Directional Lighting in the Home
Accent lighting creates focal points, emphasizes paintings, plants, flower arrangements and ornaments, and can be used to add interesting drama to a room. The sort of fixtures to employ for this sort of highlighting are the various types of spots, wall lights, pinhole or framing projectors, uplights, and those strips of tiny lights (like Christmas-tree lights) that can also be used below shelves, in bookcases and so on to delineate angles and give sparkle. Not to be forgotten are candles.
For a wall of pictures, prints, wall hangings or other art use recessed wall lights, or, if this is difficult, surface-mounted strips, which can be bought in any length with any number of sockets to which to attach lights; alternatively, use track lighting with individual housings that are adjustable for spacing and targeting, so that you can illuminate individual paintings or objects as well as wash the whole wall with light.
The ideal for lighting individual paintings and objects is a pinhole or framing projector; note, though, that they are expensive. When their lenses and shutters are adjusted accurately they will focus exactly on the item to be highlighted, with no overspill. They should be recessed into the ceiling 90-110cm/36-43in from the wall. Alternatives are surface-mounted fixtures; these can be used either in conjunction with track or mounted individually on a ceiling or beam.
If you want to highlight a painting over a mantel, for example, but cannot use recessed lighting or surface-mounted lights, you can utilize uplighting provided by very small portable spot fittings, or by halogen lights concealed in a vase or small canister on the mantelpiece. Alternatively, you can use a high-density lamp aimed from below in order to avoid unwanted reflection in picture glass. Should you use a conventional picture light mounted on the picture so as to illuminate from above, it ought to have a rotating reflector and be adjustable to adapt to an extra-thick picture frame.
For plants, floor sculpture and hangings near to floor level use standard uplights or small adjustable floor uplights concealed behind the plants, in corners or just by the object to be lit. These will either bounce light up, or ‘graze’ the given object with light.
Task or Local Lighting
This is a most important part of any room, providing the right level of illumination for a wide range of activities from reading and writing to cooking, eating, sewing, painting, making-up, shaving and playing cards, as well as creating warm, soft pools of light in the room.
In general living areas task lighting is usually provided by table, desk or floor lamps; in bedrooms it is given by bedside lamps, dressing-table lamps and perhaps ‘theatrical’ white bulbs set at either side of a mirror. In kitchens and laundry rooms, items such as fluorescent strips or a diffusing ceiling fixture give the sort of bright, even light that is required; this can be locally stepped up by spots angled from the ceiling. In bathrooms, you can obtain task lighting by installing the same sort of ‘theatrical’ strips suggested for dressing-table lights, as well as appropriately placed downlights.
Often people are beguiled by the shape and look of a table or floor lamp but fail to think very much about what the lamp actually achieves in the way of light output. Lamps should, of course, be as functional as they are good-looking; they should provide both generous light for tasks and reading and add a comfortable feeling to a room.
Other relevant questions are the height of lamps and how they should be placed. A good guideline to follow for table lamps is that the total height from the floor to the lower edge of the shade (including table height) should equal eye height from the floor — ie. 100-110cm/ 40-43in, if you are seated on an easy chair. For reading choose three-way or regular soft white bulbs with a maximum of 150W; this might sound a high, but it is a sensible intensity for close work. Three-way bulbs, if available, are preferable because they can be turned on low when not needed for reading or writing. Alternatively, a table top dimmer can be fitted so that you can vary the level.
The base height of floor lamps should be l00-125cm/ 40-49in to the lower edge of the shade with 150W-200W soft white bulbs, or 50W/150W/200W three-way bulbs — or best of all, a halogen bulb with a dimmer switch. For reading, the lamp should be placed behind your shoulder. This obviously cannot be done if a chair or sofa is against a wall; here you can use something like a swing-arm lamp with a dimmer attachment.
The base height of a bedside lamp should be in line with your shoulder when you are in a semi-reclining position, and the lower edge of the shade should be at your eye level. Extended arm wall lamps are particularly good for bedtime reading and are useful too for saving space on overcrowded bedside tables. Bulbs should again be of the three-way variety if possible: if not, the lights should have a dimmer switch so that one partner need not be unduly disturbed if the other has to switch on the light in the middle of the night.