Proper Lighting Adds Life
By Scott Derrick, G. Miles Interiors
Light impacts our lives daily. On a beautiful day we seem
to feel more cheerful, and on a dreary day we often feel a
Interiors can impact
our psyche in much the
same way. Lighting may be one of the most important but
overlooked elements of any good design plan. You can use lighting as a tool to create a romantic or dramatic mood
in any room. Lighting can be used as a technique to
enhance or minimize an architectural detail or to
highlight artwork. Proper lighting allows us to read or
work comfortably in a room without injuring our eyes. When
you understand the basic principles and types of lighting,
you can prepare a plan that will make your rooms both
pleasing and practical.
There are two light sources to consider in any design plan, natural and
artificial. Natural sunlight plays a huge role in any design plan. The more
natural light available in a room, the more flexibility you have in selecting
your color scheme. Light itself is invisible to the eye. We see light only
when it strikes a surface. This is the most important concept to remember when
evaluating your room’s natural light sources. Light activates color. Darker
walls and surfaces absorb light while lighter colors reflect it. Darker rooms
and walls will require more artificial light than lighter ones.
Window exposure is another key factor in assessing natural light. Natural
light in any room varies throughout the day, and it changes with the seasons.
A Southern exposure tends to produce an even impact on your color scheme. A
Northern exposure produces a steady, cool, and blue effect on your room. An
Eastern exposure provides a bright, yellow impact while a Western exposure is
orange-tinged and warm. This generalization also varies with your room’s
geographic location. In Arizona, a Western exposure will appear hot while a
Northern exposure in Maine will be cold. Natural light varies hour by hour;
therefore, spend time evaluating your room’s light throughout the day to
observe the nuances of light and color.
Ask yourself what times of day you plan to use a room. What activities will
take place in the room? If you are planning a vacation home, consider what
times of year you will visit the home. On the Gulf coast the summer sun sets
nearer the northwest horizon while in the winter it sets in the southwest.
Frank Lloyd Wright considered the impact of light when he designed his
masterpiece, Taliesin, in Wisconsin. He wanted the appropriate amount of light
at the breakfast room table not a glare. His design work carefully linked the
indoor and outdoor environments. His students often recall his meticulous
attention to detail concerning lighting plans.
Your design plan should achieve a balance between natural and artificial
lighting. A room needs both light and shadow to create a feeling of depth and
volume. Too much light or too much shadow in a room creates stark contrasts
that tire the eye. An unpleasant glare is the result of too much contrast.
Light from artificial sources creates cone-shaped “pools” of light in a room.
Balancing these “pools” and filling shadows is one of the goals of your
There are three types of artificial light to consider: ambient or general
lighting, task or local lighting, and mood or accent lighting. A good lighting
plan combines all three of these types. Rooms typically need between five and
fifteen different artificial light sources. Ambient lighting is a shadowless,
glare-free light source used to navigate from room to room. It is most
commonly referred to as background lighting. Overhead fixtures, recessed
lights, track lights, and some table lamps are good examples of ambient
lighting. If you are planning new construction, review your builder’s lighting
plan to ensure adequate ambient lighting. Consider recessed spot lighting in
your major living areas. Plan to use dimming devices that can control the
volume of your background lighting to create a mood for entertaining. Wire
your background lighting to illuminate with the touch of a single wall switch.
Dimming devices can also minimize contrasts in shadows in daylight or at
When creating your lighting plan for a room, consider your functional needs
first. Task lighting enables you to work or read comfortably. It provides the
appropriate illumination for activities like cooking, sewing, piano playing,
and other hobbies. Like ambient lighting, it should be glare-free. The
intensity of light depends upon the task involved.
Allow a china cabinet to take on a new personality when the interior is bathed
in light and the sides of the cabinet remain in the shadows. Mood or accent
lighting is purely decorative. Use mood lighting to create drama or romance in
your room. Up-lights, torchieres, candles, and spot lights are all good
examples of accent lighting.
As we age our eyes become more sensitive to glare, and we need more light in a
room than normal. If your room has a beautiful, bright Gulf view, you may find
dark shadows on either side of the opening. This can cause a glare that can
lead to head aches and eye strain. Consider installing sconces or other light
sources there to alleviate this problem. The same applies to television
viewing. You may want to consider filling the dark void around a television
with another light source to eliminate too much contrast. Glares can be
created when someone stares into a lamp or fixture that is placed too low or
caused when a lampshade is too small for a lamp. This can also occur if a bulb
is too large or small for the fixture.
Less than one percent of light from a window reaches a room’s extremities.
Consider using a shiny or bright surfaced console table in front of your
window to ‘bounce” light further into the room.
Lamp shades add another dimension to your lighting plan by diffusing or
filtering light. Experiment with different shade textures and colors to add
interest to your room. Colored shades will spread colored light. Several
smaller lamps tend to be more interesting than one or two dominant light
sources. When you want a lamp to project neutral downward light, be sure the
inside of the shade is white.
You can adjust the height and angle of many lamps to improve the quality of
light around a work surface. Add fill-in lighting in these work areas along
with an adjustable lamp to eliminate shadows.
Incandescent bulbs are the most widely used in residential interiors. Compared
to daylight, incandescent light will appear warm and yellowish in color. It
tends to provide interesting contrasts and does not alter color relationships
in the room. Lower wattage bulbs tend to have a greater yellow cast while
higher wattage bulbs have a white cast. The tungsten filament in the bulb
tends to have a short life span and generates a great deal of heat.
Halogen bulbs give a room a crisp, cool-white feeling. Halogens offer
effective color rendering and add an attractive, bright sparkle when used in
torchieres, spot lights and accents. Use halogen bulbs with a dimming device.
Touching a halogen bulb with your bare hands will ruin it. Halogen bulbs
generate tremendous heat and are expensive to replace.
Fluorescent bulbs are found most often in commercial application because they
are inexpensive and efficient to operate. They also do not generate much heat.
Fluorescent light is bright and even, and its use in residential applications
is on the increase. It is the most cost effective lighting available, and
technology has improved its imitation of daylight. Consider these bulbs in
rental situations in lamps and utility areas.
Here is a summary of tips to help you consider all the possibilities lighting
can offer your next project:
When planning lighting, assess task
lighting first then complement with background and accent lighting.
Vary the brightness of lamps and light
Avoid over or under lighting.
Use dimming devices whenever possible
to create a mood.
Keep your eye out for color and light
Several smaller lamps create more
interest than one or two major light sources.
You need between five and fifteen light
sources in a major room to keep it pleasant and practical.
Prevent glare by adding light sources
to dark areas of the room.