Lighting a Room
Room lighting can be divided into three distinct types:
• general or background lighting
• task or local lighting
• accent or decorative lighting
Ideally, every room should have a combination — to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon function — of two if not all three of these types. Ideally, too, each form of lighting should meld into the others to form a sometimes dramatic but always harmonious whole.
In order to achieve this kind of lighting harmony it might help to remember that artificial light is, after all, a substitute for daylight, which is never static but always shifting and flowing. Think, too, of the three types of light as representing different moods of daylight — the shaft of sun that lights up a particular corner or area; the way a sunbeam highlights a piece of glass or silver or the top of an old polished table — and about how you can use artificial lighting to create similar effects.
Lighting Living Rooms
The best effect is achieved if all three types of light are used. Background lighting is more subtle coming from well placed wall lights used on their own or in conjunction with uplights set on the floor and concealed behind plants or furniture or in decorative pots; this set-up will give a soft wash of light as opposed to the bland light that comes from a central ceiling fixture. Another alternative for general lighting is to use a selection of strips of one kind or another so as to bathe the walls with light. These arrangements will, in fact, soften the hard confines of a wall and make a room seem more spacious.
Task (local) lighting is provided by table lamps and floor lamps placed judiciously beside sofas and armchairs for comfortable reading, or by angled wall lamps set just above seating areas if there is not very much floor space. Desk lamps are desirable for writing.
Accent (decorative) lighting comes from eyeballs or spots of various types inset into the ceiling — if at all possible — or in some way angled to highlight paintings, objects, tabletops and so on. Accent lighting can also come from the pools of light cast by table lamps.
One important point to remember if you have the chance to rewire a room for your own convenience is that all of these light fixtures can be controlled and subtly modulated by separate switches and/or dimmer switches set by the door. If you are using uplights positioned on the floor, do remember to ask your electrician to have them switched from the door, for this will save a great deal of irritating stooping and crawling around on the floor to switch them on and off. Alternatively, if the rewiring involved is too difficult, ask your electrician to install kick switches by any floor lamps so that you can control them with your foot.
Dining Rooms and Dining Areas
These look best and certainly more romantic by candlelight, but make sure that candles are either above or below eye level, not flickering directly in the diners’ eyes. A combination of candlelight with a discreet downlight or two in the ceiling, controlled by dimmer switches, is better still. Pendant rise-and-fall lights with an opaque shade cast a pleasant light, but again they should have a dimmer switch and be so placed as to avoid uncomfortable dazzle. The serving area should be lit separately, perhaps by a well angled spot or downlight or by concealed overhead lighting in the form of an incandescent strip set behind a cover or pelmet (cornice).
Lighting for Halls, Corridors and Staircases
Far too many halls and staircases have hopelessly inadequate lighting.
They should be well lit at all times, with light on the floor to show any changes in levels and surfaces and light on the walls to show switches and door handles. When starting a lighting plan from scratch, the ideal is to have a night circuit of low-level lights in those areas, controlled by a dimmer switch so that you can turn them down to the right level at bedtime. Alternatively, you could have a separate circuit of miniaturized lights that could, if desired, be left on the full 24 hours, because this system, although somewhat expensive to install, uses very littleand is therefore cheap to run. Both systems have the added advantage of acting as an effective deterrent to burglars and prowlers.
Do not forget to try to light hall closets from the inside, so you do not have to grope frustratedly in the dark for coats. Staircases should be lit to emphasize the distinction between treads and risers. The best way to achieve this is to have a good strong light above the stairs and a softer one below. If lights are on a dimmer switch, they can be turned down to an acceptable level and left on all night with very little waste of power. (You may find, though, that you have to replace bulbs more frequently). This is particularly useful in households where there are small children or elderly relatives. Any paintings and mounted objects — sculpture and so on —can be lit using different varieties of spots, preferably attached to a dimmer.
This should be almost as flexible as that in the living room: soft enough to be relaxing and peaceful; bright enough to see to dress and perhaps make-up by; and well placed enough for comfortable reading in bed. Bedside lamps should be high enough to shine directly onto a book. A light above a mirror used for making-up is less helpful than lights placed at either side. Lights positioned to shine outward are much better than lights set to shine onto the mirror itself. The same applies to full-length mirrors: the light should be directed onto the viewer rather than onto the glass.
Lighting for Children’s Rooms
In rooms for small children all sockets (outlets) should be childproofed and lighting fixtures should be kept well out of reach. Wall lights are useful here, for they give a softer general light than central ceiling fixtures. Dimmer switches are useful for children who are afraid of the dark; alternatives are very low-skirting (baseboard) fixtures. Older children will want good light for homework, hobbies and reading in bed, so provide adequate lighting on desks and work tables and above beds, and make sure these fixtures are well positioned.
Small bathrooms may well need no more than a single ceiling light or a couple of downlights (one set over the bath, with a waterproof bulb). Lights should be fixed either side of any mirror used for both making-up and shaving, or just above if used only for shaving. Unfortunately, all too many bathrooms havefor light only above the mirror and often people find it just too much hassle to get the situation changed.
All kitchens should have good general light plus booster light for any precise activity — eg. reading cookbooks, chopping, assembling ingredients and washing dishes. Well placed general diffusing lights fixed flush to the ceiling, inset spots or a mixture of down-lights and angled spots make good background light, supported by strip lights concealed under high-level wall cabinets to shine down on the work surface. Any fluorescent lights should be of the warm white variety, because they make food look more appetizing than do most other fluorescents. Also, try to light the inside of storage cupboards or closets.