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