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17 September 2014
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Types of lighting

A successful lighting scheme is made up of several layers: natural, general, accent and task light. Here's how each type can enhance your living space.

Lighting for occasions

Lighting for occasions

When hosting a party, lighting is of the utmost importance for creating the right ambience. By experimenting with different types of lighting, the mood of a room can change from calm and romantic to energising and vibrant. Create a bright, warm glow with a combination of subtle light sources with an emphasis on accent lighting. Reflective surfaces such as mirrors can be used to bounce candlelight around the room and crystals, diamonds, mirror balls and reflective baubles are ideal for adding that extra festive sparkle.

Highlight certain areas of the room, such as the fireplace with fairy lights. Drape lights around dried-flowers or willow stems, or place on the mantlepiece to create a shimmering glow. Depending on the occasion, use different-coloured lights and bulbs and adjust the flicker speed on fairy lights for a party feel.

Make a large room with high ceilings appear cosier, by adding several types of small lamps, singularly or in clusters to create low pools of light. Also, consider shadows when arranging your lights and add pierced-lanterns or light shades to create unusual patterns on the walls and ceilings.

Even in cold weather, people enjoy standing outside at parties. So, if you're short of space indoors, consider a patio heater, chiminea or wood burner. Add character to your garden with fairy lights, tea lights, spotlights or fibre-optics, in creative displays. Even if you do not venture outside, the lighting can still be used to add to the ambience of an indoor party.

Natural light

Polished reflective floor

To make the most of the natural light available in your home, you need to know how to use it. Think about which rooms to use for what - you don't have to stick to the estate agent's details. And remember that daylight changes throughout the year. With the grey northern light in Britain, we don't have to worry about screening out strong sun, but you might find bright summer light uncomfortable to sit in. Conversely, harsh winter sunlight can make everything appear flat.

If you work from home, you'll need good task lighting as well as natural light. Avoid putting your desk in the window, as the light will be too intense - about 1m away is ideal.

Maximise your natural light

Quick fixes

  • Hang mirrors, particularly opposite windows.
  • Take down unnecessary window dressings and replace with filmy materials, such as voile and muslin, to diffuse light. Block out harsh sunlight with perforated roller blinds.
  • Put a fanlight over a door.
  • Turn an inner door into a glazed panel, or replace it with stained or clear glass.
  • Trim trees or bushes that overshadow windows.
  • Use light-reflective surfaces, and pale carpets and furnishings.

Serious solutions

  • Enlarge windows by dropping sills and removing the area of wall below. This won't affect walls structurally.
  • Widen a sash window by turning it into French doors. You'll need a builder to put in a beam to bear the load.
  • Add a window on a flanking wall.
  • Change a non load-bearing wall or stud partition into a glass-brick wall.
  • Install a roof light or skylight (although in south-facing rooms, you may get pools of harsh sunlight on the floor).

Ambient lighting

Ambient or background lighting, plays the part of daylight and is usually provided by a central pendant light, a hangover from the days of gas lamps. It can be the source of most lighting problems as it creates a bland, flat effect.

However, if you supplement general lighting with some or all of the other types, you'll end up with a great, flexible scheme. Staples include ceiling-mounted bowls, wall lights, downlighters, uplighters and standard lamps.

Accent lighting

Picture light

This gives texture, focus and shape to general lighting, adding depth and shade, with shadows in some corners and pools of light in others. It's formed by a mixture of halogen spotlights, downlighters, uplighters, tracks and table lamps. With the latter, use opaque shades that direct light down and prevent it spilling out. Tracks are great for lighting different areas of a room.

Once the basics are in place, decide which possessions to highlight, whether it's glass, a favourite picture or a table decoration.

  • Glass: light from below or behind. From below, place a row of low-voltage halogen spotlights beneath the shelf or a fluorescent strip hidden from view in a casing. From behind, use fluorescent strips not halogen, which doesn't give the right effect.
  • Books: clip a spotlight on the underside of the shelf or put wall washers into the ceiling.
  • Pictures and paintings: it's tricky to light paintings well - and if they're behind glass you have the additional problem of glare. To avoid glare and give an even distribution of light, use an 'eyeball' light that can swivel, and set it to 'flood' (a broad beam). You could also mount an adjustable spotlight on a ceiling track and point it at a focal point in the painting.
  • Plants: read the care instructions to check whether the plant loves sunlight or needs to be kept out of it. For a large pot, put an uplighter or a spotlight recessed into the floor behind it. The light bounces off the floor and the ceiling and diffuses back into the foliage of the plant to create unusual shadows. You can also buy tiny light 'spikes' that fit into the pot.

Task lighting

Task light

This is what you need to do a specific job, whether it's reading, working at a computer, cooking, drawing or sewing. It needs to be focused on the area you're using.

If light seeps out, you're likely to get glare from other surfaces, especially computer screens. Task lights come with tungsten, halogen or fluorescent bulbs, the Anglepoise being the best example.

What to look for in a task light

  • Go for a fully adjustable Anglepoise-style lamp, especially a cantilevered one, that can be angled and lowered.
  • Don't skimp on the price of your angled lamp. If the stem is too short it will be hard to get it high enough over your work, which will cause shadows. The more manoeuvrability the better.
  • Use inexpensive pull-down pendants or clip-ons.
  • Clip-on spotlights are useful, as you can move them to wherever they're needed.
  • Your light should be able to take a 60 watt bulb at least, as it must be brighter than the others in the room.

Working with task lights

Place the lamp opposite your writing hand or you'll be working in your own shadow. The beam of the light should fall on your working area and not reflect onto your computer screen. If there's no space on your desk for a lamp, fit a strip light above it.

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