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The Importance of Lighting in Interior Design

For most people living in the UK, you will either inherit an older property where the importance of lighting was basic with a single ceiling pendant per room, or a new build, where a developer has installed more modern fittings, but without your personal needs in mind or an interior design lighting scheme.

Managing the Money Expectations when working on your interior lighting

If you wish to light a room effectively here are a few points to consider which could impact costs.

Old buildings:

  • Lather and Plaster Ceilings and Walls are not easy to cut into
  • Old lighting circuits may need total replacement to meet building regs
  • Layers of old pipes and cables take up space in the ceiling
  • Single pendant lights need a limited supply so if you are adding more lights you may need to update your consumer unit

plaster ceiling

Lighting in newer Buildings: 

  • Recessed lights incorrectly positioned
  • Low Voltage instead of the more economic LED fittings
  • Budget, low quality fittings giving glare and cheap dimmer switches are noisy
  • Quality wood floors, difficult to take up and relay, to change sockets etc

Instant Solutions for Interior Lighting to help stay within budget

There are some instant plug-in solutions and the low energy lamps available to use in wall lights, table lamps and free standing lights are a first step before engaging in the upheaval and cost of a new lighting scheme. 

You can also change a down-lighter to take a ceiling mounted pendant which will take a GU10 low energy lamp and provide a conical rose to cover over the existing plate. 

Interior Design Lighting - plugin Gu10

This is a great way to add a decorative fitting especially over a table or to create drama low over a table or bedside unit and still keep the other downlighters. Unfortunately, the new eco-friendly lamps do not always give you the output of light you have had and their colour can be unattractive – which is a bit self-defeating.  Therefore a new lighting scheme can be worth the investment.

How do you light a room?

Paying for Quality

The old cliché of buying the ‘best quality’ is definitely a ‘remainer’ when it comes to interior lighting, particularly the lamps (light bulbs),  as they are the main working part. 

Good fittings, installed correctly, giving light where you need it, give an extra dimension to even the simplest of interior schemes.

How do you use your space?

  • What’s going on in your rooms?
  • When do you use it?
  • What are the features you wish to accentuate and the bits you want to hide?

Armed with this information you can start planning how to light your room. 

You want to get the best possible effects, for the least cost, without forgoing quality. There is a template solution for lighting most interiors.  

Answer these needs and you are halfway there.

You need to provide:

  • No 1 General Lighting
  • No 2 Accent Lighting
  • No 3 Task Lighting

Interior Design Lighting

Image 1. Kitchen showing general lighting only

Image 2. General, decorative pendant and low level plynth led lighting and downlighters

Using Low Energy fittings in a square size to work with the angular layout and ceiling. Additional plinth and under work top lip lighting, combined with a decorative pendant completes the four circuits for a simple but professional look.

1. General Lighting

General lighting is a bit boring in terms of effect, but it’s essential.  It’s the lighting that should give a ‘shadow-less blanket wash of light’, that covers the space, allowing you to clean in the corner and on dark days boost up the lighting level.  Put it on its own switch and always use a dimmer. An essential lighting circuit for kitchens

General Lighting for living rooms can be achieved by wall lights evenly spaced around the room although take care they are not hidden behind door swings or take up wall space designated for a picture or focal point.

2. Task Lighting

The traditional angle poise lamp is still a great task light but there are lots of ways of achieving good lighting to work by.

task light

 Consider where you are working and what type of light you need to see to carry out the task.  It could be reading a book, chopping onions in the kitchen, or at your desk with a screen. Task lights could be fixed ceiling lights or free standing with simple on and off switches plugged in locally to a socket. 

3. Accent Lighting

This is the fun bit.  Creating different scenarios, using cutting edge technology and giving your space different options of low level, high level, indirect and hidden fittings which high-lite focal points and accentuating the interior design features. 

Bathroom lighting needs care with the type of fittings used as there is a rating method.  

The minimum is IP45, most shower lights are IP 65 and a total immersion light is rated at IP 67.  Different parts of the bathroom have different ratings according to their zone. 

See Lighting superstore for details.

Accent lighting using down-lighters high-lite a textured wall combined with ceiling lights.

accent lighting

Unlike bathroom lighting, ‘directional’ downlights onto the mask add to the drama but don’t need an IP rating.  In this down lighter the lamp is set back high in the fitting to reduce glare and a black baffle (inside the lamp) assists this greatly. The beam width is quite wide but could easily be altered to a narrow beam to just accentuate the mask.  The shelf lighting here houses low energy locally switched and also on a main control system and the displays can be changed but the glow is gentle and shows off the features but keeps the lighting within a small area.

Interior Design Lighting accent lighting

These three types of lighting, General Lighting, Task Lighting and Accent Lighting, will give you a cohesive scheme, however,  the next part of this blog is the other important half of what to consider when looking at interior lighting.

  • How you switch things on and where the switches are positioned
  • Which lights come on together ie the circuits of lighting 
  • What type of fittings you use to create the different effects
  • Where do you install all the fittings, including your ordinary socket (13amp) and a 5amp lighting circuit

Sounds like you need a lighting plan! 

This may sound difficult but it’s not. 


You need to do some research and here are a few tips to help you out:  

  • Visiting professional working showrooms, which can ‘show’ you the ‘effect’ of lights
  • John Cullens showroom is spectacular and worth a visit 
  • Collect brochures on every fitting you choose with a ‘technical specification’
  • Play with different beam widths and colours

There is another big need. 

Where is everything going?

  • for example planning your artwork, your furniture layouts and also the colours
  • elevations and heights are equally important

plan lighting

The more generic you are, the less spectacular and more expensive your lighting scheme will become as you try to cater for all options.  Flexibility is king, but you don’t want a ceiling like a car showroom.

colour light

You want to see the ‘effect’ of the light and the shadow it creates, rather than the fitting itself. 

Shadow is as important as light. ‘Over lighting’, if not split into ‘scenes,’ can defeat the drama.

The fittings can be:

  • Led lamps in uplighters
  • Wall lights
  • Recessed down-lighters, 
  • Freestanding lamps
  • Led strip/tape

The key is always to achieve the best effects without being aware of the fitting.  

For example: Uplighters in the floor can distract the eye, whereas led lamps are perfect for along a skirting or under a unit lighting a shelf, but you don’t want to see rows of tiny lamps. Either hide them behind a lip or fit a diffuser over the strip lighting.

Lighting is the greatest technological revolution in the interior design world and it has its own set of ‘lighting designers’

If you want to use a specific control system that has remote capability then this needs early consideration at first fix (this is when the cables are run in), before plastering. Wireless is a great option as it eliminates a lot of the cabling.

It needs the expertise of the lighting designer to design and set up the system and show you how to use it. You can still have your say and ideas and they will simply professionalise and add some unique options, dependant on your budget and the products. It is not a cheap option but very popular with techno lovers.

Just make sure your guests can turn lights on and off in their bedrooms without a guide book.

Keeping Lighting Simple

If you are not going for the big technological revolution, opt for a four gang dimmer plate with one switch for the general lighting and three for different accent lighting ‘layers’, and don’t forget a 5 amp circuit (explained below) for your lamps on a separate one gang switch, sets it apart from the other ‘scenes’.

5 amp circuit

A Five gang switch plate will be expensive and usually made to order. If you go for more than four switches you will forget which switch does what.

Interior Design Lighting table lamps

Table Lamps

Most sitting rooms, particularly those with a screen or an entertaining room where low-level lighting is needed, use table lamps. Their lighting effect can work  up and down as seen above or using dark shades. To emit light through the shades use neutral whites and off whites as this adds light and subtle colour to the interior decoration scheme and give gentle light which sets the mood.  It’s a comfortable entertaining light and restful on the eyes.

In a reasonable sized room, install six to eight 5 amp positions to give flexibility for adding lamps and ringing the changes. The sockets are three round pins and not to be mixed up with your ordinary socket for a computer etc… you need these as well!

Today’s Lighting Scene

Combining Functional and Decorative Fittings

A successful lighting scheme works by combining functional and decorative fittings so don’t forget your chandeliers and pendants which have now taken on a new life in the world of Interiors.   

The balancing act is now easily achievable and can even be the focal point itself. Lighting a decorative chandelier with functional fittings, highlights a central focal point, whether it’s working or not.

Interior Design Lighting - decorative lighting

A pool of light onto a hand-woven carpet or a coffee table with flowers draws the eye and a dining table with silver-wear and candles on white linen is the feature, but lit from above with carefully pooled light gives light, only where you need it.   

Lighting Pictures

Interior Design Lighting uplighting

Always a favourite! Lighting the artwork draws attention to it and widens the room as the emphasis is on the walls rather than the floor. We tend not to use the traditional picture light which just gives a small puddle of yellow light in the top section of the art. There are many lights that can achieve superb results for lighting pictures, one being a ‘camera lense’ but this is bespoke and expensive.

Up-lighting an ornate ceiling will add height and wonder, leaving an all over gentle wash of light downwards, generally matched with large lamps and sumptuous sofa’s.  An Englishman’s castle, tastefully lit, is always a home.

A new ‘uplighting’ scenario is using coving with led strip lighting secreted behind the lip and Oracdecor do a fabulous range to choose from. This is’ indirect lighting’ emitting a blanket light at ceiling height or picture rail line.  

Throwing light across a ceiling does mean that you need a very good finish as it will accentuate any undulations or cracks.

uplighting giving reflective light down Interior Design Lighting

The image here shows uplighting a ceiling with coving  to accentuate a beautiful ceiling and to give reflective light down, adding to the general lighting with the option of a pendant over the table for the decorative mix.

Some ‘Interior Lighting’ do’s and dont’s

  • If you change a door swing you have to change the switch by the door
  • Don’t over light – think it through to save cost and get fittings in the correct position.
  • Cheap and cheerful cannot compete with quality fittings, going for less will give you more
  • Try to consider your colours within the room to determine the colour of the lamps
  • Use dimmers for flexibility with quality units
  • Don’t uplight a badly cracked ceiling or add wall lights to a damaged wall
  • Don’t put a downlight over your pillow – not the best wake up call
  • Always diffuse or hide LED strip lighting, don’t look directly at led lamps
  • Wall lights must be not too high and not too low – their position must allow the light to emit where you want it -not a pool on the ceiling

Lighting can make or break an interior design scheme so getting it right and balancing the money with the effect is a challenge but worth the effort.

Are you looking to renovate one room, the whole house or embark on a complex refurbishment project?

Take advantage of our professional know-how, avoid the pitfalls that cost money and achieve a beautiful interior.

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