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The science of interior lights design, according to experts


The science of interior lights design, according to experts
Clara Carlino de Paz
September 27, 2023

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“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”

Lighting is a crucial element of interior design that can make or break the ambiance of a space. From setting the mood to highlighting key features, lighting can completely transform a space. But how do you master the art and science of interior lighting design as an interior designer?

In this article, we take a deep dive into the basics of interior lighting and explore the different types of lighting, including ambient, statement, accent, and utilitarian. We will also discuss some of the best lighting suppliers in the industry and what to look for when choosing one.

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Understanding the basics of lighting for interior design

Before we go into suppliers and products, let's chat about the basic elements that you need to understand to create the perfect interior lighting design for your clients.

Layered lighting

One of the fundamental concepts in interior lighting design is the idea of layered lighting. Instead of relying solely on a single source of light, such as a ceiling fixture, layering involves combining various types of lighting to achieve both functionality and ambiance. The three primary layers of lighting are as follows:

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting provides the overall illumination for a room. It sets the stage by establishing the general brightness level and ensuring that the space is adequately lit. Common fixtures used for ambient lighting include chandeliers, pendant lights, and recessed ceiling lights. The key is to distribute ambient light evenly across walls and ceilings to avoid harsh shadows and create a welcoming ambience. Many designers opt for a warm glow or colour in their lights, in order to inspire a sense of drama and serenity in a space; similarly to a film set!

interior lights design
Interior design by Lorna de Santos

Task lighting

Task lighting serves a specific purpose by providing focused illumination for activities like reading, cooking, or working. It's essential to tailor task lighting to the particular needs of each space and client. For example, in a kitchen, under-cabinet lighting can make food preparation more comfortable, while a desk lamp is perfect for a home office. Task lighting can also include floor lamps, table lamps, and pendant lights with adjustable heads. Task lighting is especially important in a living space that also acts as a workspace, so consider how the distribution of these utilitarian lights can make a whole room feel; not just the specific desk or countertop.

interior lights design
Interiors by Frmwrk Studio

Accent lighting

Accent lighting is all about creating visual interest and highlighting specific features or elements within a room, which can add depth and drama to your interior design. You can use accent lights to draw attention to artwork, architectural details, or decorative pieces. Wall sconces, track lighting, and spotlights are popular choices for this type of lighting. In our opinion, good statement lighting can never get old.

statement lighting
DROP CHANDELIER by 101 Copenhagen

Consider the room's function

The lighting needs of a room are closely tied to its function. To design an effective lighting plan, consider how each space will be used. Here are some examples:

  • Living room: This multifunctional space benefits from a mix of ambient, task, and accent lighting. You can use floor lamps and table lamps for reading or watching TV, while wall sconces or picture lights can highlight artwork or a gallery wall.
  • Kitchen: In the heart of the home, the kitchen requires ample task lighting for food preparation. Under-cabinet lighting, pendant lights over the island or breakfast bar, and recessed lights can illuminate different work zones effectively.
  • Bedroom: Bedrooms benefit from a combination of ambient and task lighting. Depending on the needs of the client, you can consider a ceiling fan with integrated lighting for ambient illumination or bedside lamps for reading or relaxing.
  • Bathroom: Task lighting is crucial in the bathroom, especially around the vanity area. Wall-mounted fixtures or vertical strip lights on either side of the mirror provide even, shadow-free lighting for grooming tasks. If you're designing for someone interested in makeup, consider having front facing lights by the mirror too.
  • Dining room: A chandelier or pendant light above the dining table serves as a centerpiece, providing both ambient and accent lighting. Pro tip: Dimmer switches can help adjust the light level to suit different occasions.
bedroom lighting
Lighting design by Pooky Lighting

Choose the right fixtures

Selecting the right fixtures is not just about aesthetics but also functionality. Here are some tips for choosing fixtures:

  • Style and aesthetics: Consider the overall design style of your space. Fixtures should complement the room's decor and enhance its visual appeal. From sleek and modern to classic and ornate, there's a wide range of styles to choose from.
  • Size and scale: Ensure that your fixtures are appropriately sized for the room. An oversized chandelier in a small dining room can overwhelm the space, while a tiny pendant light in a large foyer may look out of place. Balance is key.
  • Bulb type and colour temperature: Pay attention to the type of bulbs you use, as they can significantly impact the quality of light. LED bulbs are energy-efficient and come in various color temperatures, from warm to cool white. The first is best for residential and hospitality, the latter to workspaces and clinical centres.
  • Dimmer switches: Install dimmer switches wherever possible to have control over the intensity of the light. Dimming can create a cozy atmosphere in the evenings and save energy during the day, so we're big fans!

Beyond all this lighting frenzy, don't forget to harness the power of natural light! Large windows, skylights, and strategically placed mirrors can help maximize natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day.

Zones and circuits in your interior lights design

To have precise control over your lighting, consider dividing your space into lighting zones with separate circuits. This allows you to adjust the lighting in different areas independently. For example, you can have one circuit for ambient lighting, another for task lighting, and a third for accent lighting. Smart lighting systems offer even more flexibility, allowing you to control your lights remotely or set automated schedules.

Energy efficiency

Lighting offers huge opportunities for designers to be more energy conscious. We suggest incorporating energy-efficient lighting solutions into your design, such as LED bulbs, motion sensors and timers.

What are the best lighting suppliers in the interior design space?

Depending on yours' or your clients' needs, lighting suppliers will be more or less relevant. However, Portaire's co-founder and interior architect Lori Bolon chose Northern Lights, Cameron Design House and Empty State to belong to our trade portal in light of their quality and beauty.

Northern Lights

Largely known for their collaborations with the interior design elite to create show-stopping decorative lighting solutions, Northern Lights is a perfect supplier to bring your bespoke lighting solutions to life.

interior lights design
Bespoke lighting for Chelsea Creek Penthouse by Northern Lights
interior lights design
Lamp exhibit by Northern Lights. Photography by Gareth Hacker.

Cameron Design House

Cameron Design House is a renowned specialist in crafting bespoke, sculptural chandeliers tailored to the unique needs of both high-end residential and commercial clientele. Established by Ian Cameron in 2014, the company has evolved into a globally recognized brand celebrated for its exceptional quality and innovative design.

interior lights design
Lighting design by Cameron Design House

Empty State

In the 2021, the visionary team at Cameron Design House identified a notable absence in the market for customizable modular pendants. Driven by their extensive expertise and insights, they embarked on a mission to realize the creation of Empty State. Chic, minimal and endlessly sophisticated, they have beautiful accent and statement lighting.

interior lights design
Modular lights by Empty State

Discover the incredible lighting suppliers above by joining Portaire for free. In one online platform, you can find 50+ suppliers, 40,000+ products, and the technology to integrate them into project-specific schedules to share and collaborate with your team, clients and contractors. See you inside!