The biggest mistake most people make as first-time buyers is to inherit features or reproduce them instead of designing them. This is never more true than with lighting: most of us in our first home will either stick with the fixtures the house comes with or, if we’re starting from scratch, install a faithful replica of the last house we lived in as soon as we can! Lighting is a powerful tool, and perhaps we sense this and become intimidated and strike out for something safe: but when we do we miss out on the chance to design a lighting scheme that really works for our space.
The first question to ask before you start on the best bespoke lighting scheme for your home is this: how will I know when it works? If you find yourself dodging this way and that to stay out of your own light in order to read, write or do small-scale work like sewing, your lights aren’t right. If you avoid switching the lights on and blunder about in the dark in the evening because you can’t face glaring bright lights, your lighting isn’t right. If you find yourself moving lamps around the house to illuminate one task after another, or using the torch on your phone not just for emergencies, then (you guessed it) your lights aren’t right.
How do you use your home?
The trick is to start with a list of the rooms in your home, and under each one, write down the activities you do in there on any given day. For example, under ‘kitchen’ you might write ‘cooking’, including some fine tasks such as ‘chopping’ and ‘cleaning’, but also write ‘entertaining’, and perhaps also ‘dining’ if you eat at the counter on week-nights, or enjoy a glass of wine there while your partner cooks. You’ll soon find out what the problem is: you only have a one light scheme for every room, where most rooms need two! You want a very different atmosphere dicing herbs to drinking wine in the evening. The same applies for nearly every room of the house: the living room is for relaxing, but often also for homework, crafts or paperwork. The bedroom needs soothing and romantic lighting but also a targeted reading light and a source of natural light at all hours for dressing and the application of make-up. You might use the bathroom for a relaxing spa bath in the evening… but you also use it for putting on mascara, and you need to be able to see if the mirror is streaked when you’re cleaning.
When you’ve completed your list, you’ll see that you need two or more complete lighting schemes in every room. This is the list you’ll use to choose light sources, styles, tones and locations for every room. Ask yourself how much light you need, what atmosphere you’re trying to create, and in what direction the light should shine. Experiment with LEDs and incandescents, dimmers and spotlights, pendants and uplighters, and make sure you aren’t creating shadows or dark spots.