The 7 biggest lighting mistakes and how to avoid them

3/16/2017 12:21:00 pm HELEN STILES 0 Comments

The correct lighting can make a huge difference to how a house looks and feels. But if you've put in the latest LED spotlights, added some table lamps and even upped the ante with some picture lights, why doesn't your room look like those moody interior-design books? You could be making one of these key lighting design mistakes. As a nation, we're really buying into the transformative powers of light. You only have to look at the number of professional lighting designers now in business to see what I mean (go on, google lighting designers...told you)!

We interior designers need to stay ahead of the game too, so on the hunt for inspiration and expertise, I went along to a John Cullen lighting masterclass earlier this week. Held at their showrooms on the Kings Road, the masterclass was a truly enlightening (ahem) experience and a great way to catch up on the latest developments and ideas. I joined about 30 other designers, property developers and design-obsessives, to see the impact that lighting can make on living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, gardens and even wine cellars! Their showroom is a must-see destination if you want to be wowed by the power of light (and I’ve included much of their photography to highlight the point!)

The John Cullen team walked us through all manner of lighting schemes with plenty of dos and don’ts. They have worked on some amazing projects – designing and supplying lighting schemes for city pads, country residences and ski chalets. They’ll even make sure that your indoor and outdoor pools are appropriately lit. If your requirements are a little more pedestrian (ok, budget) then there is still plenty to learn from. By knowing the biggest lighting mistakes (and how to avoid them) you can make a real different to your interior design projects.

Lighting mistake No. 1 – lighting the floor, not the walls. 

If you place a pendant light in the middle of a room, a row of spotlights down the centre of a corridor or (worst of all) a grid of downlights across the ceiling then you are guilty of lighting the floor. Although this layout looks neat and symmetrical on paper (e.g. on the architect’s drawings of your new extension) it is NOT the best way to light your space. What you're doing is lighting the floor (rarely THAT exciting in design terms) and creating a space that can feel pretty uncomfortable. In reality, no one likes standing or sitting under an overhead light. Not only do these types of light glare irritatingly, but they also highlight thinning hair and cast unflattering shadows over faces.

The solution is to instead light the walls. Place spotlights close to the perimeter of your rooms (about 15cm from the edge is good) and angle them towards the walls to provide a wash of light that is reflected back into the room. In kitchens, angle these lights at the cupboards. If you have any texture, such as an exposed brick wall, or grass-cloth wallpaper, then this wall-washing is particularly effective. The John Cullen team recommend adding one or 2 down lights to highlight features like a vase on a coffee table, or a dining table. The overall result is much softer and more flattering.  And if you need any more convincing, then lighting the walls draws your eye to the edges creating the illusion of more space. Don’t worry if it looks wrong on paper, it’s how it feels in reality that matters.

Lighting mistake No 2 – lighting everything evenly.

Another common mistake, particularly when building an extension or new house, is to over-light everything. Rather than creating bright rooms, this tendency to add rows and rows of lights in fact creates flat spaces that lack depth and interest. You need to have some shadows for contrast and interest – and so that your table lamps can create that lovely cosy glow. And you don’t need light across every square centimeter of the room (unless you want it to feel like an airport lounge).

Lighting mistake No. 3 – no low-level lighting 

You probably know that a few lamps and wall lights soften an overall scheme, but have you considered low-level lighting? If you haven’t then you’re missing a trick. Uplights at floor level can cast beautiful patterns and shadows onto walls and are ideal for creating a lovely evening lighting scheme. Think about adding floor uplighters to highlight features such as a fireplace or free-standing bath. This is definitely easier to do if you are at the planning stage, but there are things you can add retrospectively too, for example placing uplights at the base of large indoor plants, or small eyelid LEDs in kitchen and island kickboards. At night you can turn off your overhead light sources and have a lovely atmospheric glow.

Lighting mistake No. 4 – no dimmers 

Having lights that you can’t dim is a huge lighting mistake. It used to be that LEDs were hard to dim, but technology has come a long way in the past few years (just make sure your switches are good quality and compatible with your lights so that they dim sufficiently and the bulbs don’t blow). Everything should be dimmable – lamps, wall lights, spots and pendants. If you feel like skimping on the investment in all those dimmer switches then Sally Storey, Design Director at John Cullen, advises spending your budget on your main living areas and saving money upstairs if you really need to. Dimming is essential to control the mood of a room.

Lighting mistake No. 5 – having a single lighting circuit

Ideally you want to create different lighting circuits that allow you to have different “scenes” at different times of day. This basically means that you can control certain groups of lights from different switches. If you’re starting from scratch, then your electrician can plan this in, providing different circuits (and switches) for different combinations of lights, but it is possible to add an extra lamp circuit without too much disruption. Failing this, there are plug-in timers and wireless solutions you can use to control all of your lamps remotely for example.

Lighting mistake No. 6 – no outside lighting

If you have a room that looks onto a garden or balcony, or large glass folding doors (hands up anyone who's done a kitchen extension in the last 10 years) then you should really consider lighting the view outside. This prevents your windows turning into huge black mirrors at night. Lights beyond the windows (e.g. in plants, on the patio, dotted through the flower beds) extend the perceived size of the room and create a totally different night-time view. Simple, but so effective!

Lighting mistake No. 7 – using cool rather than warm bulbs

With LED lighting there is a lot of talk about 2400s and 2700s. This refers to Kelvins, a measure of bulb temperature, but what it essentially means is cool versus warm light. In 99% of residential installations, you want to go for warm light (2700) which more closely resembles the warm, yellowish glow of incandescent bulbs. The exception might be utility rooms (and ocassionally, inside shelving units). But beware, bulbs from different manufacturers can look very different, even if they are both apparently 2700.

I know that I want the furniture, finishes and accessories I've spent hours choosing to look as good as possible, which is why I love being able to design the lighting early on in a project. In my own home there's still a bit of work to be done too – #3 and #6 in particular are being added to the to-do-list! How many of these lighting mistakes have you made? Which ones?