Lighting is often considered as part of the "finishing touches" of a decorating scheme. But in reality lighting should be considered at the very beginning of the design and build process. This is because almost all lighting depends upon a supply of electricity to be available at, or close to, the final position of the light fitting. Early planning means that the cabling can be laid in to supply the desired lighting design. Leaving it to last leads to highly disruptive retro-fitting of electrical supplies or, even worse, a complete compromise on the placement and type of lighting in the room.
Most lighting shops cram in as much stock as they can, so the first time you evaluate the fittings you're likely to use they are installed on a wall with a hundred other fittings, every one of them shining brightly. It's very difficult to properly judge a fitting under these circumstances, so it's sometimes helpful to ask to see the supplier's catalogue in case there are photos of the fittings in actual room environments. If your refurbishment project is sufficiently large or complex you may benefit from consulting with a professional lighting designer.
The first consideration when deciding on a lighting plan is to evaluate your existing natural lighting. The artificial lighting requirements of a south-facing room with tall Georgian windows will be quite different from a north-facing ground-floor flat. By definition all lighting is artificial and will subtly alter the way other elements of the design appear, especially in regard to colour. Always try to check colours and colour-matches in natural sunlight as well as under the type of artificial lighting you plan to use in the room. This ensures that your design scheme remains true from the daytime right through to the evening. The output of light bulbs tends towards the yellow side of natural light. This means that they deepen the colour of reds, yellows and neutrals. Conversely they cause blues and greens to appear slightly duller.
Fluorescent lighting was originally developed to illuminate large areas cheaply and is still used in offices and hospitals worldwide for that very reason. The nature of the light produced deepens blues to purple and dulls the qualities of red and pink. Consequently fluorescent lighting is unflattering for many skin tones. Nowadays if it's used in the domestic environment it is generally confined to the bathroom or, to an increasingly lesser extent, the kitchen.
It's often advantageous to install more lighting points and electrical sockets than you think you will need, it's always easier to leave something unused than to add to an inadequate electrical installation at a later date. Also consider floor-mounted electrical sockets that correspond with your most likely furniture layout so you can easily place table lamps or floor lamps for best effect. This prevents the trip-hazard of electrical cables trailing back to the wall and will free you up to use free-standing lamps closer to the centre of a large room.
Lighting used in bathrooms has to conform with many safety regulations. Purchasing only from accredited lighting companies will ensure that all the safety issues are adequately covered. Think carefully about the lighting plan for the bathroom as it must be a combination of general lighting and specialised task lighting. Tasks such as the application of make-up and shaving require the face to be well-lit without causing glare or dazzle.
Take particular care when placing task lights by a bed for reading purposes. Consider height-adjustable or angle-poised fittings for maximum accuracy. Also consider installing dedicated dimmers to allow one person to read while the other sleeps.
Lighting has the potential to totally transform an interior for the better or for the worse. So it's worth repeating that it must be an integral part of the initial design thinking. Installing new lighting always entails some structural work. In the case of down-lighters this may involve cutting holes in the ceiling, so make sure the design is right before you call the electrician.
Once your considered lighting plan is in place you can start selecting the light fittings you intend to use. Because you've already got the technical plan right you can look on the actual fittings as nothing more than decorative accessories. Your choice of light fittings will depend upon the style of the room; modern fittings for a utilitarian loft apartment, converted gaslamps for a victorian lounge, and so on.
Use dimmable circuits wherever possible, especially in dual purpose rooms such as kitchen-diners. This allows you to install two lighting plan formats that can be mixed, matched or dimmed out depending on the current use of the room.
In recent years there has been a trend towards low-energy-consumption lamps. These are slower to engage and produce a generally lower level of light, however for the sake of the environment they should be used whenever possible. Technology has an inevitable tendency to improve and we can look forward to better performing "green" lighting in the future.
Article by Melvyn Fickling
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