Lighting principles. Buildings of every type experience a series of different visual moods as the sun describes an arc from sunrise to sundown. They may be cool and aloof in the morning shade and warm and friendly in the afternoon sun. Nothing is quite as dramatic, however, as the difference between day and night. Here we discuss how to make the best of the light your room receives.
How you see an object, how you define its visual balance and shape, whether or not the angle of the light has caused distortion, or whether the color is enhanced by the light depends on the source’s position. During daylight hours, this is the sun, its movement causing long shadows and distortions early and late in the day and a flattening effect when it is high in the sky. Colors that can seem washed-out at midday intensify at the end of the day as the sun sets, and contrasts temporarily increase before darkness descends. Artificial lighting assumes the same role: that of the source, flattening or emphasizing areas, objects, and decorations depending on its position in the room.
Add or subtract
As a result of the sun’s movement, a house will experience differing visual moods in its south-facing rooms than in its north-facing accommodation. The lighting designer can work with the natural elements, enhancing the effect, or seek to re-balance, adding artificial light to darker, colder areas and throwing highlights onto angles and edges. Just as the afternoon sun casts a warm glow onto a wall, the designer can carefully position wall washers of differing power to throw graduated light onto the area in the same way. Conversely, in rooms where the sun makes only fleeting contact, the designer can employ hidden lighting techniques combined with light-sensitive switching, warming up what was once a cold, unfriendly environment.
Create the right mood
Try to select lighting that enhances the room’s feel and creates the type of environment that suits the family members that use it. Lighting does not have to be merely functional; it can also be atmospheric. Centrally sited lighting can be used to great advantage in rooms with dark or rich colored walls; they absorb a lot of light rather than reflecting it, and the low-key mood can be added to by low-level lamps, up– and downlighters, or flicker lamps. Conversely, centrally placed lighting in areas with white or pale-colored walls and ceiling can look austere to the point of unfriendliness; wall lights would simultaneously throw light and shadow onto each surface. Lights recessed in an alcove would create more interest still, adding to the wall’s shape. If your decoration has involved a special finish, emphasize it by throwing light on the wall. If it is a textured finish, use the lighting to cast long shadows, increasing the three-dimensional effect.
Each household member will remind you of individual needs, be it lighting suitable for working on a computer or reading by the fire. Your lighting arrangements should allow for all necessities but to no detriment to anyone else. For example, reading lights positioned behind a bed should allow one partner to read without disturbing the other. Two separately switched directional lamps are needed here. Areas used by everyone must be well and continuously lit, especially stairwells. Sudden changes in light levels can be hazardous, and for this reason, lighting for a stairwell and lights along a corridor should be operated by the same switch. These areas will benefit from a nightlight, too, if you have children or elderly relatives who need to visit a bathroom in the early hours. Kitchen areas pose a particular problem in that food preparation, and washing-up tasks are usually performed at perimeter units. Consequently, a central light will force kitchen users to work in their own shadow.
A series of downlighters is a good solution. Each is positioned over a work area — sink, cooker or hob, work surface, and any appliance in regular use, such as a washing machine. Two separately switched parallel tracks of interchangeable, directional spotlights offer another alternative. The bathroom needs to have a central enclosed light for background illumination, which must be operated by a pull cord if the switch is inside the room. The basin area needs a separate light for shaving or the makeup application; arrange it so that the user is illuminated, not the mirror. Remember that no one in the house will thank you for installing lighting with an abrasive and inaccurate fluorescent effect when they are using the bathroom early in the morning.
Lights with a purpose
Always make sure your lights perform the function they should and review the situation as your needs change. Good planning will ensure that your system is versatile enough to be multi-functional, providing ambient light for background, directional light for atmosphere and decorative highlights, working light for specific jobs around the home, safety light in heavy traffic areas, and security light as a deterrent to crime. Stairways should always be well lit to prevent anyone from missing their footing in the dark. Placing downlighters beneath a handrail provides the answer without having to resort to harsh overhead lighting. Wall lights create warming pools of light that emphasize decor.