Lighting Design by Claudia Ambrosi

by Claudia Ambrosi

Functional lighting is the most important element of a design scheme. Without the correct lighting, even the most expensive and well-thought decorating scheme can appear flat and uncomfortable. Good lighting is all about creating layers in the correct amount and location in your home.

For a year back in 2014-2015, I worked at Tom Dixon Design, a highly regarded lighting design firm, at their concession in Harrods Luxury Department Store. Being part of this fast growing brand and a globally renowned designer, was such an incredible experience that was both educative and gave many fond memories. During this year, I more or less constantly found myself in front of customers worried about finding one exclusive lamp bright enough for the whole room. With much thanks to my studies at KLC School of Design, a resourceful seminar with lighting expert Rebecca Weir from Light IQ, and my working experience, I was more than well equipped to educate my customers to plan a lighting scheme with different layers and light sources. Let’s discover some simple steps that I learned, that also you can apply to your home to create a successful lighting scheme.

Never fail to plan
First of all, when you do any construction and renovation works, you should already then plan ahead for your lighting. A functional room has all the switches, electric power outlets and perhaps a recessed ceiling at the right place in order to allow the homeowner to find them and use them effortlessly. It is much easier to plan before the work has started than to add these details in later, and this is basically how you should do it: draw a floor plan and mark the lighting details and sockets with a key legend that will help you to identify the different sources. Make the elevations as well, and draw the lights on the walls or from the floor with a highlighter.

When drawing, ask yourself what purpose the room you are drawing will be assigned to: will it be used to study, work from home, cook, watch TV, do your make-up, entertain your guests, etc. All of these purposes are associated with their unique lighting needs.

Each of these activities require a different intensity, direction and brightness from the lamps. This is what I often explained to my customers: do not only consider one big lamp in the middle of the room to be sufficient. Direct light from one big light source will usually end up disturbing your sight in the evening when a softer lighting is required for our retina to relax and conceal our sleep.

Indirect light is far more functional and effective than direct light. With that in mind, you must never forget to dress your walls, bookcases or mirrors with many light sources. Under just one exclusive lamp for the whole room, there is a risk to cast yourself into shadow if you are sitting with your back to it. Therefore, you should focus less on the ceiling and draw your attention more on the floor and the walls. Try to think where you need “washes” of light, and where you need sharper, more directional lights. For example, so called “architectural lighting” usually refers to lighting that is not designed to be seen, meaning that tall units and bookcases of countertops will provide an excellent place to create a phenomenal “seen-unseen” effect.

Whether your room will be used to cook, read or study or any other function that you could be doing in a room, you must have a stronger light to address the specific activities with more comfort. As a guideline, you should make sure that wherever your hands will be when you do an activity, that is where you need to focus the light. To achieve this, well-position recessed spotlights are often more ideal than one unique lamp in the centre of the room. Don’t always position the spots in a grid pattern, but rather where they are actually needed. The right time to plan lighting, is when you have already decided the furniture layout.

Pick the right bulbs
One thing that I will always carry with me from my experience at Tom Dixon is how so many people misuse the term “lamp” when referring to the actual “bulb”. Bulbs can be hydrogen or LED with the latter being more energy efficient and lasting 2 to 4 times longer. I particularly like to use strips of LED underlighting stairs, “floating” units or shelves. To achieve a really cozy effect, 2700k or 2500k is the right colour temperature, but bulbs come in different temperatures.

The best improvement you can do is also to fit dimmer switches so that you can alter the mood of a room from the morning brightness to the coziness in the evening, to allow relaxation in front of a fireplace or a movie. A soft and low lighting in the evening will also suit for a more romantic atmosphere, with scented candles to enhance your sense of smell. This is very much appreciated in the Nordic countries, where sunlight during the long winter time is very little and where the term “hygge” was forged. This Danish word, nowadays adopted in English vocabulary as well, literally means: dim down your lights in the evening, lit up scented candles and enjoy the small things that life can offer, such as a hug or a laugh with your family. I am currently in Stockholm, Sweden and I have picked up this tradition straight away and I really think it puts me in such a good mood, leaving behind all the stress of the day.

There is another very important layer to apply to your home: the “wow-effect”. It can be anything from an antique chandelier, to a geometrical shaped lamp (round balls, clouds, hexagons, etc.) or a sculptural statement design. Such a lighting, may in fact, not be a source of lighting at all, but instead, be illuminated from external lighting sources, such as spotlights.

My top tips summarized:

  • Create layers of lights in addition to the ceiling including walls and floor.
  • Use LED strip lights under “floating” units, bookcases and tall units, and LED shadow-gap lighting on stairs to guide you through your home.
  • Direct recessed ceiling lights can be aimed towards walls to highlight objects such as artwork.
  • Instead of a bedside table lamp, hang lights from the ceiling to save space, and use small “sneak” lamps for reading.
  • Don’t use only one exclusive ceiling light in a room, but instead add different circuits with diffusers to change mood in the atmosphere between the day and the evening.
  • Illuminate working areas in the kitchen with recessed ceiling lights and use pendant lights to “wash” the island’s countertop or dining table.
  • Create a “wow-effect” with a stunning vintage piece, a geometrical shaped lights or a sculptural chandelier.
  • Illuminate also your window treatments with stripes of LED lights to draw out the textures and colours.