How to light your home – handy lighting tips from interior designers

How to light your home – handy lighting tips from interior designers

A well-planned lighting scheme can transform the way your home looks, feels and functions. These four interior design experts share their advice on lighting design, from how to illuminate open-plan spaces to using light to create a cosy mood.

Tom Bartlett founded Waldo Works, an architecture and interior design studio in London’s Clerkenwell, nearly 20 years ago and is known for his use of colour and refined, modern spaces. Here, he shares his lighting tips for different areas of the home

When choosing pendant lighting for above a kitchen island, make sure it’s pointing down onto the surface so that it functions as a task light. Also, look at the proportions of the island versus the light fitting. I tend to avoid multiple pendants (the Starbucks effect): it’s best to spend the money on a single, really good one.

When it comes to lighting around a bathroom mirror, aim for a warm halo effect rather than anything clinical. We tend to use wall lights, shaded or obscured, and a downlight to the basin and the front of the face fitted with a non-glare shield. Low-level lighting is also helpful. Avoid downlights straight on to the head as they show up hair dye, roots and baldness.

Downlights are great for specifics – art, a chair, a basin – but not for a whole space. In a sitting room, for instance, you need lots of light sources and shadows, and a good mix of lamps, task lights and glow should achieve that.

Lampshades can be a mystery: the size, shape, height, colour and fitting all need to be considered. Take the lamp with you and decide what to buy by trying various shades on it. The colour of the lampshade will affect the light, so stick to warmer fabrics.

Since setting up her architecture practice, Ester Bruzkus Architekten in 2002, Ester Bruzkus has become known for interiors that playfully contrast materials and forms. Here, she and her business partner Peter Greenberg talk us through lighting for open-plan spaces

The most important thing about lighting in general is that it reinforces the architectural idea of a space but it also needs to create the right atmosphere. In an open-plan living room, it’s crucial to make areas within the overall space, and have different possibilities for when you’re eating, watching a film or cooking.

Don’t be too even with lights – you want diversity and contrast. One way of doing this is by having light at varying heights, such as table lamps, floor lighting and lighting integrated into the ceiling in different directions.

Consequential light creates ambience. For instance, at home, we have an LED strip light on the floor of the living room area behind the curtain. It sits in a cavity on the top of the heating grill by the window. You can’t see where the light comes from, but the effect makes the space feel bigger.

If you have an outside area connected to your living space, create an additional zone by using outdoor lighting. If it’s not lit up, then in the evening, you only see your own reflection. With lighting, it becomes part of the space.

Interior architect Christophe Poyet and architect Emil Humbert set up Monaco-based studio Humbert Poyet 13 years ago. The studio’s work ranges from residential homes to restaurants, and they also have their own lighting and furniture collection. Here they offer their advice on how to create plenty of atmosphere with lights

Usually, we use light to create a very intimate ambience or a sense of drama. For the latter, you need to think of light as a sculptural object that will catch everyone’s attention. Also, a statement piece doesn’t necessarily have to be big – it just has to be central to a space. It’s all about balance, so try pairing a huge ceiling light with something sleek and minimal, such as a downlighter on the wall or a light from a cornice that highlights the architecture.

Play with scale to create the mood you want in your room. For instance, in the living room, you might have one main ceiling light, but the addition of a floor lamp next to an armchair will evoke a sense of cosiness.

Think about the colour of the light itself. With LEDs, there are many variations, from warm white to amber. By playing with the hues, you can create a mood depending on whether it’s for a workspace, a dining room or a bedroom. You can have the most beautiful feature light in the world, but if you put the wrong bulb inside, it won’t look right.

James Thurstan Waterworth set up his interior design studio Thurstan two years ago. He is known for mixing antiques with custom pieces, and here, shares his tips on vintage lighting

When sourcing vintage lighting, online auction houses are a good place to start. One platform worth a look is The Saleroom – it’s home to multiple auction houses that sell vintage pieces.

Don’t be put off buying a light that’s rickety, or has wiring that doesn’t work. This just means you’re more likely to get it for a good price. An electrician can rewire a light in a very short period of time, and it doesn’t cost much at all.

Fundamentally, lighting is practical, but it can also be just as important as an art piece. I wouldn’t have too many showstoppers in a room: if you have a chandelier, it’s the first thing you’ll see, so it’s best to complement it with more subdued pieces.

I like to mix lighting styles, but also to think about texture– wood, metal, ceramic, polished, handmade – and what that brings to a space. People underestimate how powerful a lampshade can be but if you use a vintage fabric, such as a pale linen or colourful Ikat, it adds an extra layer of interest.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2020

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