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Lighting an Old Cottage – Expert Tips

Lighting an Old Cottage – Expert Tips


Expert Tips on Lighting an Old Cottage

Lighting an old cottage has its challenges.

Many of us dream of a cosy country cottage with roses around the door but it takes a bit of thought balancing modern lighting effects with a classical interior – and doing it sympathetically.

The main drawback with an old cottage is low ceilings (often beamed) and small windows. And then there are often quirky features that can affect the amount of natural light coming in.

So, when it comes to lighting an old cottage you need to consider how to light it for the day and the night. Oddly, planning the lighting for the day can be more challenging.

At night an old cottage can be charmingly lit with table lamps and floor lamps so, as long as the kitchen has good lighting, and the stairs are lit safely there’s not usually a rush to sort the lighting out.

It’s a different matter during the day, especially in the winter and this can make a dream cottage quite gloomy if you don’t get the lighting right.

Here are a few tips to help with the lighting of an old cottage or old house, and as the decoration can also have an impact, I’ve included some interior design tricks as well.

Unbalanced Light

If you have natural light only coming from one side of a room you need to balance it by casting light onto the rear, otherwise it can feel rather like a cave at one end.

Incorporating light onto this back wall can be done if various ways:

  • Downlights near the rear wall washing light down
  • Illuminating artwork on this wall by tilted downlights or surface spots
  • Uplights washing light up and reflecting on the ceiling (see Case Study below)
  • Wall lights

Each situation will have one or two methods that are most appropriate and your own design and living style will steer you towards your own best choice.

I believe you need to be careful about how many downlights you incorporate into a classical property but, used cleverly (with dark baffles so you don’t see the source of the light) they can create a good amount of light without being a feature.

Low Ceilings

This can be one of the bug bears of an old building. The lower the ceiling, the less light is able to travel to the back of the room. Often ceilings are beamed and these beams are frequently dark.

Painting the ceiling and beams a light colour will make the ceiling appear higher and have a big effect on the amount of reflected light in the room.

Restricted Space for Downlights

So often the recess depth between the ceiling and the floor above is shallow which makes fitting fire rated downlights tricky. If the ceiling is beamed, there is no depth at all.

See if you can partly fill between two beams and create enough depth to take downlights towards the back of the room. You wouldn’t notice this filling when you’re in the rest of the room.

Using discreet spotlights to cast light onto specific points on the walls such as artwork or objets can help to reflect light back into the room.

Use Uplights

Small inground LED uplights set in the floor can give a magical effect by skimming light up a wall and reflecting light off the ceiling. This can give the illusion of a higher ceiling.

Wall Lights

These are often the best way of bringing light into the room but it’s best to select fittings that are compatible with a traditional interior. They need to cast a good amount of light out into the room, and not create any glare. Also beware of having too many in a room – it’s best to mix it up.


Mirrors help to reflect natural daylight, especially when placed opposite a window. They also multiply light coming from other sources such as lamps and wall fittings in the room.

Quality of Light

This is in terms of light temperature and selecting light fittings or bulbs that give out a pure light. I prefer 2700°K temperature bul you also need to consider the colour rendering (CRI) which, ideally, should be above 90.

Light Coloured Curtains

Rich fabrics can suit old properties but if you select a dark material for your curtains they’ll eat up the light so you’re better off going for a light coloured fabric, or at least, predominantly light.

Lighting Case Study

I was called to a lovely Regency house in Falmouth which overlooked the water. They were converting the lower ground floor into a playroom and occasional guest room with a sofa bed. The room was very low! Anybody over 5’9 would have to bend their heads in places. It certainly wouldn’t have passed building regs in this day and age.

As well as incorporating some shallow downlights in a few positions, I suggested putting a run of small LED uplights to run along the back wall. As they didn’t want to disturb the old slate floor I proposed building out some boxing to accommodate the LEDs which would make it very easy and was an economical solution.

Despite the husband being extremely sceptical in the beginning once it was done, he was delighted and phoned to say how pleased they were. No photos I’m afraid,

Claire-PendarvesClaire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience

Meet the Designer

Lighting Coastal Gardens in Cornwall

Lighting Coastal Gardens in Cornwall

Lighting Coastal Gardens in Cornwall

Lighting Coastal Gardens Cornwall

I’ve worked as a designer in Cornwall for over 25 years and have learned from experience (sometimes bitter!) how harsh the maritime climate can be when it comes to lighting coastal gardens.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid pitfalls when it comes to lighting your garden near the sea.

Salt and Corrosion Resistance

Just because a fitting looks nautical doesn’t mean the material it’s made of is robust enough to withstand the harsh maritime conditions. The best metals to go for are bronze, brass, copper, marine grade stainless steel or even hot-dipped galvanised steel.

Bear in mind that where you place the fittings will also have an effect on corrosion. I’ve known the best marine grade stainless steel to ‘tea stain’ when placed beneath an overhang. This was with one of my lighting design projects in St Mawes, Cornwall. The reason for this is that the fitting wasn’t being washed by the rain yet was still subject to the salty corrosive air. If you’re concerned about this, make sure you wash and grease the fitting from time to time.

Check out my core selection of brass wall lights suitable for coastal gardens


Go for good IP ratings although it’s worth bearing in mind that many EU products aren’t always tested to such a high spec as in the UK. I’ve bought some fabulous exterior fittings from Scandinavia which have lasted years – in reality they would be IP65 quality in the UK but only come with an IP44 testing certificate. So you can use your judgement provided the exterior light meets safety regulations and you consider where it’s going to be placed, But always be super-vigilant if you’re anywhere near the sea spray.

When using drivers or transformers I like to be extra cautious so, to be on the safe side, it’s best to specify water-proof versions and place these in a water-tight box. That way you have double protection,

Wind Resistance

Choose sturdy fittings that will withstand the high winds that can occur near the sea. Make sure that bollards have extra strong fixings or are cemented in situ. A fitting that will work in a city garden will get much more of a hammering near the coast!

Water Tight Connections

It’s always true when lighting any garden that you should think of any joints as the ‘weakest link’ and try and cut down on under-earth connections as much as possible. If you have no choice but to connect beneath the soil then use a joint kit, using crimp sleeves and an adhesive heat shrink. This should help avoid any ingress of moisture into the light fitting. Be firm about this with your electrician.

Also where possible specify longer leads that will reach the driver or mains supply.  This is usually only possible with high spec fittings but if you have the option if would be best to pay that little bit extra for a longer lead.

Glare Control

It’s always important to consider any glare that light fittings emit and try to minimise this by the light fittings you select, and where you place them. This can be even more relevant in coastal gardens that are sloping or terraced. Low level lighting works well when lighting pathways and steps but, if you have a lot of steps, it can often be more cost effective to choose slightly larger fittings (hooded) that give a wider spread of light.

Check out this core selection of outdoor step lights 

Position of Fixtures

I’ve designed several cliffside gardens in Cornwall and have learnt that you always need to consider how you will maintain the fitting without risking life and limb. Even LED fittings may need maintenance at some stage and LED bulbs on mains fittings will need to be changed – not that often hopefully,  but it’s always worth bearing in mind.

Environmental Impact

Try to consider the effect that the selected light fittings will have on the wildlife and any neighbours. It’s tragic to see a coastline punctuated with bright glary lights that affect the enjoyment of people living in the vicinity. Even the largest, most beautiful gardens can be lit discreetly and sympathetically. Remember the adage Less is More.

In summary, provided you consider all the elements above, then lighting coastal gardens is pretty much the same as landscape lighting in any part of the country.

12 Quick Tips for Lighting a Garden

12 Quick Tips for Lighting a Garden


Here are some quick lighting tips for lighting a garden.

Light for inside as well as outside. Most of the time (in the UK) you will be seeing the garden at night from the house, so use this to your advantage. By lighting a couple of feature plants, for example, close to your living area you’ll minimise the mirror-like blackness of large glass windows, as well as creating a stylish feature.

Create zones that can be controlled separately for different functions and times of the year. Subtle lighting in the winter can pick out interesting features and make the garden seem less bleak at night but you’ll want more lighting for entertaining in the summer when everything is in bloom.

Path and Step Lighting is crucial but doesn’t need to be merely functional. It can be attractive as well. Avoid glare with hooded steplights or LEDs set into the stringers. Path lights set in the ground can wash light over the route without any dazzle.

Check my core selection of outdoor step lights here

Don’t Overlight the garden for several reasons. Too much light will make it feel flat and cold. You’ll also annoy the neighbours as well as frightening the wildlife away.

You need less light than you think. When you look at the wattage of a bulb or LED output, don’t compare it to lights you choose for the interior. Light is greatly accentuated against the inky darkness. You’ll need less than you think.

Use light to ‘paint’ your garden. Uplighting trees and plants, grazing light up walls and focusing pools of light on interesting features will create magical effects and, when carefully planned, can double-up as functional lighting.

Factor in easy controls for lighting a barbeque and outdoor kitchen. This is functional lighting that needs to be turned off, or at least dimmed, once the cooking has finished otherwise it will affect the atmosphere. Much easier if controlled close to hand.

Security lighting should be on a separate circuit. This can double up as functional lighting for when you’re unloading the car in the dark, but you don’t want it glaring away when you’re enjoying a tranquil evening in the garden.

Don’t skimp on quality. Although it’s tempting to ‘economise’ on exterior lighting you’ll regret not buying products that are up to the job. Go for good IP ratings and make sure that the finish will withstand the elements, especially if you’re near the coast.

Consider Rechargeable Lamps for entertaining. There’s a fabulous array of outdoor lamps that you can charge up ready for when you’re entertaining. This makes planning your garden lighting so much easier and more flexible,

Lighting the house façade and front garden can make a big impact. This is very much part of the garden and dramatic effects can be created by up-down lights flanking the entrance, wall lanterns, or uplights washing up the building.

Check out my core selection of exterior up-down lights here

Build in a bit of magic. There was a time when fairy lights were saved for Christmas but nowadays we can enjoy the magic of twinkly lights throughout the year. There’s a great selection of solar powered fairy lights on the market which makes it very easy to add ambience to your garden without the need for an electrician.

12 Interior Design Lighting Mistakes

12 Interior Design Lighting Mistakes


12 Interior Design Lighting Mistakes

And How to Avoid Them

This page may contain affiliate links which means I’ll earn a small commission in the event of a sale – at no extra cost to you

1. Dimming

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.

3. Glare

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.

pinhole-downlight-fixed pinhole-downlight-adjustable

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.

8. Positioning

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-PendarvesClaire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience

Meet the Designer

Hallway Lighting Tips by a Lighting Designer

Hallway Lighting Tips by a Lighting Designer

This page may contain affiliate links which means I’ll earn a small commission if you make a purchase – at no extra cost to you.


The Importance of Hallway Lighting

They say it takes just 7 seconds for us to make judgements about the people we meet. The same goes for your hallway. It’s the first area visitors see and within seconds the tone of your home is set.

It’s also the place that greets you every day you come home so you want it to be welcoming and to lift your mood at the end of hard day’s work.

Of course, the décor will have a big impact but it’s the lighting that makes the biggest difference, especially in the evening.

Lighting is a Journey

When I design a light plan I literally visualise walking through the front door and assessing how it would feel. How it looks you may say. Yes, but I maintain that lighting is more than the look. Lighting is emotion. You want your home to look beautiful but most of all you want it to make you feel good.

So, open your front door and assess the bare bones of your entrance hall. Of course, hallways can range from a grand vestibule with a sweeping staircase to a dingy corridor with a multitude of doors. Each space will need its own treatment, but general rules apply.

The Atmospheric Circuit

These days we can weave in small LED uplights and floor washers, as well as some discreet wall lights that barely use half the amount of electricity of an old incandescent light bulb. Creating a circuit with these light fittings can warm the area and help connect your living spaces.

These Borgo floor washers create a great effect.

If your stairs are running up from the hallway lighting the treads with tiny LEDs set into the stringers is effective. Not only will these enhance the look of the hallway but, on a practical level, they’re useful when you want to nip upstairs without the need to turn on the overhead lights.

When there are children in the house, it’s a huge benefit to have this low-level lighting running up to the landing outside their bedrooms. This helps them, and you, feel connected on a practical and psychological level.


We all, at a primal level, feel good when we’re near a fire, candles or light reflecting off water. It helps to ‘lift’ us. The same goes with uplights. They make the area feel lighter – and I use this term in sense of weight here. They also help to lead us through an area, as well as adding to the layering of light, which is a crucial element of good lighting design. More about that later.

Placed at the end of a long hallway, uplights have the effect of enticing us on our journey. Placed either side of the entrance door, they can even enhance the approach to the house, when viewed from outside.

Lighting tip no.1 : Go for low glare fittings so they don’t shine in your eyes as you walk past.

Lighting tip no.2:  Narrow beam output will be punchier and, will reflect off the ceiling for a lovely effect.

Floor washing

You need to mix it up in terms of effects, and combining some floor washers with LED uplights works well, especially down a long corridor. It also helps to bring some gentle light into small areas running off the hallway so that you don’t have dark voids.

Lighting tip no. 3: Try and get a rhythm with the placement of these. Sometimes this can be tricky if there are a lot of doors leading off the hallway.

Layering Light

Lighting coming from only one direction can be flat and lifeless so it’s good to mix it up. Usually, you’ll want two or three circuits, depending on the size of your hallway. This can be done with the LED Atmospheric circuit, then wall lights, downlights or a feature pendant light.


Not all downlights are created equal. The worst can be glary and emit a cold, almost bluey light. Choose downlights where the light source is set back. For the least amount of glare select ones with dark baffles – these work particularly well in traditional settings and where the ceiling is low. For contemporary interiors, or where ceilings are higher, you may prefer the ones with white baffles but you still want the source of light set back.

Go for a warm light, preferably 2700°K. You can even get downlights and retrofit bulbs where the temperature will warm as they dim. More about those in my piece on choosing downlights.

Lighting Tip no. 4: Always use a dimmer on overhead lighting so you can adapt the mood.

Wall lights

These work well in hallways to help with the layering of light and this is where you can blend the interior design with lighting effects using some statement pieces.

Choose shallow fittings if the space is tight. Not only will they work better visually but they’re in less danger of getting damaged.

These are my 12 Go-Too Astro wall lights

Glass wall lights can work well but beware of glare. Frosted and prismatic ribbed glass help soften the light and holophane glass fits in well with classical hallway lighting.


They come in all shapes and sizes but if you get it right, they can look stunning and give a luxurious air to the space. Consider where you’re placing the fitting for maximum impact. Sometimes it’s better to position a chandelier further down the hall where it can be appreciated from more angles, or occasionally you can marry a small and larger one together in a more spacious hallway.

Large drop chandeliers can look luxurious when fixed to the upper level, cascading down through a stairwell. If you’ve splashed out on one of these you may not need much else in the way of feature pendants otherwise it will detract from the impact.

Beautiful Hallways are Not Just the Lighting

As I trained originally as an interior designer, I don’t just view the lighting element in isolation. There are other things you can do to weave interior design techniques with your hallway lighting.

A Welcome Lamp

In most hallways you’ll want a table, either a slim console table where you can put your keys, letters etc. or a round table in the centre of a wide expanse where you can also place a beautiful vase of flowers.

And it’s always nice to have a mirror where you can check the slant of your cap as you leave the house. This is the perfect spot for a lamp, or even a pair, depending on the size of your hall.

If your hallway is very tight for space, a floating shelf with a mirror above can work well, and a pair of slim wall lights either side can set the scene.


Well placed mirrors can help to widen tight spaces, but you need to think this out carefully. If you’ve got a lot of doors running down a corridor you don’t want to reflect yet another door.

Beware of putting a mirror at the end of a long corridor as it will only make it look even longer.


Incorporating niches can create pockets of interest and help to widen tight spaces. If the layout of the hall takes you towards a blank end, then incorporating a niche with a small sculpture or work of art works brilliantly when lit with a simple mini LED. This is a clever technique – you’re bringing in light yet at the same time creating a feature.


Washing artwork with light helps to create interest and also bounces reflected light back into the space. This can work well at the blank end, or dog leg of a corridor.

One of the first questions I ask clients when I take on a project is if they have any specific pictures or items they want to highlight. This is not just for hallway lighting but other areas as well.

Paint and Wallcoverings

Many hallways will have a multitude of doors running off them and it can all look a bit busy. Painting the walls and woodwork the same colour can soften this all down and is very much the look nowadays.

Bad proportions

Some corridors are long with disproportionately high ceilings. You’ll see this in old mansion flats and the effect is not good, especially where there are several doors. It can all look very utilitarian.

Consider mounting coving housing LED tape, above the line of the doors and washing light up gently onto the ceiling. This shouldn’t be strong light, and ideally should be offset with wall lights to bring some of the light down. Layering again!

Alternatively use pendant lights to bring the level of light down. Globes work really well in this instance as they cast light all around and give the space an airy feel. The worst sort of pendant light you could choose would be something heavy and metallic, although you could get away with it if offset by other lighting effects, such as described above.

See my piece on Best pendant lights for hallways

In conclusion

Everyone will be at different stages of their building or renovation project, and many will just want to enhance their existing hallway lighting without spending a fortune on fittings or visits from an electrician.

If you want to keep it simple, my three top tips would be:

  • Use a table lamp. If your hall is small check out my piece on 10 beautiful slim table lamps for tight spaces.
  • Add a dimmer switch so you can vary the mood.
  • Change your downlights so the light source is set back. This will make them less glary.

Good luck and good lighting!

Claire-PendarvesClaire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience

Meet the Designer



Vaulted Ceiling Lighting: Consultant Advice

Vaulted Ceiling Lighting: Consultant Advice

Vaulted ceiling lighting can present challenges but, when you do it properly, the effect can be wonderful. Ultimately what you want is the feeling of airy space. The height of a high sloped ceiling can create this, even with a relatively small footprint, but you also want to be able to adapt the mood so you can feel cosy.

Here’s some lighting consultant advice:

Rip Up the Lighting Rule Book

We’re told that there are four main forms of lighting an interior. These are Task, Decorative, Ambient and Accent lighting. I suggest you rip up this outdated rule book and start afresh!

Nowadays, with modern lighting techniques, lights aren’t so single faceted. Task lighting morphs into accent lighting – take low floor washes illuminating steps, for example. Decorative lighting can serve as ambient light and who wants just functional task lighting when it can be pretty as well?

So start from the beginning, forget labels, and think what you need.

  • The space should be bright and lively when necessary – such as on a gloomy day, or when you’re cleaning the area.
  • You want to emphasise the height of the vaulted ceiling without unbalancing the room. More about that later.
  • You want to be able to focus more light on certain areas, such as reading, eating, preparing food etc, without compromising the atmosphere of the entire space.
  • You don’t want all the light to be coming from the same direction – this will give a flat feeling. The key to perfect lighting is layering.

I’ll break it down and make it simple.

Vaulted Ceiling Lighting Methods

Every space is individual and you can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. So you should start by assessing the space. Stand back (if you are in the space) or analyse the plans, elevations and cross-sections.

  • Are there any beams? Are they metal or wood, functional or feature? Can you fix any lighting to them? Would you want to?
  • How does the sloping ceiling look? What’s the construction? Tongue and groove, simple plasterboard? Are you wanting rustic, country, or sophisticated feel?
  • How many skylights will there be and where will they be located?
  • Where’s the furniture going to be situated? This is easier to work out for a kitchen but for a large multi-functional open plan area situated under a vaulted ceiling, it needs some forethought. It’s not always vital to know for living room areas in the early stage but the more you plan, the better the effect.

Note: It’s not unusual for kitchen islands to be situated directly under roof lights, This can be lovely during the day but can present challenges for lighting in the evenings, especially if it’s a working area. Worth considering if you’re in the early architectural planning phase.

Downlights in Vaulted Ceilings

As a lighting consultant, I’m often sent plans for my design work, where the initial lighting has been marked up, and I’m surprised at how often downlights are marked into a vaulted ceiling lighting plan. I would generally avoid this for the following reasons:

  1. Putting downlights into the pitched ceiling can compromise the insulation in the roof (depending on the construction). LED downlights don’t like having insulation packed around them, otherwise they’ll overheat and won’t last. Consequently, you’ll need to move the insulation away from the fitting which will affect the insulating properties in the roof above.
  2. Most downlights have limited tilt (20-30 degrees) compared to the degree of a pitched roof. If you’re putting downlights in the underside of a sloped ceiling you want to ensure that the light points downwards, and doesn’t shoot across to the other side of the room. This is pointless and creates glare.
  3. If the vaulted ceiling is high, you would need to ensure that the downlights emit a powerful punch of light to travel the distance. Check the lumens.

Lighting Tip: The way around using downlights is by using surface mounted spots but use these with discretion. Preferably use spotlights with dark baffles and where the light source is set back. This will help reduce glare.

Vaulted Ceiling Pendant Lights

Well selected pendant lights can look great in a vaulted ceiling but it’s worth bearing the following in mind.

Size matters. Feature pendant lights need to be large. What looked big in the showroom, or when you saw it online, can look the size of a pea compared to the large space once it’s installed. And then it’s too late!

Lighting Tip: There’s a lot to be said for a large piece (or pieces) of cardboard and a pair of scissors. If you cut out the approximate shape of the pendant light and hang it, or hold it up, it will give you a sense of proportion before you commit to buying a hanging light.

Large feature pendant lights can be heavy so make sure you’ve allowed for reinforcement in the ceiling during the building stage.

For a lightweight, impressive light fitting in a contemporary space the Norm 69 Lamp XX Large (78 cms) by Normann Copenhagen creates a powerful punch without a huge price tag. Smaller ones are available but you will need to put it together, or get someone to do it for you.

There are all sorts of rules (again!) about the height you should hang a pendant light in a given space. Forget them. Each location is different, each occupant of the building is a different height. Ensure you’re on site when the electrician’s hanging the lights. If you can’t quite decide on the height, opt for lower. You can always shorten the lead later, but it can jar if a feature pendant light is set too high. Rather than bringing the source of light down towards the living zone, the light can hang around in the ether.

Lighting Tip: If you want to have a better idea of the height you would like to hang the light, draw an elevation to scale, with the height of a person (personalised if appropriate) and an outline of the size of the luminaire. That should give you an idea of where you would like the bottom of the light fitting to hang.

Make sure you choose a pendant light with a long enough flex. Many chandeliers and hanging lights come with 2 metre length cords, or sometimes even shorter than that. Depending on the height of your vaulted ceiling, this wouldn’t allow the full drop that you really need. Many designer lighting companies will supply a longer flex on request so worth checking out.

As well as checking the specification in terms of length of cord, you should also make sure that the luminaire is dimmable. Some chandeliers or feature lights look wonderful, but they come with built-in LEDs and will often state that they are not dimmable, or require a specific dimming protocol. I would always advise that you’re able to dim hanging lights.

Don’t forget the space above a feature light. If you choose say, a metal luminaire, there won’t be any light transmitted to the space directly above it. This will create a heavy feeling whereas ideally the space should feel light and airy.

Lighting Tip: A feature pendant light that emanates light down, as well as outwards and upwards will have a softening effect on the whole space.

Creating Atmosphere with Vaulted Ceiling Lighting

Accentuating the height of a cathedral ceiling or pitched roof can look impressive but it needs to be done delicately. If you over-light the height, the balance of the room will be affected, and it can make the room feel cold. The best solution is to factor in soft lighting to wash upwards, and ideally be able to manipulate this by using dimmers.

This can be done in various ways

  1. 1.Use linear lighting set into coving around the room, or just beneath the sloping ceiling. Take it down slightly so that the source of light isn’t too tight to the slope, in other words so the light can breathe and has room to travel further up the slopes of the vaulted ceiling. I like the lighting coving supplied by Orac Décor.
  2. Linear light can also work when fitted to the top side of the cross beams running across the room or set above kitchen units or shelving to give a soft glow upwards.
  3. Use surface spots that can tilt upwards to highlight the height of the room, as well as some being angled down to focus light onto specific areas below. These can either be fixed to the ceiling, or cross beams which will mean that the light source will be nearer the surfaces to be lit.
  4. Wall lights, especially up/down architectural wall lights, can chuck light up onto the sloped ceiling which can be very effective.
  5. Punchy inground LED uplights can be set into the floor and therefore wash up onto part of the ceiling. This can look particularly impressive if there’s texture on the walls. They will need to be punchy though and generally, the narrower the beam, the more distance the light will travel.
  6. I’ll sometimes use a series of floor washers, placed high, upside-down to wash onto a sloped ceiling. It’s a simple but effective technique.
  7. And if budget is an issue but you would still like to emphasise the height in some way, you could use a simple wall uplight such as the economical Parma 200 by Astro Lighting.


What to consider with Vaulted Ceiling Lighting

Location of Rooflights

If you have a rooflight situated over a kitchen island or dining table, you’ll need to light this at night, or even on a gloomy day. If you choose a bulky light or lights located under this skylight, you’ll find that on a sunny day a shadow will be cast on the surface below. You may find this irritating.

Fixing a Pendant Light to a Vaulted Ceiling

As I warned above, if you want to hang a bulky, heavy chandelier or pendant light to the sloped part of a vaulted ceiling, or the apex of the vault, you’ll need to warn your builders so that they can reinforce the point where it will hang. They should also be able to construct boxing for the light to hang from the apex, and fixings to go behind the ceiling rose of any pendants hanging from the slope, so that they sit straight. This will look neater.

Lighting Circuits and Dimmers

By allowing for various circuits with vaulted ceiling lighting you’ll be able to manipulate the atmosphere with the use of dimmers.

Consider Noise

It’s wonderful having a lofty space but when I’ve visited clients after everything is finished, they often remark on the noise quality. With hard surfaces, everything can reverberate to the extent that scraping a chair can grate on the nerves. Luckily there are several pendant lights on the market that can help soften the noise, and when they also come with built in style they serve a dual purpose. I’ll put an article together on the best of these lights but meanwhile you can’t go wrong with these fabulous Nur Lights by Artemide. They’re big and bold and will help absorb the sound. A win-win on both sides.

Maintenance of Pendant Lights

It’s always worth thinking about how you’re going to clean the fittings or change the lamps (bulbs) when needed. Even if a fitting takes long-lasting LED bulbs, you’ll still need to change them from time to time. Not so bad when the vaulted ceiling is accessible by a ladder, but more of a consideration for super-high areas such a high vaulted area over a stairwell where you would need to set up scaffolding.


Now with modern insulation techniques, vaulted ceilings are featuring more and more in modern homes. There are also the existing classical buildings and barn conversions that cry out for clever lighting. Even bedrooms in new builds are often set into, what would have been the attic in previous eras. These can present challenges, not only with lighting, but also storage and bathroom design. But here I’ve only covered the lighting. More articles to come.

Claire-PendarvesClaire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting consultant with over 20 years’ experience

Meet the Designer




Coffered Ceilings Lighting

Coffered Ceilings Lighting


Coffered ceilings

Coffered ceilings look fantastic – in the right place! But there are certain factors that you should bear in mind when considering installing this type of recessed illumination in your lighting design scheme.

What are Coffered Ceilings?

Coffered ceilings are often referred to as raised ceiling panels or drop ceilings. In reality, the raised ceiling is more of an illusion as it’s the surrounding area that is lowered which gives the impression of the central ceiling panel being higher. Linear lighting is then hidden in the edges of the lowered ceiling to reflect light off the original ceiling height.

Why are they called Coffered Ceilings?

Coffered ceilings date back to the Greek and Roman times and became very popular again during the Renaissance period. They originate from cross beams being used to reinforce ceilings and the panels between the beams would often be intricately decorated. These ranged enormously, from flat to curved; from many panels to only one main one. Recently coffered ceilings have become popular again and are often used in a simple form to house linear lighting to add reflected light to a space. Often they are known as Drop Ceilings and, in their simplest form, this is probably the best term for them.


What’s the benefit of a coffered ceiling?

It’s a clever use of hidden linear lighting and creates a panel of reflected light which, when linked to a dimming circuit, can either be bright and energising or soft and moody. The result will also be affected by the paint colours of the room, and layers of the ceiling.

Coffered Ceiling Planning Tips

The Room Needs to be a Good Size

Coffered ceilings can look impressive and add another dimension to large rooms but be careful to work out the proportions before going ahead.

The very nature of installing a coffered ceiling means that visually, you’re taking a chunk out of the room in order to create the lowered border around the edges. That means that what you’re left with – the area you’re throwing the light up onto – needs to be a good size to make it worth it.

As coffered ceilings are popular at the moment, there’s a tendency to build them in without really considering if they’re suited to the position. I’ve seen enthusiastic designers incorporate them into areas which are too tight, such as small rooms and narrow corridors where they don’t always work well. There are other ways you can mimic the effect which are more delicate and more cost-effective. More about that later.

Heat Sinks and Diffusers

These may sound boring but it’s important information to know when designing a coffered ceiling and using LED linear lighting in general.

The heat sink is basically the channel (profile) in which the LED tape sits. It’s usually made of aluminium to absorb the heat that’s emitted from the rear of the LED tape. Many people assume that LEDs are cool, but they can generate a lot of heat at the back of the fitting which will affect the longevity of the product if it’s not dissipated.

The profile is also used for slotting the diffuser into. The purpose of this is to soften the light so that it’s not so sharp and the little dots from the individual LEDs aren’t reflected onto the ceiling. It also protects the LED tape from dust.

Power Supply and Drivers

You need to consider where you are going to put the drivers so that they can be accessed in case something goes wrong. It’s not advisable to try and put the drivers in the recessed area around the panel as you could end up seeing shadow. You need the light to be seamless.

Sometimes the length of the linear LED is too long to be run off one driver, in which case you may need two, or several drivers serving different runs of the LED profile. This all needs to be planned beforehand.

Ensure you use good quality LED tape

When LED lighting is produced, as with all manufacturing, there will be several batches made at different times. The best lighting manufacturers will ensure that the light emitted is quality controlled and colour temperature is exactly the same. This is known as ‘colour binning.’ So it’s always vital to ensure that the LED comes from the same batch.

Some LED producers can be sloppy with this and you don’t want to reach the point where you’ve spent time and money installing the coffered ceiling, only to find that the lengths of LED emit slightly different colour tones of light

Consider Tuneable White LED tape

If the room is used in the day as well as evening, and if it has a fair amount of daylight coming in, it’s worth considering tuneable LED lighting. This is because the warm LED colour (say 2700K) looks good at night but can look yellow and dim when compared to sunlight outside, even on a dull day. Conversely, if you opt for a cooler temperature, it can look too cold at night.

So, the best option is to use tuneable white LED so that you can change the colour of the light to suit the time of day and mood.

If you have a media room, which doesn’t have much natural light, and you’re only using it mainly in the evenings, you can get away with one colour output, unless of course you would like to go for colour-changing LED (RGB).

Consider the Height of your Windows

It’s worth bearing in mind that, when creating a drop ceiling around the edges of the room, you won’t want to go any lower than the top of the window, so it’s best to start with using this as a guide.

Linear LED Lighting is not Economical

Take a large room, with a coffered area of say, 8 metres by 6 metres. This adds up to around 28 metres of LED profile, tape and diffuser. You also have the labour and material costs to lower the ceiling around the edges of the room which means the cost of supply and install can mount up.

Running costs are also greater than using LED downlights. For example, going by the above example of 28 metres using a high output LED at 19 watts per metre, that adds up to 532 watts expended. This isn’t a huge amount – in fact only the equivalent of five old fashioned 100 watt tungsten bulbs, but it’s just worth bearing in mind.

Is Light from a Coffered Ceiling Enough?

Although it’s a lovely design technique, you will usually need to incorporate more lighting in the room, depending on use of the room and size. In the project shown above I added some high output LED downlights as the room was high. These all need to be on different circuits so you can alter the atmosphere of the interior.

Things to remember:

  • Coffered ceilings work better in large rooms
  • Don’t skimp on the quality of the LEDs
  • Ensure the LED tape is housed in an aluminium heat sink
  • Use a diffuser to avoid reflected spotting on the ceiling
  • It’s advisable to enable dimming
  • Consider tuneable white LEDs or RGB
  • Be realistic about the expenditure – installing and running costs
  • The devil is in the detail

The Next Best Thing to a Coffered Ceiling

Sometimes the room doesn’t warrant the expense of a fully coffered ceiling so I’ll specify some coving to hide linear lighting. This can be run around the edges of the room, or can even help to disguise a structural beam. For a good source of lighting coving see Orac Decor

Check out our lighting design process here.


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

13 Top Tips for Planning Lighting [2022]

13 Top Tips for Planning Lighting [2022]


Some Top Tips for Planning Lighting

Planning the lighting for your new build or renovation takes time and thought. Here are some useful tips to help you create beautiful lighting schemes.

Avoid Glary downlights

Go for downlights where the light source is set back. Black baffles will absorb glare and work well in classical properties and low ceilings. White baffles are crisper in modern properties and kitchens.

Think Colour Temperature

Many standard downlights state ‘warm white’ as 3000°K which is quite cool. 2700°K is better. You can even get high spec downlights where the colour warms as they dim. Perfect for dining rooms.

Brighter is Not Always Better

Linear LEDs are great for reflected light and integration into a building. Recently they’ve become more powerful but sometimes you only want a glow. Going too bright can unbalance a room.

Don’t Light Every Inch

Beware of lighting your home like an office. Not every square foot needs to be lit. In fact, it’s by highlighting certain areas and toning the light coverage that you’ll create ambience and magic.

Avoid Dark Holes

Tiny LED inground uplights and floor washers consume miniscule amounts of electricity. Use them to light corridors and give gentle light to dark recesses. Space will flow better and be more welcoming.

Don’t Dismiss Automation

Even if you don’t want the expense of integrated lighting automation it’s worth considering if you have a large kitchen/dining/family room. This can use up to 8 circuits and you’ll be glad you used it.

Ensure Your Dimmer Switches Speak to Your Downlights

Buzzing switches and flickering downlights can be very irritating. Check with the manufacturers that the dimming protocol is compatible with your downlights. Do this before you purchase them.

Don’t Create Dead Ends

Lighting should lead you on a gentle journey through your house. Sometimes the structure of the building needs to be softened. Dead end corridor? Add a lovely wall light or illuminate a painting.

Remember that Light is Affected by Its Surroundings

Lighting does not exist on its own. It’s affected by the finish of the walls, floors, and work surfaces. If these are dark less light will be reflected. Textured walls can look lovely grazed with light.

Allow for More Light During the Day

It may seem perverse but on a gloomy day you’ll need more light than during the evenings. Allow for a circuit where you can whack up the light for rainy winter days and when you’re doing the cleaning.

Plan Furniture Positions

Planning where the furniture is going leads to a much sleeker look. It helps determine the aspect of a room and allows for the lighting to be more balanced, e.g. lighting by your seating and over the dining table.

Use Floor Sockets for Lamps

The last thing you want is trailing wires leading from the wall to lamps near your seating area. Planning for lamp sockets in the floor will help with zoning, reading and ambience in a large space.

Think Longevity

Don’t plump for downlights just because your electrician always uses them. Quality of light and longevity are key factors. Some cheaper LEDs don’t last long; replacing them is costly and irritating.


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience. Meet the Designer here.

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Design Energy-Efficient Lighting Plans

How to Design Energy-Efficient Lighting Plans

How to design energy efficient lighting plans

Lighting technology is changing all the time although sometimes, when googling, references to outdated products such as incandescent light bulbs will be made. No one uses these any more. Or fluorescents – not many new lights are designed to take fluorescent tubes.

Everything has now moved towards the LED light source which can be used in a variety of ways.

Accent Lighting

LEDs have brought us all sorts of ways of bringing in energy efficient accent lighting. For example, miniature LEDs placed near a wall can graze up the surface and, if punchy enough, cast soft reflected light onto the ceiling. They look lovely when placed near a stone wall or a surface with texture and can act as marker lights, with each fitting only using around one watt of electricity.

They can look great in niches and shelving. Again, hardly expending any electricity, they create interest and add to the design ‘shape’ of the room.

Linear LEDs

Linear LED profiles are also very popular nowadays and add a contemporary flavour. These can be used in recessed profiles either washing light down walls, or placed in coving to wash light upwards. This effect of indirect light is very soft, working on the principle of reflected light, although bear in mind that the amount of reflection you get will depend on the colour of the wall or ceiling surface.

Coffered ceilings are very popular in large interiors and can bring light into the centre of the room as well as being an attractive design feature. Although the linear LED used in this method of lighting is technically energy efficient, if the run is long, the number of watts can add up. Take a coffered area of 3 metres by 4 metres for example; this is a total of 14 metres of linear lighting. A high output product could take up to 20 watts per metre so this would be the equivalent of 280 watts to run. Not bad in old-fashioned terms but more than using LED downlights.


LEDs are brilliant for overall lighting but there’s a huge range out there. Wattage can be anything from around 4 – 12 watts depending on punch and the quality of the fitting.

Of course, it’s always worth factoring in the cost of the fitting – and that doesn’t mean buying cheap. Often, by cutting corners when you buy the fitting you could end up having to replace it within a couple of years – and then you’ll incur the cost of replacement and the electrician.

Tips for Buying Downlights

Downlights can be glary but if you select a fitting where the light source is set back, you’ll get a softer effect.

Remember that LEDs don’t like getting hot. That’s why the good quality ones will have a fan effect at the back of the fitting to distribute the heat. This means that they don’t like being squashed into tight spaces and certainly don’t like insulation packed around them. So, ensure you follow the fitting instructions and remember that, if you have living accommodation above, you’ll probably need to have fire rated fittings and some of these will be more bulky than standard ones.

Finally, I would normally recommend 2700°K for most areas although the cooler 3000°K can work in kitchens and bathrooms.

The cooler the light temperature, the more light output you’ll get but the difference is miniscule and the experience can be harsh under a 4000°K no matter how energy efficient it appears to be.

Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Design Living Room Lighting

How to Design Living Room Lighting

how to design living room lighting

The first thing you need to do when you plan lighting for a living room is ask yourself the following questions:

Which way is living room facing?

This will have an impact on how much light the room gets and at what time of the day. For example, a North facing room will have quite consistent light but will be relatively dark, whereas a room facing West may lack light in the morning but will be brighter in the evenings. This is important as, in the UK especially, we don’t just need to plan our lighting for when it’s dark. We need to think about the quality of light during the days, especially during our long winters.

How much natural light is there?

While the direction the room is facing will have an impact, so will its construction. Does it have high ceilings with big windows? Is there a rooflight? All these factors will have an effect.

Another issue is the balance of light. If the room is large with lovely natural light pouring in from large windows on only one side, how much light will be at the back of the room? This can sometimes make the light unbalanced and the back of the room will seem comparatively dark.

How will you be using the room?

If your room is only really going to be used at night, then the amount of natural light it’s receiving won’t be quite so important. For example, a room that acts more as a snug, where you can curl up in front of the fire and watch the TV won’t be needing quite such bright light, whereas a multi-functional room with, say, a desk in the corner, will need to incorporate more flexible lighting.

Where will you be placing the furniture?

If you’re not sure of the layout at this stage, run through some variables and you’ll probably find that there’s only really a couple of layouts that appeal. Where will you be placing your television, if there is one.

Will you be having shelves or even a media unit? This is a good way of integrating accent lighting.

How to Light a Living Room

Ideally a living room should have three circuits but this will depend on the size and complexity of the room.

1. Accent Lighting/Low Ambient circuit

Having a room in total darkness, when it can be viewed from other areas of the house, can be quite gloomy feeling like a black hole. Whereas incorporating a small amount of light will make the room look inviting and extend the feel of any adjacent living space. This can done using very little electricity -; in fact, with miniature LEDs you can do this using a mere 5-10 watts.

One of the fundamental elements of lighting design is layering light and this circuit can create a magical effect. For example, small inground LEDs uplighting window or door reveals, grazing up fireplaces, giving soft lighting in shelving etc.This may not be particularly picked up on by visitors, but the tranquil feel and ambience of the room will resonate.

It’s comforting to have some low level lighting on when watching television. Dark is too black and having more lights on can affect the movie watching experience.

For more information on incorporating concealed linear lighting within a living room why not visit my article on Coffered Ceiling Lighting

2. General Lighting

This will be the circuit that envelopes you with soft light and will give you light to function, without glare.

Usually this will be in the form of wall lights and lamps. Downlights can work as well, provided they aren’t directly overhead as this can be harsh. Pools of light in front of curtains, or angled onto artwork is a gentle way of bringing light into the room without glare.

Most living rooms benefit hugely from low level lighting in the form of lamps. It makes life much easier if these are plugged into a 5 amp lamp circuit.

Consider what style of lamps you will need. At least one of these should be a task light for reading or sewing. Do you have a favourite chair? If you’re going for table lamps with shades, what colour and opacity will the shades have? For example, a modern frosted glass shade is going to give far more light out into a room than say, a pleated dark fabric one.

Lamp sockets don’t need to be located on the wall – in fact, in a large room it’s really useful to have the sockets in the floor, near the seating areas, otherwise you’ll end up with trailing cords everywhere. Sometimes clients say they can’t have that because of the underfloor heating, but it’s still feasible, provided it’s planned in the early stages.

3. Overhead Lighting

Many people ask how to light a living room with no overhead lighting’ but it’s always useful to factor in an additional circuit for this. You won’t be using it often but there will be times when you’re grateful you incorporated this additional source of light.

If the room doesn’t get much natural daylight you will often want to ramp up the lighting, such as gloomy rainy days, playing card games or some activity that needs a greater spread of task lighting.

Also, living rooms are often multi-functional, with a desk in the corner or an area to exercise before work. You’ll want a different mood then. Then of course, there’s times you’ll want to clean and hoover when a good amount of light is invaluable.

Overhead lighting can be provided by downlights if preferred, or the ceilings are too low for a feature pendant, but beware of glare. The best downlights will have the light source set back and a dark baffle will absorb the glare even more. If the room is large with a high ceiling there are some beautiful pendants which can add to the aesthetics of the room, as well a providing light. Again, beware of glare.

In conclusion, when planning the lighting for a new-build or renovation I would recommend wiring for three circuits although that will depend on the size of the room and budget.

If you’re just trying to revamp a living room, you can’t go wrong with adding some lamps. Mix it up. At least one task lamp, and others that will give light out into the room. One plug-in uplight can look great!

Finally, dimmers are an invaluable way of controlling the mood. Just make sure that your lights and dimming modules are compatible so check beforehand.

Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Light Bathrooms and Wet Rooms

How to Light Bathrooms and Wet Rooms


Lighting Tips

Bathrooms and wetrooms are getting more luxurious by the day and constitute a large proportion of the spend in contemporary new builds and renovations


Planning your bathroom and wet room lighting will reap benefits if carried out in advance of your new-build. This one small area has to change from being a functional zone on a gloomy winter’s morning, when the light needs to be crisp and sharp, to relaxing haven with a pre-party drink in the bath and all the scenarios in between. This can be created through a combination of layering the light, allowing for enough lighting circuits and the flexibility of dimming.  Whilst shower rooms and wet rooms tend to need only one or two circuits more circuits and dimming options will be required to optimise the mood when there is a bath in the room.


Downlights placed close to the wall will give a softer effect by creating reflected light which is gentler on the eye, however, if using dark coloured wall tiles or paint allow for a greater number of downlights as less light will bounce back into the room.  Try and avoid a grid layout which tends to be flat and give thought to the style of downlight used – a dark baffle with the light source set back will create less glare, as will a fitting with frosted glass.

Wall Lights

These add the benefit of lowering the light which gives a better ambience; I tend to use wall lights either side of mirrors over basins – much better for applying make up or shaving – or even coming out of mirrors as this can enhance the space-expanding elements of mirroring.   There are a vast range of bathroom wall lights on the market and don’t just look at dedicated bathroom lighting – exterior lighting can work brilliantly in bathrooms and can give a more individual feel.

Ambient LED Lighting

This is the fun part! The inground LEDs washing up walls, the low level floor washers and don’t overlook alcoves which, when lit can create an additional dimension.  At the same time planning is crucial as this form of lighting can sometimes highlight any irregularities in the walls or even an unbalanced layout.  Sometimes, when planning lighting with clients, it can flag up an unbalanced feel to the room and if done in the early stages the layout can be addressed.


The bathroom lighting has to be easy to manage and PIRs (movement sensors) can be very useful when linked to one of the circuits; it is easier to set this on the ‘ambient’ circuit which can then double up as soft lighting for night time visits. Dimmers are vital for bathrooms but not so important for wet rooms and shower rooms as they are not generally used for relaxing, however, the PIR circuit is again useful for night time visits and I don’t usually dim this particular circuit.


We can all get rather muddled with our zones but in general it is better to err on the side of caution and largely dismiss any of the plans that show areas where you can use standard light fittings. In reality it probably isn’t going to happen!  The electrician is going to have to sign off the work and he may be reluctant to sign off a bathroom with an IP20 fitting even with a high ceiling so although technically you may be well away from any source of water he would need to be very amenable to agree to this

Generally I would opt for IP44 as the mildest light fitting and a minimum of IP65 in shower enclosures. In theory these can be mains voltage as long as they’re fitted with a 30 mA RCD (ie so that the electrical supply cuts out if there is any water/electricity mix present) – in reality, again, the electrician may insist that these are low voltage to be on the safe side. IP65 downlights in a standard height ceiling above the shower would be fine but if you were to specify exterior surface mounted spots in shower areas where there is a sloped ceiling it would be wise to run it by the electrician beforehand.  It is also worth noting that the low voltage fitting should have a remote transformer as an integral one would be just as vulnerable as a mains fitting.

Good Tips

Always verify the fittings to be purchased with the electrician prior to placing the order

Work out where you’re going to put the driver or transformer during the early stages of the build – ensure that access to this is relatively easy, eg a cupboard or in the attic.

For further lighting tips why not visit How to Light a Hallway


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

Lighting Bedrooms for Children

Lighting Bedrooms for Children

children's bedrooms

Many years ago when our son was young there was a huge Pokemon craze and Charlie and his friends were obsessed.  Not so for many parents – my husband and I would draw straws as to who would have the task of accompanying the kids to the cinema.  Normally we loved taking the children to the cinema but we both disliked Pokemon.  In fact it was the only time that I was almost pleased if our son misbehaved as I would have no alternative but to carry out my threat: “If you misbehave you WON’T go to the Pokemon movie!’ But as we parents know these phases come and go.

To get to the point – one of Charlie’s best friends was treated to a bespoke hand painted bedroom by a local artist. The walls were covered in Pokemon action scenes.  All his friends were green with envy, his parents were happy and proud despite their lighter pockets – and the room was repainted a couple of years later.

The moral of this story: your child’s life is a progression.  What your child needs today in terms of decoration or lighting in their room may change in the years to come.  That’s why I will always try and be flexible when lighting a child’s room.

Here are a few recommendations.

Ceiling Light

My favourite ceiling fitting is the Ethel Lampshade by One Foot Taller.  This merely fits to a ceiling fitting (either a pendant or flush light fitting) and gives a lovely soft light out.  It’s one of my favourite lighting products.  I’ve used it in a dental surgery in an old converted warehouse where the ceilings were low and I’ve put it in countless bedrooms and living rooms.  One client recently praised it saying it’s a light that’s there but not there.  It’s also practically indestructible and will withstand numerous pillow fights.  Also you can literally take if off the light fitting and wash it in the bath with a shower hose.  Easy.

Wall Lights

Over the course of the following years the furniture may vary from cot to single bed to bunk bed to double bed so the room has to be flexible to accommodate the future changes.  My favourite method of incorporating this is to use plug in wall lights.  The Scandinavians use these far more than we do in the UK and their lights often will come in with a lead but can be hard wired if preferred.

I love the Radon wall light by Fritz Hansen.  A wonderfully flexible fitting that can be flipped up for reading or can be tucked in to give a soft ambient light so very useful if your child needs a light on before going to sleep.

Original BTC also do several wall lights that can come with a plug in flex, available in fun funky colours.  Also, if necessary you can order additional length lead and different variations but this would need to be done by phone rather than via the website.

If you’re on a budget it’s worth looking in Ikea as they have quite a few plug in wall lights.

Fibre Optic Starlight Ceiling

One magical addition you can make to your child’s bedroom is creating a twinkling star ceiling – this will be enjoyed for many years, right up to adulthood.  But… before you get too enthusiastic about the idea you need to assess the access to the ceiling of the room.  If there’s a loft about the ceiling, or you’re in the early stages of a new build then this is a feasible option; if there’s no access from above you should drop it like a hot potato.  I use Starscape fibre optic kits.  Your child will love them but your electrician will curse you – they are time consuming to install and there’s quite a bit of thought that needs to go into creating random perforations that are random in a balanced way.  I know – I’ve spent many hours at the top of a ladder!

If you have any questions about your ceiling do give them a ring as they are incredibly helpful. 


The final tweak you can make is by adding colourful lamps.  Don’t like the colour of the lamp base?  Why not paint it with an Annie Sloan paint?

Want a unique lampshade?  Why not make your own shade with a kit from Dannells.

All the above leave a flexible room for the future when your children grow up and come back to stay as fully fledged adults.  And not a Pokemon in sight!


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Light a Hallway

How to Light a Hallway

Lighting Hallways

How do I light my Hallway?

A question that is often asked when planning lighting for the renovation of a home or a new-build project.  For a relatively small percentage of a house this area will have a great impact on the feel and flow of a building.

I start by looking at a lighting project as a journey.  It may help to literally close your eyes and imagine opening the front door.  What are you greeted by?  What is the feeling you want to create?

Analysing the following points can help you get it right

Main Entrance Hall

Is this the main entrance to your home that your visitors will see first or is it a transitional space or back hallway?  Is it situated on the ground floor with ample natural light or in a dark basement?

Think of how the space is being used.  It’s often useful to have a console table which allows for a surface for placing necessities, perhaps with a mirror above for checking the tilt of your hat before leaving the house.  If the space is large enough a lamp or two can work well to soften the area; if the hallway is tight then a wall light, or two wall lights either side of a mirror can help to lower the lighting to create warmth.


How high is the ceiling in proportion to the length and width of the space? What greets you at the end?  Over a decade ago I did the hallway (left picture) in a basement leading to a playroom/teenagers’ den. Would I do it differently today? Absolutely!

These days we have some wonderful LED profiles which can either be incorporated into a shadow gap or could be placed centrally to cast light on one or both walls. The downlights were not the ones I specified and should have had wide beams to create an even flow of light on the wall.

What I wouldn’t change is having some focus on the blank wall ahead.  Here we put a Large Button wall light by Flos as this picked up on the theme of a further row of buttons in the den.  The wall lights are the Pochette also by Flos

The corridor on the right was a lower ground floor area which would be used for parking bicycles and surfboards so had to be robust and serviceable.  There wasn’t any void in the ceiling above so we created boxing to accommodate downlights on one side and exterior bulkhead wall lights on the other which could withstand being knocked a bit. (Unfortunately these are only snapshots and were taken when my clients were moving in so a huge amount of stuff was lined along one side of the space.)

Artwork and Artifacts

These bring individuality and personality into a space and lighting can be incorporated in a display area if there is enough depth.  Light can be washed onto paintings or family pictures which in turn will bounce light back into the hallway and this can be done either with angled downlights or picture lights which can be very slim an unobtrusive these days.  For the best contemporary picture lights that I know visit Hogarth Lighting. They supply a fabulous array of picture lights and will even tweak the tone of light to compliment your painting.

Floor and Wall Surface

Do you know the finish and colour of your flooring and walls?  This will have an impact on how much light will reflect within the area.  For example, if you place inground LEDs to wash up a wall this will have a much greater effect if the surface is textured and a light colour.

For further information on lighting hallways visit my article: Hallway Lighting Tips by a Lighting Designer

Niches and Recesses

These can add a depth to the space and can often be factored into the build if the project is a self-build or a major renovation.  Lighting can be incorporated into these areas to illuminate objects or can simply be architectural features that can bounce slots of light back into the hallway.

Above all it is important to make the hallway personal and although it can be useful to look at magazines and Instagram always remember that this space is your own and should feel like Home

Why not check out another article on lighting techniques: How to Light Bathrooms and Wetrooms


Claire Pendarves originally qualified as an interior designer and is now a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Light Open Plan Spaces

How to Light Open Plan Spaces


Planning your Lighting for Open Plan Living

Planning the lighting for your new-build may seem daunting to self-build enthusiasts but with careful thought you can enjoy the benefits of a lighting layout that is not only atmospheric, but functional and energy-efficient as well.

With the vast improvement in insulation materials over recent years the effect on our interior spaces has been quite dramatic. We are now able to lift our living areas into lofty heights without compromising on warmth whilst creating open plan, interconnecting living zones where the social functions of a modern-day family can be accommodated without the barriers of internal walls and doors.

It’s an exciting prospect for the self-builder to envisage the seamless interconnection of their living spaces but at some stage they will have to face the task of planning the lighting which is a vital element in creating atmosphere and functional zones. The designing of the lighting plan is totally linked to how the space is going to be used and it is attention to detail in the early stages that will create the most effective and dramatic results.  Put off the decisions and there is a danger that the outcome is blanket lighting akin to an office – spend time attending to the details and you will find you can zone the areas creating harmonious living areas through the very use of light.


In order to achieve the best lighting effects the internal space needs to be planned; this is particularly important with kitchens and bathrooms but to achieve the best results, planning where the furniture will go in the open plan space will reap vast rewards.   Seating may not always be near the walls, especially in large spaces, so deciding where the sofas and lounge chairs are going to be placed means that floor plugs can be situated in these locations either as standard plugs or part of a 5 amp circuit for lamps. It may be that a large rumbustious family area is not conducive to lamps in which case some downlights (with dark baffles for minimum glare) strategically placed over reading or games areas is more task focussed and when dimmed, can add to the atmosphere.   It’s still worth factoring in the floor plugs though, even if they are not required initially, as the occupants’ needs may change over the years.

Hamilton supply a good range of floor sockets

Deciding where the dining table is to be situated is often challenging but again it is worth making the decision as, in addition to selecting any feature lights, there will be dark nights when fish (with bones!) may be consumed – even if your own eyes are sharp and young at the moment, it is always worth future-proofing your lighting.

In effect, lighting an open plan space is incorporating three areas into one lighting design plan. For further information on designing the living area check out my post on How to Design Living Room Lighting

Layering Light

The secret of good lighting is to have layered light coming from various levels and it is here that the latest in LED technology can be brought into force with inground uplighters and floor washers adding interest as well as high vaulted ceilings being accentuated with spots or troughs housing LED casting light up onto the ceiling. Positioning and angling of linear LEDs is important – ideally you need enough space for the light to breathe and should aim to avoid any reflection of the individual LEDs within the tape.  It is always worth noting that such lighting tends to show up any imperfections in the wall; this can be used to your advantage where the walls are purposefully textured but this is not always the case with supposedly smooth walls. There are several suppliers of plaster troughs and diffusers which are invaluable when planning indirect lighting; we often specify products from Orac Décor.

If you would like more information on incorporating the soft effect of lighting within a drop ceiling, I’ve done an article on Coffered Ceiling Lighting that may be of interest. 

Points of Interest

From a design point of view, wide expanses of wall sometimes need breaking up and, if there are no relevant architectural features to highlight, it is here that the formation of niches or shelving – either to display objects or artwork – can incorporate lighting thereby serving a dual purpose. Similarly, light can be bounced off walls with the use of angled downlights or spots and this is where feature walls with artwork or textured walls can serve a dual purpose.

Here we incorporated lighting behind opaque panels placed at the back of the shelves which added interest and also helped to widen the room

Planning Circuits

Planning the circuits will pull the design together and it is worth imagining various scenarios during this process and how they will interconnect. There will be times when, whilst the focus is in one living area, having the unused areas plunged into darkness would leave you feeling cold and vulnerable.  Soft and subtle lighting in these regions gives a feeling of connection and, with the latest LEDs, can be executed whilst consuming minimal amounts of electricity.

The more circuits that are incorporated in the lighting design the more flexible will be the living space and it is here that home automation can come into its own. If there is only one area in the house where home automation is used it is here that this facility is invaluable. Many owners will profess that it is ‘all too complicated’ but in fact the reverse is true.   The software deals with the complicated bit – all you have to do is select the scene on the wall switch, phone or remote control to set a scene out of a pre-planned few.  Much easier than twiddling dimmers or forgetting which switch relates to which circuit and it is a facility that is fast becoming a pre-requisite in contemporary new builds.

A simple home automation system that is worth checking out is Loxone


With an open plan living space on the ground floor the stairs are often part of, if not a feature, of this area. Left in darkness this is another zone that can leave us feeling vulnerable and isolated and there are now numerous ways to accentuate beautiful stairways with low energy LEDs and feature lighting suspended from the floors above.


Contemporary living spaces will often have large expanses of glass allowing natural light to flood in during the day but bear in mind the gloomy overcast days of our British winter when you will want to whack up the light in the core of the building. Good quality light output is required more on dull days than during the evening or night so factor in some crisp lighting to pep you up on those February mornings

Connect with the Outside

When night does fall, ensure that some accent lighting has been incorporated beyond the plate glass windows as this will cheer the interior and will serve to soften the edges of your living space. Uplighting trees or plants with simple spike spots can still look dramatic and is a flexible solution to exterior lighting in the early stages of the building’s life; even path and step lights can add a magical element to the garden when viewed from the interior.

Carefully planning your lighting in the early stages of the design will ensure that your space is flexible and functional and you will reap the benefits in the years to come. And bear in mind the pace at which things change in the building world – unless we plan for tomorrow we are already planning for yesterday


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently

How to Plan Garden Lighting for New-Build Projects

How to Plan Garden Lighting for New-Build Projects


Planning exterior lighting often comes low on the agenda of self builders’ new-build projects.

Here lighting designer Claire Pendarves gives some tips and advice on planning your garden lighting.

Plan the Layout

The more you plan the better the effect. If you’re not a keen gardener and don’t have a basic plan in your head then I would strongly advise bringing in a professional landscape architect or garden designer. So often I see the landscape design being left as an afterthought and although it’s workable, especially if the coffers are running low, it can mean that the project can seem half finished for a number of months or even years.

Less is More

Francis Bacon said “In order for the light to shine so brightly the darkness must be present” and this is so true when it comes to lighting our gardens. An over-lit garden can seem flat and dazzling whereas careful placement of exterior fixtures can make it seem quite magical. Also, I find that the lighting budget for a new-build can balloon by over-specifying on the exterior landscape lighting quite unnecessarily

Light the Outside for the Inside

When you consider the British climate we spend most of our time in our houses and sadly the evenings where we are relaxing in warm summer gardens are all too few. With so many new-build designs featuring large expanses of windows and the trend being to connect the design of the interior and exterior spaces it makes sense to consider how the garden lighting will look from the inside. Accent garden lighting placed near the house can visually extend the living space and relieve the cold appearance of black glass panes at night making occupants feel less vulnerable

Accentuate the Positive

Take a critical look at your building and planting to see what existing features you can highlight. Rough stone walls take on a magical warmth when uplit with low glare inground LEDs as can well-structured trees and shrubs. If you’re struggling to find any existing features this could help you decide on your planting; palms, silver birch and olive trees for example light well and oversized lit planters can look stylish and dramatic.

Paths and Steps

I always think of lighting as a journey and nowhere more than when lighting routes within a garden where functional lighting should dovetail with the aesthetic. Consider the approach from the parking area, unloading shopping on a winter’s evening and the trail up the garden path to the enveloping warmth of home. It is particularly important to select low glare fittings for all paths and steps ensuring that the route is smoothly lit with no dark patches on the way.

Trees and Shrubs

Up-lighting and back-lighting trees and shrubs can be dramatic and effective although positioning of the light source should be carefully considered to create impact with minimal glare. Fixed in-ground lights with adjustable lamps within the fitting can work well for larger trees but for shrubbery that will grow and alter throughout the seasons, the ubiquitous spike spot is a wonderful tool offering flexibility and effect at a relatively low cost.


There is no doubt that exterior lighting can bump up the cost of a project but it is a lamentable mistake to buy cheaper fittings with the aim of stretching the budget further. If the bottom line is looking too inflated it is better to choose fewer fittings and still stick with quality. Beware of stainless steel as there is a vast range on the market and I’ve seen cheap fittings corrode within six months near the coast. Go for 316L stainless steel or galvanised when selecting steel; alternatively copper is incredibly resilient and tones down well and bronze is practically indestructible. Alternatively hard anodised aluminium can work well or a good quality powder coated finish can be more economical.

Energy Efficiency It is true to say that with modern technology it is now possible to illuminate an entire garden with the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Whether the decision is made to light the exterior entirely by dedicated LEDs or a mixture of light sources will rather depend on budget and logistical factors such as the placement of drivers and transformers. Mains fittings offer more flexibility and combine well with retro fit LED lamps although for smaller punchier lights LEDs are general the best choice. Fibre optics can also look magical when combined with water features and, once in situ will last for years although your electrician will not love you for specifying them.


Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience. Meet the Designer 

Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently