Nothing finishes a room like lighting. An expertly lit room creates warmth and energy and will deliver positive impacts on performance and productivity. But, for all of its benefits, it is often the most neglected part of interior design.
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I always like to start by evaluating my existing base of lighting. I think about what type of light I have to begin with and the strengths and weaknesses it will bring to my design concept. Then I think about how I can layer in the right types of lighting to achieve the best possible experience for my guests in the space I am creating.
Let’s review the different types of lighting and how best to use them.
Outside or natural lighting is always the preferred base of illumination for any room. If you’re fortunate enough to have an area that opens to the outside, bringing in natural light, then you’re off to a beautiful start. Natural light, even if not abundant, can immediately give your room an excellent lighting foundation and a unique personality.
Natural lighting brings in both temperatures and tones that can be used to guide your interior design. If you have an abundance of natural light, you can bring out the rich and earthy tones of browns and greens. In contrast, if your natural lighting is sparse or intermittent you can amp it up by using bright whites and colors.
When I have the benefit of natural lighting, I like to also leverage the additional element of time in my interior design. For example, if I am lighting an office or workspace I might balance my lighting concept to fill and enhance the room during ‘work hours,’ say 9 am to 5 pm. While in contrast, if designing a living room I might balance my natural light for evening hours while keeping the lighting softer and more diffused.
Natural light also has many practical and health advantages over other types of lighting. You get the practical design benefits of making a room look more spacious, giving all of your colors a truer presentation, and lowering your design budget and ongoing lighting costs. At the same time, the genuine health benefits are offering your guests more energy, emotional well-being, and a fresher environment in which to work or relax.
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Beyond natural lighting, your next most likely foundational lighting will be ambient lighting. In an office environment, this is most likely fluorescent lighting and in a home, some form of incandescent or CFL lighting. The current trend is to move all of these lighting systems to LED, which has the advantages of energy efficiency and durability as well as a truer, more vibrant illumination.
One of the most significant drawbacks to any ambient lighting is the spotty and inconsistent nature of this type of lighting. Unless you are starting from scratch in designing your space, the positioning of the light to your room’s purpose is probably always going to be frustratingly off. To mitigate many of the adverse effects of overhead lighting, I like to take a page out of my photographic brothers and use some simple and potentially aesthetically cool, diffusing techniques.
All kinds of fabrics and materials can create both functional and eye-catching diffusing effects. I recommend testing a variety of fabrics or materials as well as colors to get the effect your design demands. Be cautious and attentive to the kinds of lights you are using and the heat they produce. Using the wrong combination of diffusing material and lighting can create a dangerous combo. This hazard is another advantage of transitioning to low-heat LED options, where practical.
Now we’re down to the business of the room. What will people be doing in your designed area? The answer to this question will be the key driver in how you implement your task lighting.
Very simply defined, task lighting is the lighting that you provide for illuminating for a particular activity. This task could be anything from a chandelier over a dining table, a reading lamp next to a table, or a dynamic arm light at your work desk.
This kind of lighting can be equally used to give your guests ideal lighting to assist specific activities as well as create bold accents within your larger interior design.
Accent or Corrective Lighting
Accent lighting is used to bring visual interest or adjusted perspective to the room. You can use this kind of illumination to draw attention to a particular design feature, change the focal point in your space, or make the lighting itself a core design element.
I like using accent lighting to feature a unique part of the environment—a sitting area, bookcase, artwork, or a unique workspace.
Accent lighting can be facilitated by track lighting, picture lights, rope or strand lighting, or even by introducing a unique lighting feature that becomes the accent itself.
The ideal lighting design expertly layers these different lighting types to create an ideally lit space. Depending on the goal of the lighting project this can range from a seamlessly lit workspace to a well-accented living area filled with unique features to discover.