Interior designers have many tools at their disposal when it comes to creating interior design schemes. One of these tools, however, is quite often overlooked as people don’t realize the potential that it has to transform a space. This tool is lighting and it has the power to make or break an interior scheme. Lighting can make a house into a home and will allow the personality of the owner to shine through. Without good lighting, the impact of all the other well-thought out details – sumptuous furnishings, opulent flooring, luxurious wallcoverings – will be lost. So getting the lighting right is essential if we are to make the most of our homes.
Lucy Martin is Design Director at John Cullen Lighting, a company whose 30 years’ experience in lighting and product design puts it at the forefront of lighting design and development. Lucy heads up the design team at John Cullen working in projects around the world. She also lectures at design schools and has just published her first book entitled The Lighting Bible, which offers a room-by-room guide to getting the most out of your lighting and provides the understanding, confidence and inspiration to actually go ahead and do it.
Here at Freshome we wanted to know more about how good lighting can transform our homes and we thought you might be interested too. So we asked Lucy Martin if she wouldn’t mind answering our questions and we were delighted when she agreed.
Can you please explain the differences that exist between natural and artificial light?
LM. The clarity of natural daylight at its best is hard to replicate, although this does depend on where you live. For example, the quality and intensity of light at the North Pole (on a good day) and in the Southern Ocean is quite stunning. In more temperate climates, such as the UK, the weather affects how much true brilliant natural light we perceive. Thus we often view natural light as dull, grey and flat.
Artificial light comes in all hues and intensities. The fast progression of technological development in lighting at present makes it easier to try to replicate natural light. However artificial light has different properties and has a different role to play in our built environment.
The need for energy efficiency is driving our built environment towards harvesting of natural daylight, for example the huge rise in the use of glass in domestic dwellings. Artificial light can thus be used more sparingly.
What are the main factors to consider when designing a lighting scheme for a residential interior?
LM. The more detail you can confirm before embarking on a lighting scheme, the better the lighting will be. Good quality energy efficient lighting, such as LED, that you might actually want to use in your home is expensive compared to standard compact fluorescent. From a budget point of view it makes sense to use it sparingly where necessary. The more idea a lighting designer has about finishes, furniture layout, joinery details, and an understanding of how the house will flow, are essentials to getting the lighting as good as it can be. A well lit room is used. A badly lit room is abandoned very early on!
Are there different types of lighting that are best suited for certain rooms?
LM. Good lighting sets the tone and creates the atmosphere in a room. The key is to understand the use of that room and apply the relevant lighting to ensure it functions well. For example a laundry or utility room will be well served with glare free compact fluorescent, whereas a study will require particular attention to task lighting. An open plan living/dining/kitchen needs to have several different circuits of lighting, perhaps a mix of LED spots and low level floor washers, LED undercupboard task lights, and mains voltage lamp light to create depth and texture in the space.
How important is it to get the correct balance between task lighting and mood lighting?
LM. Essential! Task lighting is specific and focussed and usually from one type of fitting. Mood lighting is potentially a soft, diffuse balance of several difference sources of light within the same space.
What are the main types of lighting used in residential interiors and what kinds of effects can be achieved?
LM. Mains voltage – this is still a perennial favourite for the atmosphere is creates. Human beings respond emotionally to their lit environment, and a mains voltage lamp light will always appear cosy and atmospheric.
Low voltage – the low voltage spot has been the mainstay of domestic residential lighting for the last 20 years. A good quality dichroic MR16 lamp provides accurate colour rendition and a neat compact fitting. Used for general lighting as well as specific lighting e.g. to light art work. Low voltage also enabled the revolution of low level light fittings such as step washers and in–ground uplights as these could be much smaller than their predecessors.
LED (Light Emitting Diode) – LED now replaces all the jobs that low voltage has been used for. The output and CRI – Colour Rendering Index (or ability to reflect a true colour) – of LED has improved sufficiently to allow like-for-like replacement. LED has the advantage of being virtually maintenance free as well as cool to the touch.
Compact and linear fluorescent – CFL’s have improved no end in line with the development of the LEDs. They are generally cheap and easy to install and have a role to play in functional ‘back room’ areas of domestic dwellings.
How are the dramatic improvements in lighting technology and the new energy efficiency regulations affecting the way that we are able to light our homes?
LM. Lighting a house with LED is not so much a choice as a necessity now. Although good quality LED spots will cost more than a traditional low voltage spot, LED requires little if any maintenance and running costs are massively reduced. However good design is a must to achieve a space in which you actually want to live. LED behaves very differently to low voltage and mains voltage light. LED is a direct light source and does not have the same ambient qualities as mains and low voltage so you really need to know what you are doing with LED in order to achieve the best possible design.
How important is the positioning of lighting to the success of an overall scheme?
LM. The golden rule of good lighting design is to use the right type of light fitting in the right position. A good rule of thumb is to question the function of every fitting. If it does not have a specific task you should delete it from a scheme. Beware scattering fittings throughout for ‘general infill’. These will light only the floor and visually ‘close a space down’.
How important is it to consider the effects of reflection and shadow in a lighting scheme?
LM. Light, shade and reflection are the essential components of any scheme. Light is important but without shadow you cannot achieve any variation, texture or atmosphere. Understanding the space in which you are working will allow you to use reflection to your advantage where required and mask it where necessary.
In what ways can lighting be used effectively to enhance small spaces and break up or divide large open spaces?
LM. Directional recessed spot light used correctly to bounce reflected light off walls is the best way to open out a space. Your eye is always drawn to the brightest point thus reflected light will make a small space appear larger. In a large open plan space, breaking up the lighting utilising several different circuits is the first thing to do to ensure you can use all or just parts of the open plan space.
How important is the level of control that we have over the lighting in our homes?
LM. Being able to control lighting is essential to any domestic scheme. Dimming a lighting circuit adds instant flexibility and mood lighting to the simplest of schemes. At the other end of the scale a whole house control system can allow a client to live efficiently, conveniently and economically and a well designed lighting scheme will come into its own. Where a control system is used it is paramount that the system is properly commissioned by the lighting designer.
How can lighting be used to provide focal points within a room?
LM. The eye is always drawn to the brightest point. Thus a correctly recessed spot will highlight art or a mirror over a fireplace in a living room. Equally in a listed building where recess may not be available, the use of two plug-in compact floor based uplights will frame the fireplace creating a stronger central focal point.
Can you explain what is meant by ‘layering light sources’?
LM. Rooms are three dimensional. Lighting can be recessed in the ceiling, mounted on or in walls, recessed in the floor or in walls at low level and inserted into joinery. Also lighting that can be plugged in comes in all shapes and sizes. Taking all these elements into account will help to build a better scheme. Think about how lighting might be used in the floor, wall and ceiling when planning. This will result in a more cohesive lighting scheme.
What are your top tips for getting the best out of your lighting?
LM. Use a designer if at all possible. So much has changed in lighting over the last two years, it is a minefield to understand so if at all affordable get help. It will reap dividends in the future.
Even in the simplest schemes use a dimmer for instant flexibility!
Steer clear of compact fluorescent lamps in your table lamps. Use energy saving lamps instead. They are closer to traditional incandescent lights sources, dimmable and easy to recycle.
You get what you pay for with light fittings. Get the best you can afford. It really does make a difference to the space that you live in. Your lighting is as important as the structure of your house. If it’s not good, the interior just won’t work however much money you spend on your interior design.
Thank you Lucy for agreeing to be grilled by Freshome and thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. For anyone who wants a more in-depth guide to lighting residential interiors Lucy’s book is available to buy here. We hope you found this interview useful and please let us know if you will be taking Lucy’s advice and trying any of the techniques in your own home!