Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

I have talked quite a bit recently about how using colour in our homes can affect the way we feel, and how we behave.  But there is one vital element that needs to exist in order for us even to see colour, and that is light.  Without light, everything is just black.  It is light reflecting off the surfaces that enables us to see colour in the first place.  As Ingrid Fetell Lee puts it so succinctly, “Light is colour’s power supply”.

Except in very hot climates, people naturally gravitate to sunny spaces.  Sunlight brings us joy, and helps to keep our circadian rhythms regulated.  The blue colours found in morning sunlight stimulate the production of serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone), and the red light that we get at sunset stimulates the production of melatonin (the ‘sleepy’ hormone).  Getting the right balance of serotonin and melatonin is linked to sleep quality, mood, alertness and depression to name a few things, and so it’s vital that we light our homes correctly so that they support our circadian rhythm, rather than working against it.

Our first priority for light is, of course, natural light, and so it is important that we design our interiors around our windows to ensure we can take full advantage of them.  Make sure your curtain tracks are long enough that your curtains don’t overhang the window glass when they are open.  And mirrors are great for bounding light around our spaces.  And if the light streaming through your windows is too bright, then consider ways of diffusing the light to create a more dappled effect.

Sunlight streams through this window

However, in the absence of sunlight, we need to have alternative lighting options available – to provide lighting that stimulates us, and produces a positive psychological or physiological response.  And to achieve this, we need control over our lighting so that we can vary its intensity at different times of the day.

The design of lighting schemes is one of the most common aspects of an interior design projects that I get asked to help with.  So, when it comes to lighting we need to think of it terms of the four ways that lighting is used:

1. Ambient Lighting

This is the essential basis of lighting for any room, and is there to produce general illumination.  Ambient lighting should fill the room with a glow of light and soften the shadows, and is best achieved by reflecting the light off walls and ceilings to soften and diffuse the light.  Think about uplighters, and an LED strip around a coffer ceiling.

2. Accent Lighting

This is where you are lighting a specific object, for example a piece of art, a textured wall or some beautiful drapery.  The focus becomes the art, the wall or the curtains, rather than the source of the light itself.  Accent lighting can also be used to great effect in bathroom niches, or within shelf displays.

The lighting of this niche puts the focus on the patterned tiles

3. Task Lighting

Task lighting provides light for carrying out specific tasks, such a reading, cooking, desk work, and putting on your make up / shaving, etc.  The positioning of the lighting here is important to get right, as the light should ideally be between your head and the book / work surface in order to illuminate the task at hand.  For reading and desk work, choose a light with a solid shade that will give out a focused beam of light.  In the bathroom, position lights either side of the mirror to give you a shadow-free reflection.

This bedside wall light provides task lighting for reading

4. Decorative Lighting

Often referred to as ‘architectural jewellery’, decorative light comes in the forms of beautiful chandeliers, wall lights and table lamps.  These lights provide the glimmer and sparkle that bring us joy.  Chandeliers can also be offset, to add a sculptural element to the space.  Decorative lighting in itself doesn’t emit much light in a room, but is great for providing that low level glow of soft warm light in the evenings when you want your body to start getting ready for sleep.

An off centred decorative pendant adds a sculptural element to this living room

Good lighting requires more than just thinking about the different types of lighting.  It is also about how we control our lighting. Putting your lighting on different, dimmable circuits will give you maximum control, allowing you to set the mood for different occasions.  Lighting is also a great way to zone an open plan space

And don’t forget to think about layering, balance and proportion.  Small lights can look lost in a large space, so introduce oversized lights, or hang smaller lights in multiples.  Having different types of lighting will also help us to layer our lighting, using a combination of ceiling lights, wall lights and table lamps.  Also think about the colours and shaped in the room, and choose your lighting to work with these.

Layers and zoning work to complete this lighting scheme

So that is lighting in a nutshell.  Please do get in touch if I can help you with your lighting scheme.

“In nature, light creates the colour. In the picture, colour creates the light.”
Hans Hofmann   

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