Transform your home with an easy layered lighting scheme
A mix of fixed lights and flexible lamps lets you change mood at the press of a button
Once upon a time people thought that they needed specialist help if they wanted a lighting scheme that went much beyond a bulb dangling forlornly in the middle of the room. Smart lighting and LEDs have helped change all that, but flexible lighting has actually always been much easier to achieve than you think. The basics can be distilled down to combining overhead lights with wall lights and lamps to create pools of light and pockets of interest in any room, with stylish fittings helping to make a statement both when lit and unlit.
Light the way
Most rooms need an element of bright, general light for day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, and that’s usually supplied by ceiling lights, a central pendant light and/or wall lighting. In linking areas like hallways and stairs, good lighting is essential for safety but it doesn’t need to be on full beam all evening long. A combination of central light and wall lights on separate switches gives the option to drop down a notch for a softer mood, while table lamps and well-placed floor lamps can create soft pools of light that lead a way more gently through the space.
Ceiling height can be the deciding factor on which fittings to choose. Wall lights can bring the light source down to more functional level in a tall space while spotlights, bar lighting and flush light fittings will clear head height where ceilings are low.
In a hardworking room such as a kitchen, you need to be able to see what you’re doing without standing in your own shadow. Bright lights on worktops can be achieved using kitchen lighting bars and spots, wall lights or under-cabinet lighting if you have wall cupboards. There are also strips of small LEDs available which are easy to retrofit.
With so many kitchens now part of a wider entertaining space, the opportunity to make the work zone disappear on demand (complete with its washing-up pile) has obvious appeal. In large open-plan spaces, you’ll want different light levels for each area so it’s worth proper planning so that you have the light fittings on separate circuits and switches.
In a smaller room, you can mimic that feel with an overhead light with a dimmable bulb and floor lamps or plug-in wall lights with moveable arms or heads to give flexibility over light direction, allowing you to chose what to highlight (or to hide).
Set the mood
Lamps will give the most flexibility in a layered scheme. Moving the furniture around? You can move the lamplight with you. In the average room, three lamps of different heights should achieve light levels that will illuminate the whole room with a soft glow – choose from floor lamps, table lamps and mother-and-child lamps (a floor lamp with a flexible reading light attached). Lamps with a movevable head or arm such as an Anglepoise lamp offer the most flexibility. An Anglepoise can light your desk as you work, then you can simply turn the bulb towards the wall when you’re done to give a soft wash of light.
Experiment with moving your lamps and furniture around to see what's possible in your space. A great combination is accent chair + side table + reading lamp to create an inviting spot to escape to. Floor lamps can add to a softer lighting scheme in a bedroom too, while flexible wall lights next to the bed provide bright light to read by and a softer light for winding down to sleep.
In children’s rooms a nightlight can provide a sense of security in the early years while a sturdy bedside lamp will provide a low glow for bedtime stories. As they get older a desk light is a must for balancing out the glow of the screen during homework. ‘For teens, string lights are for life, not just for Christmas,’ says Beth Shaw, Lighting Sound & Video Technician at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre. ‘They give a lovely starlit glow to a room which is calming.’
Attractive light fittings will bring something to your decorating scheme even when not lit. Whether it’s the long lines of a stand-out floor lamp, a pop of colour from a table lamp or the sculptural beauty of an over-sized pendant light that fills the empty height in a tall room or turns the dining table into a shining star – it’s good to think about how your lights will work in the room day and night.
A great shade can turn a simple central bulb into to a majestic thing of beauty. Look for forms and finishes that amplify brightness or that put on a light show across the walls and ceiling. If you’re worried that something large might not work, look at semi-flush designs. ‘We’ve optimised the drop on semi-flush lights to create the right balance for the average height of a ceiling in UK homes,’ says Ellie Fennell, Partner & Buyer, Lighting.
There is so much more choice around bulbs these days. Long-lasting LEDs come in warm or cool shades of white and smart bulbs such as Philips Hue are dimmable from an app on your phone, allowing you to alter the light level without moving from the sofa. The Hue Bridge allows you to add up to 50 light bulbs and accessories making it easy to create your own tailored lighting scheme.
‘Cooler-toned lights are great for spaces where there is less natural light,’ says Beth. ‘And LED tape adds some fun and excitement, especially when you can customise the colour.’ Find out more about light fittings, bulbs and smart lighting in our useful buying guide.