Successful Interior Design: Types of Lights
An overhead fixture — either a pendant or one or more ceiling-mounted lights — is one of the commonest ways of providing general lighting. Used on its own, however, overhead lighting can distinctly lack subtlety, be rather obtrusive and have a deadening effect. Wherever possible, supplement it with other types of lighting, and fit a dimmer switch so that the level of light can be adjusted according to need.
Alternatively, consider downlights or spotlights as substitutes.
Pendant fittings vary widely in design, price and the quality of light they produce. Glass and ceramic globes and paper lanterns diffuse light evenly in all directions. Whereas shades, whether of paper, metal or fabric, tend to direct light downwards. An effect which is emphasized if the pendant is suspended on a long flex (cord). There are also rise-and-fall pendants, where the fitting can be pulled lower— for example, over a dining table — to provide more concentrated light. If the source is visible, you can use a crown-silvered bulb to minimize glare.
Chandeliers are highly effective types of pendant because they support several smaller sources of light, but they are often expensive.
Generally rather plain and utilitarian, some ceiling lights are mounted on the ceiling rather than suspended from it. The bulb is shaded, often with a glass or plastic globe, half-globe or cylinder, which creates an even light diffused in all directions.
Downlights are ceiling lights that are either recessed (fully or partially) or surface-mounted. Functional and unobtrusive, they direct the light downwards. Depending on the type of fitting, they can produce either a narrow concentrated beam or a wider flood of light. Eyeball downlights on swivels can be angled to direct light at a wall or other surface. Downlights are a useful and attractive way of lighting work areas such as a kitchen counter. They can be used also to provide subtle background lighting, especially when controlled with a dimmer switch.
Other Types of Ceiling Light
Spotlights can be ceiling-mounted or on a track and used either as background lighting or to accent particular areas.
Ceiling-mounted fluorescent strip-lighting is suitable only for utility areas. To cut down glare, shade the tube with a diffuser.
Spotlights and Wall Lights
Spotlights are one of the most flexible forms of light fitting: they can be used not only as accent and task lights but also to provide a general level of illumination. Although generally mounted on the ceiling, spotlights can alternatively be fixed to a wall; they can be used either individually or in series on a track. Also available are spotlights fixed to a stand, clusters of spots on a ceiling fitting, and spotlights with clips or clamps so that they can be attached to a shelf and moved at will.
There is a wide range of sizes and designs. Spots can give you anything from a broad pool of light to a fine concentrated beam. Many are shaded with deep metal or plastic cowls so that the bulbs themselves are hidden; if this is not the case, it is a good idea to use a crown-silvered bulb to cut down glare. Combining a crown-silvered bulb with a parabolic reflector will create a narrow beam of light.
The great advantage of spotlights is that it is easy to position and adjust them, allowing you to angle light in different directions. This effect is best exploited by grouping more than one spotlight in each location — a track mounted on the wall or ceiling is an easy way of achieving this.
Traditional types of wall light include shaded small bulbs which project out from the wall on decorative metal brackets, simulating the look of old-time-lighting or candle-lit sconces.
Modern types of wall light include curved black-metal halogen uplights, and uplights in ceramic or plaster which can be decorated to blend in with the wall. The distribution of light varies with the fitting, but as a basic rule wall lights provide a sympathetic background light. Wall lights are usually fitted in pairs.
More utilitarian wall-mounted designs include bulkhead fittings — designed for exterior use but with a hi-tech appeal for interiors — and plain globes or half-globes similar to ceiling lights. One of the best ways of lighting a bathroom mirror is to frame it with unshaded lightbulbs, as in a theatrical dressing room. This type of light illuminates the face without creating shadows.
Never buy a light without turning it on first to see what it does.
Table and Floor Lights
Lights which can stand on the floor or on a table are a popular choice both for task lighting and for general or background illumination. Decorative as well as practical, they come in a wide range of colours, designs and sizes to suit every type of decorative scheme.
In many ways the mainstay of domestic lighting, the typical table lamp has a heavy base (often ceramic) which holds the bulb and carries a shade that may be paper- or fabric-covered, made of shell, etc. Even within these specifications, however, there is tremendous variety. The base may be in different colours, patterned or textured, or in different shapes and/or materials. The shade can taper or have straight sides, and can be opaque or translucent. Also, table lamps are available not only in a plethora of traditional designs but also in many modern versions.
Table lamps provide a soft, diffused light at low level. Several of them placed around a room will create pools of light and shadow, an effect that can be very atmospheric. At least some of the light is directed upwards towards the ceiling (quite how much depends on the shade), so table lamps are also a good way of increasing general light levels.
The purpose of a desk lamp is to provide a bright, directed source of light for a specific area. The classic design is the anglepoise, a metal light with a deep cowl shade and an angled stand which can be adjusted to many different positions. Other types include modern cantilevered lights, lights which clamp oronto a worktop, brass or chrome lights on flexible arms, and traditional-style desk lamps (such as Victorian brass lights with opaque green glass shades).
Free-standing floor lamps help to raise the general level of illumination as well as provide local task lighting for reading or other activities.
Except in period rooms, the floor-standing standard lamp can look rather old-fashioned; the modern equivalent is the floor-standing uplight, often fitted with a tungsten halogen lamp to give a clear crisp light. Other modern designs include angled floor lights and spotlights mounted on a portable stand.
Floor lights need not be particularly tall. Uplights in the form of cylinders or flutes or translucent omnidirectional lights placed at a low level can be an effective way to light a collection of indoor plants or just to provide an additional lighting accent.
The accessories of lighting fixtures do not have to be plain and functional. Coiled, twisted, striped or spotted flexes can add visual flair to your lighting scheme. There are many available in bright primary colours to give you a cheerful hi-tech look—especially if they are coordinated with coloured switches and sockets (outlets).
As well as the ubiquitous white plastic variety, a range of more decorative light switches is available, from traditional brass or wood to modern black metal or chrome. You can exploit this diversity to co-ordinate the style of the details with the rest of the interior.
Whatever the style of lighting or light fitting, the effectiveness of the result can be greatly increased if you are able to vary the light level. Dimmer switches are easy to fit and they are particularly useful in a multi-purpose room — such as a kitchen-diner where light may need to be quite bright in one area but softer in another.