Get your home’s lighting just right: Seven questions answered

Few things are more important for the atmosphere of your home as the lighting. Interior designer Emily Todhunter of Todhunter Earle shares her tips on how to get it right.

What is the secret to successful lighting?

Think about creating a balance between high, low and side lighting, with a mix of floor and table lamps and wall and ceiling lights. Every light in the room must have a purpose, from illuminating a picture to highlighting a feature.

Don’t be tempted to scatter lights around the room in a general fashion, because it really won’t achieve very much.

Moody or bright?

A mix is essential so that you have the flexibility to set different moods during the day and evening. Bright for reading, working and practical tasks and dimmed for dining and relaxing.

Lighting can make a huge difference to the atmosphere of a room and it needs to work for the way you live your life, so we start planning it, factoring in the wiring and circuit requirements, at the very beginning of a project.

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Uplights versus downlights?

Uplights in the floor were once thought to be rather glitzy, but life has moved on. In reality, they are less intrusive than a feature fixture and they can be used in all sorts of ways, such as to highlight a panelled door, reveal an archway, or used in a sill to make a focal point of a beautiful window.

Too many downlights make a room feel like an airport lounge and they are pointless, because the light ends up being absorbed by the floor. It’s much better to use them to do a job, such as angled to light a tall piece of furniture or a picture.

How do you light an entrance hall?

The classic approach is a lantern or pendant, its size chosen to suit the scale of the space. If you have an enormous double-height hallway, you need an enormous pendant to suit. Combine it with some tiny uplights in the floor, some feature lighting in wall niches and perhaps some wall lights if needed and some picture lights if you have some paintings to display.

I like halls to look quite calm and quiet and some subtle lighting can help achieve this, with some gentle glow here and there.


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And a sitting room?

There aren’t any golden rules, so just think about the proportions of the room and how you plan to use the space. Table lamps offer warm lighting and a mix of different shapes and sizes is important to introduce light at different heights, as well as to create character and a sense that the room design has evolved over time. A pair of table lamps on a console table or on both sides of a fireplace can look smart, as can some floor lamps, which are good for reading.

Don’t stress if you find it difficult to find a shade to suit a lamp base. We have stacks and stacks of shades in our office and we bring in every lamp, for every project, and try it with different shades to find one that suits. There isn’t a secret formula – it’s like trying on a hat, you just know what looks silly.

I rarely use a ceiling light in a sitting room, because light coming down over my head doesn’t make me feel comfortable, but I do like wall lights added into the mix, because they add another layer of lighting and help create that sense of balanced light, at several levels, in the room.

Any tips for lighting the kitchen?

We live in our kitchens more and more, so choose lighting that will give you flexibility, preferably on different and dimmable circuits. Uplighters above cupboards can be used to create a warm glow in the evening, while lighting under wall cabinets is practical for illuminating the work surface.

Pendants above an island, serving area or table will make a striking feature and I particularly like to include a table lamp or two on a sideboard or table to create a softer effect.

What is your favourite light at home?

I have a rise-and-fall light with old-fashioned ceramic shades above my kitchen table. Up high, it delivers lots of light when I am working at the table and, when pulled down, it makes a beautiful pool of light for a softer mood in the evening.