How to create perfect lighting in nine steps

Our expert guide illuminates the finer points of lighting your home

'Riddle' pendant lights, £242 each, Bert Frank
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Think ahead

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Draw attention to architectural features with ‘Oslo’ LED step lights (£122), ‘Polespring’ LED downlights (£101) and ‘Lucca’ LED uplights(£142), all John Cullen Lighting

Forward planning can save you money and disruption, so before you call in the electrician or buy fittings, spend time working out your ideal lighting scheme.

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‘There are three types of lighting to bear in mind for any room,’ says Sally Storey, design director of John Cullen Lighting: ‘ambient or background lighting, task lighting and feature lighting to highlight objects or specific areas.’

‘Consider how each room will be used. In the drawing room, task lighting can be provided by reading lights and feature lighting by chandeliers, table lamps and directional downlights’.

‘Effective hall lighting makes a great first impression. A decorative pendant light sets the tone; uplights highlight arches and angled downlights illuminate artwork on the walls.’

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Change the mood

Brass push-button control, from £107.57, Forbes & Lomax
Brass push-button control, from £107.57, Forbes & Lomax

The best lighting schemes allow you to adjust the light for different occasions. ‘As a minimum, put your lighting on dimmer switches’, says Sally Storey of John Cullen Lighting.

This can be achieved with virtually no disruption by replacing an ordinary on-off switch with a rotary dimmer control. Putting different types of light on separate circuits gives even greater flexibility.

‘If you have more than three circuits, a preset control enables you to get the perfect balance of lighting during the day and in the evening, without fuss,’ says Sally.

Invisible lightswitch, from £46.70, Forbes & Lomax
Invisible lightswitch, from £46.70, Forbes & Lomax
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Fit for purpose

Task lighting describes lamps for activities that require clear illumination and desk lights, bedside lights and work lights all fall into this category.

The most practical models are adjustable so you can focus their beam and the more advanced models do this so precisely that you can read in bed without disturbing your partner.

The material the shade is made from also affects the light’s performance, as Peter Bowles of Original BTC explains. ‘Bone china gives an ambient glow, prismatic glass intensifies light while metal shades let the light make a greater impact.’

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Matching style

A strong centrepiece light, such as Jamb's ‘Original Globe’ lantern, £3,120, can finish off a scheme in period home perfectly
A strong centrepiece light, such as Jamb‘s ‘Original Globe’ lantern, £3,120, can finish off a scheme in period home perfectly

Lighting a period home in a way that’s sympathetic to the building involves more than choosing appropriate lamps.

Lighting designer David Amos says, ‘Traditionally, people lit their rooms with candles creating pools of light. Table lamps replicate the effect.‘

‘Invisible’ lights are another valuable device.

‘Tiny recessed LED downlights that cast pools of light or wash it across vertical surfaces are very effective. If light fittings can’t be seen when they’re turned off, they won’t impose on the building’.

A period-style ceiling light makes a strong centrepiece in a room even when it’s unlit but switched on, it creates instant effect.

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On trend: pendant lights

The concept of the ceiling light has been revisited and the latest styles are designed to make an impact. ‘Go big,’ says Mark Holloway of Holloways of Ludlow.

‘Think dramatic chandeliers, oversized drum pendants or smaller pendants hung in series or clustered for a more artistic centrepiece.

Explore materials not normally associated with pendant lighting. Thin wood veneers produce bold designs and lights surrounded by concrete or hand-blown glass can be individually manufactured, making each piece unique.’

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Lighting for effect

Wall lights create atmosphere at the flick of a switch and are a decorative way to provide background illumination. Use them in pairs to frame a mirror or fireplace, or space them evenly along a hallway to draw the eye forward.

Wall lights placed above a piece of furniture or mounted on a bookcase create interest around the perimeter of a room. ‘Position them so the top of the shade is at eye level to conceal the bulb and prevent glare,’ advises Sheena Lawrence of Jim Lawrence.

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Illuminating art

'Mortimer’ chrome picture light, £609.12, Heathfield
‘Mortimer’ chrome picture light, £609.12, Heathfield

Pictures become even more of a feature when they’re properly lit and the fittings most often used to do the job are purpose-made picture lights and ceiling-mounted spotlights.

Picture lights may be attached to the wall or picture frame and those that use energy-efficient LED bulbs emit virtually no heat.

Some allow you to adjust the intensity of the light from warm to cool with a dimmer.

Ceiling-mounted spotlights can be directed while recessed downlights are an alternative and subtle way to illuminate pictures and decorative objects.

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Make a statement

'Starboard' tripod lamp, £796, Lombok
‘Starboard’ tripod lamp, £796, Lombok

Light fittings distinguished by their size or shape can be an important design element even when they’re unlit. ‘Some lamps can double as pieces of art as well as being a functional object,’ says Chris Jordan, Managing Director of Christopher Wray.

‘The main rule concerning floor lamps is scale: they shouldn’t be overbearingly large or so small as to be insignificant.’

Styles that steal the limelight currently include tripod lamps, oversized task lights and lamps with weathered wood or ornate metal stems.

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Antique chandeliers

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Affordable, vintage-style chandeliers are available online and on the high street but if you’re looking for a centrepiece light with authentic period charm, an antique chandelier is the way to go.

While old chandeliers can be found, the majority are more recently made. ‘Most of ours date from the 1920s and 1930s,’ says Alison Carroll of Vintage Wonderland Chandeliers. ‘Although we sometimes have mid-to-late Victorian pieces.’

Ceiling height is the best way to determine what size of chandelier is right for your room. ‘In most cases, we apply the two-metre rule,’ explains Alison.

‘It states that the base of the chandelier should be at least that distance from the floor.’

There are exceptions, though. ‘Chandeliers can be hung lower over a dining or coffee table where you want to make a big statement but, in these situations, consider the width carefully.’

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From Homes & Antiques January 2015