Lighting design: 5 lighting techniques for your home

27 January 2012

With our electricity costs on the rise and facing the prospect of more frequent interruptions to supply, many people are looking for ways to reduce their home energy usage. Even though lighting generally contributes less to the total energy consumption of a building in comparison to say, heating and cooling, it does tend to get picked on in energy audits as it is one of the easier things in an existing dwelling to change.

When the phase-out of incandescent lamps first began, many people rushed out and swapped over the globes (lamps) in their existing fittings to compact fluorescent options, only to find that their home suddenly had all the evening atmosphere of the city morgue.

It is possible to create atmospheric and desirable lighting design outcomes with low energy lighting options - the key is in the design approach and selection of lamps and light fittings.

Good lighting design often involves a layering of different styles.
Good lighting design often involves a layering of different styles.

Lighting techniques and layering

Generally speaking there are five different types of lighting techniques utilised in a residential lighting scheme. By layering these techniques and throwing in a few design tricks along the way, a room can be made to feel like a warm and inviting haven for living and double as a comfortable place for entertaining friends with plenty of points of interest to explore.


Task lighting

The starting point in designing any lighting installation should be an analysis of the tasks to be performed in the space along with the demographic of the user. As we age, we tend to need more light to perform the same tasks we always have like reading and cooking. Common examples of task lighting in a residential lighting scheme might be pendants over a kitchen bench, desk lamp in a study or a bedside reading light.


Accent lighting

Lighting to highlight architectural or other decorative features in a room is called accent lighting. This might be a narrow beam downlight washing on to a painting or inground uplighters highlighting a feature wall. In this aspect of the process we decide on our focus and detail for the space by asking which elements in the space warrant highlighting and perhaps creating surrounding areas of shadow to up the drama.


Ambient lighting

General or ambient light fills in the gaps between task and accent and is intended for general illumination of a space. Many interior design books I have read recommend designing this type of lighting first then adding the other layers. I believe that approach will most certainly lead to over-lighting a space, as task and accent lighting will add to the ambient lighting levels by default. Ambient lighting is usually a kind of flat, uniform light that is comfortable for the eye over long periods of time. I like wall mounted uplights which use the ceiling as a kind of reflector to achieve this effect.


Decorative lighting

Some artworks and sculptural pieces fall into the category of decorative lighting. These light fittings vary in style and the amount of light that is output can range considerably. An example of this may be a vintage chandelier. The light emitted from a fitting of this type may or may not add a great deal of light to the overall design.


Kinetic lighting

Kinetic lighting is the soft flicker of a candle or a crackling fireplace. Reflections off pools and ponds and starry night skies are examples of this type of lighting that my clients frequently request. Our desire for it comes from somewhere almost primal and although generally not great for seeing, it does go particularly well with a glass or two of wine.


Take a wholistic view

A lighting scheme must be considered as a whole to avoid over or under lighting. Some upward, downward and sideways light ensures that more than one type of surface in the room is lit and the effect is to add depth to the room. It is important to consider how the lighting can be altered by both switching and dimming to create at least two moods in every space - higher functional lighting levels and a soft glowing mood lighting.

Last but definitely not least - always use warm white lamps (around 3000K) residentially to avoid the city morgue effect. No one wants to look like a corpse until it is absolutely necessary no matter how much you're saving on your electricity bill!


Sue Stokes is a university degree-qualified lighting designer and a C-Bus pointOne member. Her passion for design and technology is the perfect combination for running LA Lounge, where she designs and commissions customised lighting and automation solutions.