Buying Guides - Indoor Lighting
Published: July 26, 2011
Most of us are familiar with the term 'interior design', and an essential element of successful interior design is lighting design. Choosing the right lighting fixtures for your home can make a huge difference to how your home functions and feels.
At its most basic level, if all you have is direct light from a central ceiling fixture, you will create areas of the room that are dark and gloomy. Utilising different levels of light makes it possible to highlight the main features of an interior and cater for any specific illumination requirements.
The first step is to determine each room's function and composition. This will help you decide which types of fixtures and bulbs are best suited for each task. It is then a matter of incorporating a combination of light sources to add contrast and create visual intrigue without producing unwanted glare.
Kitchen lighting needs to balance the needs of what is often the busiest room in the house. Primarily, this interior requires a high level of clean and bright light, allowing tasks to be performed easily.
Fluorescent & Track Lighting
A single fluorescent fixture is generally sufficient for a suitable level of ambient kitchen lighting. On the other hand, track lighting has a single fixture containing a number of light sources that can be directed to suit the particular needs of each area.
Recessed lighting is more versatile still and can be located in specific settings. Spotlights located beneath cupboards will spread bright light downwards, creating a well lit work surface.
Low Voltage Solutions
Low voltage lighting is flexible, compact and provides a high level of white light, especially when using halogen bulbs. It also has the advantage of increasing safety and reducing energy usage.
If your kitchen doubles as a dining room and you require somewhat more atmospheric lighting for special occasions, installing a retractable pendant light above the table is an ideal way of creating an intimate setting - especially with the lighting dimmed. Ideally, the pendant should contain a halogen bulb for enhanced colour rendering.
The bathroom is a very practical room, though it is also essential to establish a relaxing atmosphere when considering a new lighting system.
As far as lighting is concerned the key area of the bathroom is the mirror. Lighting located in the centre of the ceiling will put the face in shade, whereas lighting at either side of the mirror will provide an even illumination across the face.
Recessed downlights are inconspicuous, but will usually produce shadows under the eyes, nose and chin unless located near the mirror. Carefully positioned over a light-coloured surface, recessed downlights will reflect light back upwards, thus avoiding any shadows. In addition, recessed fixtures are ideal for illuminating alcoves, cupboards and baths.
Due to the presence of water, installing bathroom lighting requires a sound knowledge of IP ratings. The IP rating is an international classification system used to indicate how well protected electrical equipment is from the environment. The IP rating utilises two digits following the 'IP' to classify the degree of protection.
Below is a general guide to the IP ratings of bathroom lights. For a more detailed explanation of the IP system, check out our 'IP Ratings' Definitive Guide.
- Within bath & shower area - all fittings must be rated IPx7
- Above the bath to a height of 2.25m - minimum rating of IPx4
- Area reaching up to 0.6m outside the bath and above the bath if over 2.25m, plus the area around wash basins - IP rating of at least IPx4
- Areas where no water jet is likely to be used do not require an IP rating.
It is important to ensure that all fixtures and fittings in the bathroom must only be controlled by pull cords and all switches that control lighting fixtures should be located outside the bathroom.
The focal point for most homes, the living room requires flexible lighting solutions to accommodate all the needs of each member of the family: watching TV, socialising, reading or just relaxing are all tasks which need different levels of light.
Layers of Light
The living room is not as task-focused as the bathroom or the kitchen, so creating lighting layers in the living room will give you the flexibility to provide for most activities that take place there. In addition, lighting intended for any specific purposes can also be incorporated. A diffused and decorative light can be used as a central fixture, a chandelier or a glass uplighter for instance. Dimmer switches are useful for this.
Floor standards or track lighting minimise glare while watching TV and also offer more intimate levels of lighting. Table lamps or pendants by chairs offer individual illumination ideal for reading, but without disturbing others. Pictures and photographs on the walls can be highlighted by single spotlights or spotlights on tracks, as can music systems and plants, etc.
Cabinet lighting can also be incorporated into your lighting scheme. Halogen lights can illuminate special ornaments or trophies as well as providing a subtle amount of background lighting.
The bedroom provides a sanctuary in which to escape the stresses and strains of the world. Therefore, bedroom lighting requirements are quite different to other parts of the house. The use of more than one lighting source in this room is essential to ensure balance and flexibility, as well as providing different levels of light depending on what you are doing and how you are feeling.
A central lighting fixture with a dimmer switch will enable the provision of low-level ambient light as well as suitably bright light when choosing clothes, dressing and grooming. This can be backed up using track lighting to aim light directly into a wardrobe for example.
Table lamps are required on bedside tables to aid reading. Adding table lamps with individual switches and opaque shades will allow you to read without disturbing your partner. For comfort, the lower edge of the shade should ideally be below the level of your head when lying flat.
Lighting surrounding a dressing table mirror along with wall fixtures on either side will ensure that no shadows are cast on your face whilst grooming in front of the mirror. For effortless control over your bedroom lighting, separate fixtures can be controlled using switches and pull cords arranged to be used without leaving your bed.
Hallways & Public Areas
First impressions count so it's important that the lighting chosen for these parts of a building are calm, welcoming and attractive.
For a soft, warm and cosy feel, the main source of hall lighting should be ambient; delivering an even balance of illumination throughout the hallway. As an example; this could be achieved, using a central fixture with a glass diffuser.
Individual or track spotlights can be used to illuminate pictures and coat hooks and accent lighting provides a focus for people proceeding along the hall. As lighting in this part of the home is often left switched on for long periods of time, it would be wise to replace traditional bulbs with energy saving bulbs to make a significant difference to your energy costs.
Stairs should be well lit as casting shadows on the treads could be very dangerous. This can be successfully achieved by illuminating the stairs in several places, possibly using wall washers controlled by switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs. A light source at the top of the stairs offers the added benefit of illuminating the area that you are heading towards.
Dining Room Lights
Used as a place to eat and entertain guests, lighting in the dining room plays a crucial role in creating the right atmosphere. The centre-piece of the dining room is typically the dining table and any lighting scheme is typically based around this focal point.
A chandelier located 70-90cm above the dining table will create plenty of quality illumination for dining (hang it too low and it will be in the way, forcing dinner guests to peer around it). Clear bulbs in crystal or glass chandeliers will enhance their sparkle. If the table surface is glass, a diffuser may be necessary to reduce any uncomfortable glare or reflection. The use of a dimmer switch will provide the flexibility of low-level lighting for dining and brighter lighting for other tasks, such as reading or homework.
Additional Lighting Effects
The modern dining room can be a multi-function environment used for work and social gatherings, as well as casual and special dining occasions. For the optimum balance and maximum flexibility, layers of light can be created throughout the dining room with particular areas (such as display cabinets) illuminated using halogen bulbs to create white light that will emphasise the contents to their best effect.
Take a look at our full range of Indoor Lighting
For more advice, inspiration and news take a look at our Lighting Advice section.