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Why is Interior Lighting Design Important?

Why is Interior Lighting Design Important?

Lighting high ceiling

Self-builders often reach the point where they’ve agreed the architectural plans and chosen the flooring, kitchen and bathrooms for their building project, then realise they need to plan the lighting. This involves some decision making. Should they get their electrician to work it out? Will their architect plan the lighting? Or should they have a stab at it themselves?

Here are some answers which may help.

Will Electricians Plan Lighting?

There’s an enormous range of electricians out there and some of them may well be more interested in the aesthetics of lighting. But many electricians, whilst good at their job, have no qualms about running grids of downlights throughout a house, oblivious to the fact that the effect will be flat and lifeless.

Clients sometimes send me through the initial M & E plans that were done in the early planning stage of the project. It was often these plans that made them determined to hire a lighting designer!

Lighting is a combination of science and art, so you can’t just work out the lumens for the square footage and bung in some lights in a grid. This might work for a standard office but doesn’t really cut it for an interior lighting design.

I originally trained as an interior designer, then went on to specialise in lighting design. Many lighting designers originate from architectural design. Very few will just focus on lumen output alone, which will often be how the electrician approaches it.

In addition, electricians probably won’t be quite so discerning when it comes to choosing downlights and accent lighting. Often, they’ll use their ‘go-to’ downlights which they supply for all their jobs. They may well get a good deal on them and won’t analyse the light quality, i.e. colour temperature of light as well as CRI (colour rendering index).

I liken it to cooking. Would you get a food technician to cook for your silver wedding anniversary party? I doubt it. You would probably prefer a chef.  

Do Architects Deal with Lighting?

If clients decide that it’s best not to get the electrician to do the lighting plan they’ll then ask, “Do architects do lighting plans?”

Short answer is yes, technically they can do lighting plans, if they are willing. But will they do the best lighting plan?

I think architects are great at incorporating natural light into a building and this will be their key consideration in terms of lighting. But architects can look at the plan in a very structured way.

Take a kitchen/living room plan, for example. I view the interior in my mind’s eye and consider the layout of the kitchen and the flow of the space. I’ll also assess that the lighting needs to be flexible. On a gloomy day you’ll want to whack up the lighting, but during an intimate dinner you’ll want the lighting subtle. Monday morning rushes for school require different lighting to sunny summer evenings when you’re filleting fish at the back of the kitchen.

This means various circuits and dimming protocols. This isn’t really an architect’s speciality.

What Does a Lighting Designer Do?

Self-builders will often ask, What does a lighting designer or lighting consultant do? Of course, it will vary from designer to designer, but first they’ll need to learn more about the following in order to do the best job.

  •                 An idea of your lifestyle and any specific requirements
  •                 Interior design style so that the overall look is cohesive
  •                 Kitchen plans, bathroom plans
  •                 Furniture layouts
  •                 Flooring
  •                 Any features to be incorporated, e.g. artwork, textured walling, joinery etc.

If you’re hiring a local lighting designer, they will often meet you first and go through your requirements. They will then submit an initial design, make the necessary alterations, and then meet with the electrician on site, preferably before first fix.

My online lighting design service works similarly, apart from the meetings with electricians.

Is my remote lighting service as comprehensive as other local lighting designers? No, but it will be more cost-effective. With Luxplan, I don’t aim to compete with top lighting designers who offer a fully comprehensive service. Ultimately, the extent of the service is reflected in the fees.

Why Do I Need a Lighting Designer?

Another question is ‘can’t my interior designer do my lighting design? Why do I need a lighting designer?’

Interior designers specialise in spacial design, finishes, fabrics, wallcoverings and bringing in mood and texture to a project; it’s rare that they know that much about lighting design.

I originally trained as an interior designer and loved my work, but it was when I was working on a project on the banks of Lake Geneva that a renowned lighting designer was brought in. This was going back quite a few years, when residential lighting designers weren’t such a thing, but it certainly opened my eyes. That changed my career. To me, there is nothing so magical as being in an ambience bathed in soft light – where you feel calm, and where areas are zoned, just by the use of clever lighting.

Think of the beautiful spaces you’ve been in, where you’ve felt good. Was it just the décor? Think back. I bet the lighting played a large part.

What is Included in a Lighting Plan?

Lighting plans will show the position of the lights linked to a key so you can see what the symbols mean.

The circuits and light fittings will be marked on the plan and listed on the specification. This should make it easy for the electrician to look at the plan and connect it to the specification with any additional notes giving further information.

In essence, the lighting plan can look rather boring, but a whole lot of thinking will be behind it. The positioning of each light will have been carefully thought out, so if any changes are made to the layout of the interior, the positions will need to be re-jigged.

Is a Lighting Designer Worth It?

Building or renovating a house involves a certain expense, but we can appreciate the rewards for many years to come. There’s nothing worse than scrimping on certain elements in the build and living to regret the compromises that have been made along the way.

It’s always worth spending money on good quality flooring, heating, bathrooms and kitchens. Self-builders will often use bathroom designers and kitchen designers. Why not use a lighting designer?

Of course, it will depend on who you use. Some lighting suppliers will say they carry out the lighting design but often it’s just a tagged-on service and their primary aim is to sell the products. Always worth checking their terms of service, and who is actually doing the design.

Other lighting designers offer an unbiased lighting design service where the client can buy their own lighting. This is how I work, although as my service is primarily remote, I don’t do so much hand holding as some of the larger or more local lighting designers. The amount of detail and contact, of course, would be reflected in the fees.

Ultimately, I believe a lighting designer is always worth it, but the cost would need to be balanced in keeping with the value of the property. Having said that, if the budget is running tight, it’s always worth getting the architectural lighting in place first. Feature lighting can always be added later.

In summary, I would say that getting a good lighting design plan in place is vital, by whatever means you achieve it.

But then, of course, I would be biased!

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.