General lighting is best diffused over a wide area, says Kya deLongchamps who offers some practical advice
Artificial light is a dynamic ingredient in a room, quite apart from its vital, practical role. As soon as the light starts travelling from its source, it can be altered dramatically by the surfaces it meets and the materials it passes through. Think of a total light plan with all its fixtures and fittings, partnering around the room waltzing with the colours in the scheme, the shapes of your furniture and the reflective or blocking quality of things. Here is a very basic lighting guide to illuminate your journey.
General lighting: The standard wash of light throughout your home, the light that guides your footsteps and discreetly turns night to day after dark is termed general or ambient lighting. It’s the most important element to get right. Intended to be easy on the eye, general lighting is best diffused over a wide area. Many homeowners favour central pendant lights that pour light out and over the room but this can create murky lost areas, as it pools on the floor allowing it to be blocked by furniture. The addition of other light sources set at different levels presents a more interesting picture pumping light into the corners and edges of the room and softening shadows. Alternatively, ceiling mounted up lighters, bounce the light onto the ceiling and use it as a huge diffuser, softening its influence. Sieving light through a material such as a translucent balloon shade or raking it through a ribboned wood, will also alter it dramatically. A wall switch can set off ceiling mounted down-lighters (recessed lighting), wall lights and even table lamps to pool various quantities and qualities of light in an overlapping play.
Task lighting. As suggested by the name, task lighting dedicates one light or a set of lights to one area where you are doing something particular and the light levels need to be raised. It could be reading in a sitting room chair, dicing carrots at a kitchen counter, or hanging your keys on a hook in the hall — the light is there to illuminate the stage for that activity. Direct your light to what you are doing with lamps, spotlights, and shades. The brightness of the light and its height will be important for it to hit its mark most effectively without creating a wincing glare. Task lighting can double as mood lighting, a good example being recessed track lighting under shelves in the kitchen set on dimmers that throw a glow over counters when not being used for work. Look for articulated fittings that can be focused right in on the work or dropped into position. Opaque shades will direct the light sharply. Some task lighting requires a touch of discression. Don’t highlight your face in sharp contrasting light when making up, look for a softer kinder glow to mildly flatter.
Accent and decorative lighting: Highlight a decorative treasure with lighting or backlight a sculptural form, accent lighting creates a focal point, that extra bit of visual theatre that says this is important. You can sink accent lighting inside a cabinet to cast a glow over gorgeous ornaments or wash the surface of a wall hung rug, the potential is infinite. Spotlights suspended on rails or recessed into the ceiling area are also ideal. Dimmers offer superb flexibility for accent and atmosphere. Fairy lights, lava lamps, heavily shaded blown shades on a sculptural base, the light source and its support deliberately draws attention to itself lit or not. Many Tiffany style stained glass shades are too lugubrious and opaque to present any useful light when on, and are really present to glow as jewel style ornaments.
The colour of light: All artificial light has a colour of its own and this is important to remember, because when it falls on other colours they can appear dramatically different from one light source to another. Fittings will add a dash of character, but the quality of light they direct, diffuse and deliver if crucial.
* Tungsten light, now being pointed rudely out the door by EU directives, had a soft golden glow that made is a popular choice for general, task and accent lighting as it warms other colours and flatters skin tones.
* Fluorescent light is notorious for a pulsing greenish/purple light, and compact fluorescents (CFLs), the standard form of energy saving light bulb, has carried that unearthly glow all over our homes. Look for CFL bulbs filtered through a soft-glow type of coating to offset any sickly hue and use lamp shades in glass and fabric to balance their cooler presence.
* LED lamps and halogen lighting in contrast offer an intense daylight style purity of colour with relatively sharp shadows from their focused beam. Generously used in low wattage spots they are energy efficient for kitchens.
* Halogen has a short life span per unit but its low voltage options can be put on a dimmer for useful decorative effects.
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