they last 5 to 10 times longer than a fluorescent, and are a must for light fittings that are difficult to get at for maintenance.

FOUR - Beware of Wrinkles

It is very import to light bathrooms and WCs correctly. You need to think very carefully where you place light sources in relation to mirrors. Get it wrong and the lighting can make you look old, tired, and wrinkly. Get it right, and you could look years younger! For the best possible lighting the light sources should be positioned either side of the mirror, or, in Hollywood style, all around the mirror. Definitely to be avoided though is a single spotlight above the mirror. This is the worst position for a light source, as it will highlight your wrinkles and blemishes, which is of course the last thing you want to see first thing in the morning!

The simplest solution is to buy a mirror with built-in lights. Just make sure that the lights are functional, rather than decorative, so that they give out enough light. Alternatively, you could use small wall lights mounted either side of the mirror.

FIVE - Dark Light is Kind Light

Ceiling recessed spots can be a very effective way of lighting a space as they are very good at getting the light just where it is needed. They should though be used sparingly as excessive use of these fittings can blight the ceiling, leading to what is sometimes refereed to as ceiling acne. They can often appear as little glare bombs and act as an unwanted distraction to the features of the room that you want to highlight.

Some ceiling recessed spots are worse than others when it comes to glare. If possible you should choose the so-called 'dark light' downlighters, which have the light bulb recessed into the fitting, as these significantly reduce the glare and make for a more discreet appearance.

SIX - Be Discreet

Be discreet. Hidden light sources can be quite dramatic as they add a level of mystery to a room. They can allude to a hidden or secret space, or a non-existent window. Light sources can be easily hidden behind cornices, false walls, and false ceilings, or recessed into the lintel over a recess. Light sources can also be hidden behind furniture and plants.

SEVEN - If you have got it flaunt it

If a room has a particularly attractive architectural feature, then why not show it off? It is an easy way to add drama to a room. Beams, arches, nooks, recesses, and columns are all good candidates for being lit by a discreetly positioned spot in the ceiling, wall, or floor. Not got any suitable architectural features? Then why not make one! How about a dropped ceiling with lighting around the edge to make it appear as if it is floating? Or how about creating a false wall that lets you add recessed nooks, each individually lit.

EIGHT - Layers for Warmth

In the main living spaces you need to be able to vary the lighting according to your mood, and according to how the room is to be used. This is especially true for multi-use spaces such as kitchen/dining rooms and living rooms. Flexibility is the key here. By having several, separate, dimmable lighting circuits you will have the flexibility to adjust the lighting just how you want it.

For a Kitchen/Dining room, for example, you will ideally have at least the following circuits:

Circuit 1: Background lighting for the kitchen area

Circuit 2: Decorative lighting for the kitchen to be used when dining or entertaining (for example wall lights, cove lighting, plinth lights, etc.)

Circuit 3: Task/decorative lighting over the dining table (for example a pendant or set of pendants)

Circuit 4: Mood lighting for the dining area (for example table lamps or wall lights)

This layered lighting scheme lets you easily choose the most appropriate mood for the room (e.g. cooking, cleaning, eating, or entertaining).

Other spaces that would benefit from a layered lighting scheme include living rooms, family rooms, home cinemas, master bedrooms, and even bathrooms, where subdued lighting is especially useful for a long leisurely soak in the bath, or for when using the bathroom in the middle of the night.

NINE - Try before buy

Just as it is better to try on clothing before you buy it, to make sure it fits properly and looks good on you, it is also best, if possible, to see samples of light fittings before you make a decision to buy them. A wall light that looks fabulous in a show room or in a catalogue may look unexpectedly inappropriate in your house. The proportions may be wrong, the size and colours not quite right. If you can get hold of a sample you can check that it looks right, casts enough light, and doesn't have any installation issues.

Once you have chosen the light fittings you want to use you should buy at least one of each fitting in plenty of time for the electrician to resolve any wiring and installation issues.

TEN - So simple, so effective, so cheap!

One of the most effective lighting techniques that you can use is also, as it happens, one of the simplest, and, even better, one of the cheapest.

Use a floor standing uplighter, the size of a baked bean tin, to create a discreet source of light in the corner of a room, possibly behind a chair, table, or potted plant. This mysterious and decorative light source washes up the walls and onto the ceiling, adding texture and mood to the overall lighting scheme. Floor standing uplighters can be simply plugged into a standard 13A power socket, or, better still, plugged into 5A round-pin lighting sockets that can be dimmed and switched by a light.