All too often lighting is limited to a single dangling bulb and lampshade; yet it has an enormously important and all-pervading effect on your house. No matter how good your decorating is, if the light is bad a room will look uninteresting. Good lighting can transform a very ordinary setting. What is good lighting then? Again, there’s no straight answer; it will depend on your personal needs. Clever use of light and shadows can appear to alter the shape of your rooms; a ceiling that is too high can be ‘brought down’ by remaining shadowy, while wall lights will appear to increase your space. Leave your room’s deficiencies in the shade and high-light its good points. An even all-over light can be depressing; areas of light and shadow will give interest.
Plan where you’ll need light, what sort and how much. Apart from the usual bedside light, this will mean considering where you do the mending, pay the bills, listen to records, and so on. Then make sure the switches and sockets are where you need them. If they’re not and you can’t afford or aren’t allowed to do any electrical work, look for standard lamps with adjustable spotlights, use the central ceiling outlet for a track with a number of spots, or use extension leads from skirting sockets. You could have a long flex from that outlet with a lamp attached to the end, and loop the flex over a hook, perhaps above the coffee table. You may think that lights inside cupboards are too much of a luxury — but a spotlight could be angled to shine into them. In a child’s room, make sure that the fittings are out of reach, and use safety plugs and childproof sockets. You will need stronger light for an elderly person. Lights should not shine on to mirrors but on to you when you look in them. Also, you don’t want them directly above the mirror or they’ll shadow the bags under your eyes.
Reading lights should shine down over your shoulder, and ideally should be used in conjunction with a background light to avoid glare. If you’re right-handed, you will need it to come over your left shoulder. For dining, watching television and for stairways, make sure no one’s dazzled by low lights; for other activities, low-level lighting can be effective and look very glamorous.
HOW TO CHOOSE
What is there to choose from? You probably won’t want to do away with your general light — but could it be more gentle? There are diffuser shades for strip lights, and paper globes and glass and plastic bowl-type shades which make sure you can’t see the glaring bulb from below. Frosted glass light bulbs can help. Table or standard lamps with opaque shades, and spotlights and desk lamps will give direct light (a beam on a specific area), but if you point a spotlight at a wall or ceiling it will give a much more gentle and widespread illumination. Or you could train it on a collection or item that you want to highlight. If it’s a picture you may find non-reflecting glass is necessary.
This brings us to the question of direction — do you want your light in one direction permanently, or should it be flexible? If so, make sure your lamps, etc. are tough enough to stand up to being altered regularly. Another aspect of flexibility is that it’s easy to replace your on/off switch with a dimmer, so you can turn your lights from bright to a soft glow. Unless your lamp specifically requires low wattage, always have bright bulbs. Fluorescent tubes should not produce a green or bluish light — they will make you look ill! They are also bad for your eyes if used alone. There are varieties of diffuser shades you can buy for them to soften the glare, or try setting them under and behind ledges. A ‘rise and fall’ pendant lamp fitting, where you can adjust the height of your light, can be useful and effective over a table, although for a really romantic light you can’t beat candles.