From earliest times, a lot of energy has gone into finding cheap ways of providing light and in decorating the light source. But it is only in the last 50 years or so, that light has become an integral part of interior design.
The first artificial light was firelight, ie. pieces of burning wood from campsite fires, which made torches to be carried around. Throughout the centuries interior light has been provided by flame torches, oil lamps, wax candles, paraffin lamps, gas and right up to electricity. Once electricity became available (Edison opened his first electric light factory in 1880) it was seen as a new way to add to the decor of the home. At first the fittings copied the Victorian gas lamp, but from the 1920s on designers came up with new ideas. In recent times there is a wide range of light fittings available due in part to the developments in the commercial world of shopfitting, Art gallery illumination, and stage lighting.
A lighting scheme should be both practical and decorative. The correct lighting will facilitate cooking, cleaning, sewing, reading, and everyday tasks. Decorative lighting will help to create different atmospheres eg. restful feeling in a bedroom or excitement at a party. It should also complement your colour scheme and furnishings. It can highlight attractive features of a room and distract attention away from its faults.
To achieve a good lighting scheme for a room it needs to be planned; just like getting the colour scheme you want.
The following points are some of the things to bear in mind:
- Room’s function: How will it be used and what type of lighting would be suited to its activities eg. reading, dining, children doing homework etc.
- Mood: For example if it is a workroom, you need to be more practical than decorative.
- Style: The light fittings should complement the room style and if possible add to it.
- Highlighting features: Consider which items you like to draw attention to eg. fireplace, favourite picture, an alcove etc. Also keep in mind the features you like to forget eg. bad plasterwork.
- Budget: Price what it will cost before you start and decide if you want to spend or can afford the money. With a little imagination you can probably find a cheaper alternative to your original idea. You will be much happier with the final result if you didn’t overspend.
- Lighting Types: There are three main types of lighting—General lighting provides overall or background light and should be used in every room. Task lighting gives you directional light over a small area and is used for particular jobs such as reading etc. Accent lighting is used to show off items such as plants, pictures, architectural features etc. They can be used to light objects from above, below, behind, or at an angle.
- Ceiling lights: These include the traditional pendant, chandelier, fluorescent strip, spotlights, recessed or semi-recessed low voltage downlighters and wall washers. The pendant is the most common used light fitting and useful for overall lighting, but as the only light source in a room it can be very limiting. You get a bright central space with shadowy edges. Use a dimmer switch and other light sources in the room. You could use a rise and fall pendant over a dining table so that the light can raised and lowered as required. Recessed or semi-recessed lights spaced across the ceiling will give a good level of light. They can spread light over a wide area or in a narrow beam. Spotlights and wall washers can be used to highlight a group of pictures or a large wall hanging. Leave your traditional chandeliers to those with a house that can to it justice, such as a period house with a high ceiling.
- Wall lights: These come in traditional or modern styles, so they will complement your decor. Some can be painted to match the wall colouring, making a feature of the light itself. Picture lights should be unobtrusive as possible, blending with the picture frame.
- Floor/Table lamps: A table lamp can be an attractive way to light a small collection of items or some family photographs on a table. A desk light with a flexible arm can be used to provide light where you need it. These lights are not fixed to the wall, floor, or ceiling, so you have more flexibility in how you use them and they are very useful in adding atmosphere and character to a room.
- Uplighters: Comprised of wall, floor and lamp uplighters. These are lamps which direct light upwards and if well placed can give decorative and imaginative warmth to a room. It can be cheap and easy way to soften the general light coming from the central source. Drum shaped floor lamp can be placed behind a large plant to show the outline of the leaves on the wall. A small floor lamp behind a sofa or armchair will wash the walls with light and make the room seem larger.
Other things to consider
- Always plan for enough power sockets, particularly in a living room, where you never seem to have enough. Wherever practical install double sockets.
- Before you buy a lamp or other fittings, ask to see it lit, then you can judge the effect. Shade colours change when the light is on. To select a suitable sized shade to go with a table lamp, take the lamp to the shop and try different ones. Make sure that the shade you intend to use is suitable for the bulb, you don’t want it scorched by a powerful bulb.
- Make sure you know how the fitting works and how to replace the bulb before leaving the lighting shop.
- Be careful when you are highlighting a picture with a light, that it doesn’t fade it or that the heat doesn’t damage it.
- Remember dark surfaces absorb light and light surfaces reflect light. Colours look different under artificial light, so check its effect on a colour sample.
- It pays to put some time into planning your lighting, there is no point spending a lot of money and time on curtains, carpets, furniture etc. and the result is a flat look because of poor lighting. I will cover lighting a particular room e.g. Living room, Dining room, etc. in future issues.
When we think of Christmas, the lights are one of the items that create its atmosphere in our minds. Do be careful if you are using candles and keep an eye on the Christmas tree.
Hope you all have a nice Christmas and a happy New Year.
Mary D. Kelly