10 Lighting Tips for Creating the Perfect Ambiance

Balancing lighting in your home can be an art. What works for one room, might not work well for another, but some careful illumination can tie a room together and help draw attention to your home’s best features. Whether you’re moving into a new property or refreshing your interior design at home, here are 10 lighting tips to help you balance the functional with the beautiful.

1. Understand the different categories of lighting

When planning your lighting scheme, you will need a blend of the five types of lighting, known as general, ambient, mood, accent and task.

General lighting is that which provides uniform light across a space and is often entirely practical. Ambient lighting is similar, but can be controlled to change the overall feel of a room, for example by dimming or brightening a space. It’s often softer than general lighting and is often achieved with uplights, never directly towards any occupant of the room.

Both general and ambient lighting cast shadows as they are often used to illuminate large spaces at once. Mood lighting is more precise, allowing you to balance light and dark with carefully positioned table lamps and freestanding lamps that are closer to eye level.

Accent lighting is lighting which is designed to draw specific attention to a feature within a room. For example, spotlights on bookshelves, artwork, photographs and ornaments are a great way to draw the eye without being overpowering.

Finally, task lighting is a light source designed to help an occupant with an activity, such as reading or applying cosmetics. Swing lamps and light sources near mirrors can help light these tasks while maintaining the overall ambience of a room.

2. Fit the room’s purpose

Every room in your home will require a combination of the types of lighting mentioned above and you should consider which types of lighting might be more applicable for some spaces than others. For example, your kitchen may be very task-oriented. You may need to prepare food, select drinks, wipe surfaces so your general lighting should be clear and bright. Task lighting is common in kitchens with ceiling spotlights and wide hanging lamps over tables that can illuminate a large space at a time.

Alternatively, your lounge or living areas may need more flexible lighting arrangements, depending on whether you are using the space for relaxation or entertainment. Consider a mix of task and mood lighting to be able to control the layers of light across the room and dimmer switches to soften the light in the later hours.

3. Make the most of natural light

Treasure your natural light sources. Consider how much artificial lighting you really need for south-facing rooms. Rather than investing in complex light fittings, consider how window blinds, shutters and curtains could help control the levels of light in a space.

4. Pick a focus feature with accent lighting

Used effectively, accent lighting can be an exquisite addition to a room. Why hide all your treasures with poor lighting? Unearth the best features of your room, whether alcove, bookshelf or ornament with carefully targeted lamps and spotlights. Take particular time to experiment with lighting around artwork. Avoid poor quality LEDs that cast a ‘grey’ looking light and can minimise the impact of the artwork.

5. Layer lighting with lamps

Review a room from the top down. Moving from the ceiling to the floor, consider where most activities take place or features are based. Experiment with chandelier or hanging lamps to distribute general lighting evenly. Use wall lighting and spotlights or picture lights to provide layered lighting at standing eye level before considering high standing lamps and table lamps at a lower level. Layering lighting in this way will give you more control over your room’s lighting and enable you to more easily change the overall ambience of a fixed space.

6. Using dimmer lighting and automated controls

For multi-purpose rooms such as living and dining areas, dimmer controls can be an easy way to quickly change the mood of a room. Alternatively, consider automated lighting, which not only has the benefit of being motion sensitive, but is also more environmentally friendly.

7. Matching lighting to your decor

Is your home modern, spacious and your furniture angled? Or is your decor ornate, colourful and eclectic? It’s important that your light complements the rest of your interior design. If you have feature furniture, consider how to light those pieces in particular. If your home has a soft decor with warm colours, be wary of introducing harsh white lighting. Also consider how your decor might help you hide unsightly wires or could hinder light control. For example, large furniture can be useful to hide clunky extension cords, but can also make it harder to reach switches.

8. Make your light sources a feature in themselves

Light sources don’t have to be a passive ingredient in your interior design. Statement lamps can act as artwork and room features in themselves, particularly dramatic chandeliers and hanging lamps. This style of lighting also lends itself perfectly to task lighting as lamps are often positioned at eye level, drawing attention in all the right places.

9. Choosing the right light bulbs 

As well as their impact on your energy use, different light bulbs can restrict interior lighting. Be sure to check the correct wattage for any lighting fixture you buy, which is an indication of how much power it will use, not how bright it will be. There are many styles and designs of light bulbs which will emit different types of light. For example, halogen bulbs emit a much whiter brighter light than fluorescent bulbs which use much less electricity. Choose your bulbs carefully to produce the tone of lighting you want, while ensuring they are energy efficient.

10. Experiment!

Your lighting taste may change as your home decor evolves. Reconsider your lighting scheme whenever you introduce a new feature to a room, especially large feature items such as artwork and furniture. Experiment with different styles of light sources; you’d be surprised how much difference a new shaped lamp or shade can make.

Remember that if something ever feels ‘unsettled’ in a room, lighting is often the cause. Take time to find the balance of lighting that works for you and don’t feel pressured to light every feature within a room. As with so much in interior design, sometimes less can do more.

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