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  • Writer's pictureJulie Evans


Updated: Dec 27, 2023

If I were to compare interior design with baking bread, lighting would be as crucial an ingredient in design as yeast is to a beautifully risen loaf. It is easy to take good lighting design for granted until you experience a poorly lit space. Lighting affects our mood, our productivity, our well-being and even our circadian rhythm.

When planning lighting in your home, it’s useful to think of lighting in terms of a layering or a tiered effect. Most of your interior’s light will likely come from a natural light source, then artificial light takes over for a controlled lighting experience. Following are the eight types of lighting that you need to know to make your home shine...

1. Natural lighting

Natural light is a hot interior design commodity in real estate. In Australia, properties with a northerly aspect are always in demand, due to the fact they get the most direct sunlight all year round. Western sun is generally hotter, so builders and architects generally specify that windows facing west to be smaller, whilst rooms with south facing windows receive very little sunlight and tend to be cooler and darker, even if they’re larger in an effort to compensate.

Where north facing windows are limited due to the building or architectural design, sky lights can be an effective alternative to brighten rooms with the sun’s rays. Another great idea are horizontal strip windows placed in the top quarter of the north facing wall. Interior designers will always take into account the direction a room faces and it’s natural light sources when recommending paint colours and furniture.

2. Overall lighting

Overall lighting is the term used for most of your internal ceiling lighting and is generally characterised by downlights, spotlights and ceiling pendants. Besides natural light, overall lighting is the main interior lighting source for your home. The amount and direction of a space’s natural lighting will determine how much heavy lifting the overall lighting will need to do in order to get the job done and achieve the desired affect.

The amount or volume of overall lighting will be determined by the number, type and brightness of the lights chosen for the space. Typically in Australia LED bulbs have become the most popular and dominant overall lighting platform, and now allow the user to select one of three temperature options which can be changed easily as mood or interior design style changes, with these being warm white, cool white and daylight.

3. Ambient/accent lighting

Table lamps, floor lamps, wall sconces and floor lighting are the most common sources of ambient internal light. Ambient lighting is more gentle and subtle than overall lighting and is used to best effect with warm white bulbs. Lamps and sconces not only add an interesting aesthetic to your décor, but they are also the light source that can add warmth, romance and intimacy to a room.

Ambient or accent lighting can support overall lighting, or be used in place of it to create a desired style or effect in the space. Ambient lighting can increase interior light intensity if it isn’t possible to increase it via overall or natural light, or ambient lighting can be used in substitution or in place of overall light as mood or style dictates.

4. Task lighting

Task lighting is means exactly what the name suggests. Typically opportunities for awesome task lighting is found around the home in your kitchen design for food preparation, bathroom design for general and personal grooming, and in your study or home office design for workspaces to create or maintain a productive work environment.

Task lighting provides the illumination boost when and where it’s most needed. Task lighting is generally directional and focused to where it’s needed rather than oriented to fill an entire space. Bright white and cool white bulbs are best suited for A1 Task lighting roles.

5. Directional lighting

Directional lighting is used for specific purposes in specific places in your home, for example to highlight specific artwork, sculptures or ornaments, architectural or landscaping features. From an interior design perspective, consider using downlights positioned close to the walls where art is mounted or sculptures placed, on an adjustable gimble, track lighting or via wall pendants. Floor mounted lights can achieve the same result (in reverse of course) as can wall mounted or housed lighting fixtures.

Ceiling pendants can also be used as directional lighting, useful for creating zones within an open plan space. They also have the added bonus of offering unlimited interior decorating potential through their form and design aesthetic. A ceiling pendant suspended over a dining table draws the eye up and adds a floating focal point in what is otherwise a functional and vertically space heavy room. Also remember that the lower the pendant light, the less the light distribution, so ceiling pendants hung either side of a bed at shoulder height for directional lighting serve as incredibly effective in-bed reading lights.

6. Strip/profile lighting

LED strip lighting is experiencing enormous popularity, and can be a secret weapon in your interior design kit bag when used in conjunction with or as a part of your ambient and accent lighting solutions for a given space. Being flexible and long lasting (up to 50,000hrs), LED strip lighting can be installed almost anywhere indoors or outdoors.

Commonly used underneath cabinets, under island benches in kitchens, surrounding mirrors in bathrooms, in walk-in robes and underneath joinery in living rooms, strip lighting provides an ambient glow to it’s space and instantly creates a warm and welcoming ambience.

Strip lighting is usually hidden and can be used vertically to create features on walls, on stairwells to cast a glow onto treads, as recessed ceiling lighting and for casting a subtle glow to dark corners.

7. Festoon lighting

Turn your backyard or courtyard into a party with strings of festoon lights. With so many on the market, it can be daunting to know where to start to achieve this fantastic contemporary look. Here’s a great place to start if you’re overwhelmed or unsure - seek advice from your electrician.

Generally speaking though, festoons with an IP rating of 20 or 23 are best used for a one-time outside event or for your indoor interior design. Festoons with an IP44 rating seal at the base of the lamp holder with a 24v low voltage are best for long-term outdoor use. For greatest the greatest design impact, you can’t go past carbon filament bulbs that resemble a candlelight when they’re turned on, but for longevity and savings on your power bill, festoon lights with LED bulbs are irresistible.

8. Combustion lighting

Fireplaces, candles and lanterns are extremely atmospheric sources of light and shouldn’t be overlooked when considering your interior lighting design. The playful flicker of gentle flames create movement, mood and interest in a space, and let’s not forget the romance. Generally they’re not going to contribute a great amount of light, but they can be the best creators of mood that you can find.

So, has this made you feel a little differently about lighting, its complexity and how the many forms come together to create a space’s interior lighting design?

Next time you’re out in a shopping centre, restaurant, bar or perhaps a cinema, pay attention to the lighting around you and within the space and see how it makes you feel. Is it an atmosphere you’d like to recreate in your space? If you’d like help with your lighting plan, contact me for a consultation. Together, we can make your space shine.

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Julie Evans Design is a Newcastle based interior design studio and creator of beautiful spaces. We service the New South Wales areas of Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens. Our goal is to make the potential of your space come to life, so much that it makes your heart sing when you're in it. Check out my interior design services, learn more about me or contact me to have a discussion about your space and your needs.

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