12 Interior Design Lighting Mistakes
And How to Avoid Them
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Being able to dim your lights is absolutely crucial as you’ll then be able to modulate the atmosphere at different times of the day.
Think of an open plan kitchen/living room – rainy Monday morning, getting the children ready for school. Breakfast, homework, sports gear, go! That same space will be used on a Saturday evening, entertaining friends, when you’ll want a subtle, relaxing atmosphere and a totally different mood.
Of all the mistakes with lighting I believe this is the most crucial and it’s pretty easy to replace your switches, even if you’re not doing any other work to your home.
There are some beautiful dimmers out now. This new innovative toggle dimmer from Soho Lighting combines the look of a classical toggle switch with a dimming function. Comes in a wide range of high quality finishes although I particularly like the vintage brass shown here:
Ceiling lights can also be a source of glare – see more about pendant lights below.
Lighting Tip: When buying any feature lights double check the details. Some pendant lights look stunning on the internet, but have integral LEDs that are not dimmable.
2. Not Enough Circuits
There’s no getting away from it. If you want to full control of your lighting scheme then you’ll need enough circuits.
For example, the open plan room mentioned above is basically three living areas in one, and each area will serve its own function. You won’t want the kitchen highlighted when you’re just sitting watching TV and you won’t the dirty dishes under a spotlight when you’re eating at the dining table.
Circuits are important in bedrooms and bathrooms too. Think through how you would use the space during the day as well as the evening, and the different scenarios in between.
You may be tempted to hold back on the number of circuits when you’re planning your interior design lighting, but you may well regret it. Always better to get it right in the beginning.
One of the top lighting mistakes is glare. Downlights are one of the worst culprits for this, mainly due to low quality fittings that have the source of light close to the surface. So, when you’re looking from one end of a room, say a kitchen, all you see is spots of glare in the ceiling.
Remedy: Make sure the light source is set back, ideally with a dark baffle. Think of walking down the corridor of a smart hotel. You shouldn’t be aware of the source of light, but just have the soft lighting illuminating your way.
These downlights are my favourites for absorbing glare due to the dark baffle. There’s the fixed version or the adjustable version which is useful for washing walls. They are both fire rated and take GU10 LED lamps.
4. Flat Lighting
If you have all the lighting coming from one direction, namely the ceiling, the effect will be flat and dull. The secret to good lighting is layering, and this can be done with the use of additional wall lights and lamps. Here are some of my go-to wall lights.
If you think about daylight, it doesn’t come from just one direction, apart from when the sun is really low, and shadows are cast. And there’s nothing softer than a hazy day – one of those beautiful summer mornings when the light is almost ethereal.
Flat light can be harsh and unflattering. You need to be cognizant of this when planning your bathroom lighting – wall lights (not glary) either side of a mirror will give the best light for shaving and putting make up on. And you certainly wouldn’t want to be lazing in a relaxing bath with downlights blazing – see Dimming, above.
5. No Lamp Points
Lamps make a room warmer and cosier, and help with zoning areas in the space. But it can be a bit of a bore turning several lamps on and off every time you enter and exit the room. That’s where 5 amp lamp points come in so you can control everything from one light switch.
If you’ve got a large open plan living area you definitely need zoning – and the last thing you want is long cables running across the floor to a seating area that’s away from the walls. If you fit some 5 amp lamp point sockets in the floor near the seating area you’ll be grateful you did.
These in-floor lamp sockets are excellent. They have flaps so everything is neat when not using the 5 amp point, and come in a wide range of finishes.
6. Cold Light Temperature
High on my list of lighting mistakes is having lighting that’s too cold.
Many manufacturers will quote 3000°K light temperature as being warm white but ideally you should opt for 2700°K in living areas. And don’t forget about the colour rendering.
What is colour rendering? If you’re buying an item of clothing, you may want to take it into the daylight to check the true colour. Why? Because daylight will give a true, pure colour and is classed as 100 on the Colour Rendering Index.
Having lighting with a good CRI will mean that your fabric colours pop, your food looks amazing and the tones of natural wood will be enhanced. Good for our own appearance too. What’s not to like? !
So check the CRI of your light bulbs – ideally go for 90 CRI but you can even get up to 97 which is par excellence.
7. Wrong Pendant Lights
Although these could be classed as feature lighting, it’s more than just the shape that’s a consideration. The type of light these give out will have a big effect on the overall feel of the interior.
A large metal pendant light may look lovely but remember that all the light will be coming downwards. They can work but will need other lighting in the room to assist – otherwise you’ll end up feeling like you’re being interrogated in some 1960s spy movie when you’re sitting at the kitchen table.
Get the hanging height right. Too low and you’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of some Nordic noir film. Too high and it will give the impression of a skirt being hitched up.
It’s not just what light fittings you choose but it’s where you put them.
Don’t leave it to the electrician. You should get involved and ideally go through all the positions and heights with the electrician during first fix. This is important during refurbishments as well as I’ve seen some dire decisions being made by the sparky to overcome structural obstacles.
My advice is to place wall lights at approximately eye level, in most cases.
Inground LED uplights are usually designed to skim the walls but if they’re placed too far away, the effect is lost. Generally I recommend placing the centre of the fitting 100mm away from the wall to get the impact.
Floor washing LEDs will create a sharper cut of light and tighter splay when placed lower down, closer to the floor – there are some excellent skirtings that make this easy. Higher up the wall, they will give a softer effect.
9. Balancing Light
If you’ve got a lot of natural light coming from one direction, you’ll need to balance this incoming daylight with some additional lighting towards the back of the room.
In the early stages of planning your lighting it’s worth analysing where the rooms are facing and how this will affect the light in the room at different times of the day.
If you’ve got a bright room but will be walking into a dark hall, try and soften the jolt of this transition by ensuring you have enough illumination in this darker area.
Try and avoid dark holes. So, for example, when you’re lighting a corridor and there are offshoots leading to say, the cloakroom, or a study, make sure there’s some soft lighting in these areas also.
10. Overdoing PIRs
PIRs – sensors to turn on lights automatically – are great in certain areas but be careful of overdoing them.
Having a PIR in a utility room is useful as you’re often carrying things when you enter and leave. PIRs are also useful in bathrooms for low level lighting during the night, as well as along corridors – especially useful when young children are in the house
It’s tempting to have motion sensors all over the house. I’ve heard parents groan that their children keep leaving lights on and have asked to have PIRs in their bedrooms. But many of us will have experienced being in a public convenience where we’re plunged into darkness and have to wave our hands madly to jolt the lighting back into gear. Not so pleasant for a child reading their bedtime story!
11. Task Lighting
Every area needs to have some task lighting built in, and the facility to dim this element down, or turn it off separately from the rest of the circuits.
This covers reading, cooking and food preparation, as well as cleaning. Even in a bedroom you’ll need to have the option of turning up the lighting so that you can clean thoroughly or look for a lost earing. This can often be covered by a pendant light that can turned up to full power, but you’re stuck if you decided you just wanted it soft and moody during the planning.
12. Dismissing Home Automation
Another interior design lighting mistake I’ve seen is not considering an automated lighting system. I’ve known client dismiss it, saying it’s too complicated. In fact, it’s the opposite.
If you think about how we live these days, so much of our time is spent is large open plan areas where, in effect, you combine three rooms: the kitchen, dining room, and living room. To create enough variation in the zones and moods, you need at least six different circuits, often more. That’s a lot of switches. That’s a lot of brain power remembering which switch controls which lighting circuit, and a lot of twiddling to get it right.
So, if you want to make your life easy, I would recommend installing some form of automated lighting system. It doesn’t need to be complicated – the technician deals with that part – but it does mean that you can set the ‘scenes’ and will only need to press one button to create a whole setting for various times of the day and different activities. Whilst you’re at it, you may like to include automated blinds which many of my clients find is a bonus.
But there’s a happy medium.
If you’re very techie, you may want to go as far as being able to control the exterior lighting from your phone when you’re lying in bed or set the lighting to automatically come on when you’re overseas, but bear in mind that costs will start mounting up. The most important area is the main living space.
And Finally… It’s not just about the lighting
It’s easy to compartmentalise design without thinking about how all the other elements will dovetail together.
Wall textures, interior design colour schemes, and existing imperfections will all have a bearing on the final lighting effects.
For example, dark walls, dark fabrics and dark woods can literally eat any natural light coming into the room. At night you can make it atmospheric but during the day it can be a bit gloomy unless you plan lighting to counteract it.
The Abigail Ahern look is great in magazines, and undoubtedly very stylish when entertaining in the evening, but how would it feel on a hot, bright summer’s day? Worth thinking about.
It all comes down to planning. If you analyse the existing, or future space, and think through various scenarios for when you’re using the area, you’ll cut down on lighting mistakes and hopefully
Claire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience