A simple guide all professionals use for designing the lighting of interiors

Top Architects and interior decorators create visually stimulating and pleasant lightings inside many homes. This on the first look might seem very difficult to achieve but using simple techniques can be achieved. We present you the methodology used by the most seasoned professionals along with simple industry tricks and secrets to light up your homes perfectly.

Layers of Lighting

Progress Lighting

The layering of light is at the heart of the lighting design of interior spaces. Based on utility, lights can be layered to achieve one or multiple effects. In fact, light layering is central in designing multipurpose rooms which work as dining, study, theater, and whatnot all at the same time! Just like layers of material is used to flavour the food, lights in the room are layered to provide desired mix and flavour. But unlike food best part is that we can control these layers with a simple push of a button!

The rule of ThirdsFor Light Designing

Every space should have three types of lighting namely – ambient lighting, accent lighting, and task lighting. Why so? Well, think about it. You enter a room, you need light to walk around and easily distinguish the items in the room so that you or your guest not bump into some furniture (or one another). This is where ambient lighting comes in.

Second, after taking your position you might want to accentuate some part of the room. These could be painting on a wall, a fireplace, some art pieces or the ceiling, etc. For this, you need accent lighting. Third, every room is designed to do one more specific task. This could be studying on the desk, making food, reading a book in the lounge, sleeping on the bed, watching TV, or simply sitting and having a chat with the folks. This requires task lighting as each task is different and requires different lighting.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting is for the overall illumination of a room that lets you see and move clearly throughout the entire room. It is the base layer of light in any room. Good ambient lighting should be:

  1. Glare-Free
  2. Evenly Lit
  3. Proper Color Temperature
  4. Sufficient Lumens for moving around

The glare of a car coming from the other side of the road passes by in a few seconds. But, the glare coming from a bright source not only is annoying but long-term exposure for even a small amount of glare can cause headaches and migraines. One should use ceiling Panel lights with anti-glare filters and diffusers to have glare-free lighting. If there are no electrical points in the ceiling, one can use a wall sconce that provides glare-free lighting for the room.

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Avoid lights that produce direct glare at the level of the eyes
Plaster in downlight - gives a seamless solution to integrating lighting  into your space.
Deep recessed panel light reduces the direct glare of the light

If one place of the room is more lit than the other, it makes it look smaller. Ideally, the ambient light source should be evenly placed on the ceiling and the spread of the light should be even and not focused. Using a single light source (such as a tube light on a wall) may light up one region much more brightly than the other and hence should be avoided as much as possible. Instead Panel or conceal lights should be used which are placed evenly across the room.

There is an entire cheat sheet on using panel and tube lights to avoid common fails in using them.

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Single tube light placed on wall illuminates one part of the room much more than the other
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Evenly placed Ceiling panel provides even lighting in the room

Very few people and even some naive designers are aware of the huge impact of the light color temperature on the feel of the room. The use of different color temperatures in sync with the movement of the sun during the day improves our circadian rhythm. Use the following simple table:

Color TemperatureTemperature RangeUtility and Use
Cool White 5500K-6000KHigh Lumens | Workplace, workbench, and study
Natural White3800K-4500KNatural Daylight | Living Rooms and Kitchen
Warm White2800K-3000KRelaxing and Night Lighting | Bedrooms
Color Temperature and Use
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Lighting temperature mimic the sunlight at different times of the day

The amount of lumens depends on the room dimensions such as height and wall distance. But, as a general rule of thumb, 20 lumens per square foot is sufficient for ambient lighting (not total but only ambient lighting). Since products are rated in watts and not lumens you can refer to this sheet as a conversion for it. Good quality panel lights have a watt/lumen ratio of 0.85 to 1. Cheaper panels have a low price but add to the overall cost due to the higher number of units for the same lumens leading to additional wiring, electrical accessories, and labor costs.

Accent Lighting

Light Scallops - Wire2wire

As the name suggests, accent lighting is for accentuating effects. These could be for Wall decors, photos, drapes, etc. Using focused accent lightings we can highlight their characteristics, depth, and dimension. As a general rule, accent lighting should be three times brighter than the surrounding ambient lighting for maximum impact. Instead of using higher wattage, this could be achieved via LED COBs .The Accent lighting should have the following feature requirements:

  1. Required Focus angles and flexibility
  2. Desired Lighting effect
  3. Required Color Temperature

For the Focus and Highlighting effect one can use recessed COB LED lights with focus reflectors. There are numerous designs of COBs that can be placed on the ceiling and can be tilted and twisted as per our requirements. COB track lights are great where the lighting point is not directly above the region. They are extensively used in retail outlets.

number of downlights needed in applications - infographic
Focus lighting increases the light intensity in small region

Accent lighting effects in Cove and strip lights as shown in the images are created using strip lights. These lights are encased in should be encased in aluminum profile housing to protect the light fixture. Not only they come in various colors but also in RGB modes that can be changed via a remote or via Mobile devices.

Accent lighting has a subconscious effect on the user. It tacitly directs to place oneself in a particular place of the room or directs the attention to a particular thing. The lighting effect of coves mimics the view of the horizon during sunlight and sunset. It is used not only in ceilings but niches and steps as well.

Cove Lighting - Interior and Exterior - Do It Yourself - aspectLED -  aspectLED

Task Lighting

Task lighting improves efficiency for completing the tasks subconsciously by directing your focus on the lighted area. Table Lamps, torchiere lamps, under cabinet lights, pendant lamps, and linear suspended lights are some of the task lightings that are used extensively. Things to keep in mind while installing task lighting are:

  • Minimize glare and shadows
  • Optimum lumens on the workbench
  • Should not hinder with the working process

The flexibility of task light should also be considered based on the type of work. If the workbench requires close attention to the details table lamps with flexible and rotating arms are best. While for closed cabinets and under cabinets where ambient lighting is hindered due to furniture, undercabinet strip lights or nice lights should suffice.

Task lighting is placed and designed to direct you to do the designed task of the room. These could be a study lamp, under cabinet lights over a kitchen platform, downward-facing pendant lights for reading or working on hobbies, or a floor lamp beside your sofa to highlight the sitting region.

One Rule above all!

While applying these rules one should always take into account the light from window panes. Keep the following in mind for windows on the walls of the room:

  • Northern light (in the northern hemisphere) – no glare high lumens – great for study rooms
  • Southern light – Very slanted but constant sunlight
  • Eastern and western lighting- Highly slanted during Sunrise/ Sunset – have more glare
Avoiding Glare in Lighting Design
Avoid glare lighting in the room

Using dimmers and smart switches, one can achieve more control over the lighting area. To check the lumens in the room and work area one can always use these simple free mobile apps that give the accurate lumens.