Windows are your home’s eyes to the world and, in a living space, they are usually an important part of the architecture. Both sunlight and artificial lighting have to be considered when you’re figuring out a lighting plan. Before you formalize the plan, look at what your family actually does in the living area. Do they watch television or do cross-stitch? The more activities, the more flexible your lighting must be.
A practical lighting plan:
- Have a mix of ambient and task lighting. Whether downlights, pendants or uplighters, your ambient lighting should be fitted with a dimmer switch.
- Use several different circuits with dimmer switches. That way, you can choose which lights you dim.
- Task lighting does not have to be fixed. It can be as simple as a table lamp next to a chair or a floor lamp you can angle to throw light where it’s required. Lamps are also good for illuminating dark corners.
- Pale walls reflect light and dark walls absorb it. Don’t fit too-powerful bulbs on uplighters against a pale wall or you will make a giant reflector.
To work successfully, a living area needs a variety of lighting: a good level of ambient or background light and task lighting that can be directed where it’s needed, especially for reading or undertaking fine work. Accent lighting (directional spotlights or low-voltage picture lights) can draw attention to a treasured object.
Try to have a balanced level of ambient (background) light. Instead of a single pendant light, which can cast shadows, use a series of downlights or a couple of uplighters on the walls – and fit them with a dimmer switch so you can turn down the glow when you’re relaxing or watching the television.
- Frameless laminated glass welcomes in the blue horizon at a beachside home.
- Glass walls, with a pivot door, make the courtyard an extension of the living area in this inner-city house. The high boundary walls outside mean privacy isn’t an issue.
- This wall of sleek, metal-framed pivot doors lets through cooling breezes.
- A row of sky windows and a pool outside play light across panels of colour-backed glass in this dining area. The light show changes through the day.
Living areas have been opened to the doors, traditional windows have been replaced by sliding and concertina doors, effectively creating walls of glass.
More glass, however, means more sun, more heat and also more ultraviolet (UV) radiation which over time fades paint, fabrics furnishings and artworks.
Standard 3mm thick window glass lets through 70 per cent of UV, but it’s easily to counteract by fitting sunscreens, blinds, or curtains, or by using laminated glass which cuts out up to 99 per cent of UV.
Curtains and blinds also combat heat loss – windows let out up to 25 per cent of the heat in an uninsulated home. To keep a room snug, extend curtains or blinds at least 10 cm beyond the edge of the window, finish them 1 cm to 2 cm off the floor, and extend them above the window – the usual distance is 15cm.
There are three categories of lighting:
Ambient light – This is the general, overall lighting in a room. It’s usually provided by a central light, although using several sources of light, for example, a series of downlights, creates less shadowing than having one bulb in the middle of the room. Adding a dimmer means you can change the atmosphere, for example, reducing the background light for candlelit dinner or to watch television.
Task lighting – This is low-level, focused light targeted at particular feature, such as painting. But in most homes, if the ambient and task lighting are right, there’s little need for accent lighting. Of course, if you do have a Picasso, by all means show it off.
Types of Light
Natural light – Sunlight is inviting, doesn’t distort colour and is the whitest, purest light known. However in summer sunlight also means heat, so don’t overdo skylights and windows without adequate shading.
Tungsten – The familiar domestic incandescent bulb is easily dimmable and produces warm light that’s flattering to skin tones. The minuses are poor energy efficiency and a short lifespan (1000 hours average). Although ordinary bulbs throw a dispersed light, internally silvered reflector bulbs can be used to give a directional beam.
Tungsten – halogen – Commonly called halogen bulbs, these use a tungsten filament inside a bulb with halogen gass. They produce a concentrated, bright white light, and put out the same amount of light as ordinary tungsten bulbs at a lower voltage and a smaller size. They’re the most versatile lights, as they can be used for either ambient or task lighting and can be used with a dimmer. They’ll last for up to 3000 hours, but run hotter than tungsten bulbs. This extra heat should be dispersed with dichroic reflectors and heatproof mountings. Low-voltage bulbs (12 volts or less) must be used in conjunction with a transformer to reduce the main voltage.
Fluorescent – This produces light by passing electricity through argon or krypton gas in a tube and exciting phosphorescing coating on the glass. Fluorescents come as straight or circular tubes or as a long-life bulbs (compact fluorescents). Fluorescents are cheap to run (about one-tenth the cost of incandescents) and last about 8000 hours. The drawbacks are that they can’t be used with a standard dimmer (you’ll need extra electronic ballasts) and there’s a disposal problem because of the toxic chemicals they contain.
- During the day, a lofty void pulls sunlight into the core of this narrow townhouse. At night, carefully positioned spotlights focus on designer features. A bank of downlights bounce their gleam off the polished concrete floor for even background lighting.
- This is the ultimate indoor/outdoor transition space. Located in an iconic building, it has a glass louvre façade that can be adjusted to catch the harbor breeze. There are also roller blinds for added shade.
- Sliding glass doors open to a deep terrace in this bayside home and allow for good cross-ventilation. Roller blinds of sunscreen fabric (PVC – coated woven fiberglass) tame the heat and glare on hot days.
- Sensibly placed lamps deliver a boost of brightness where it’s needed. Ambient light levels are reasonably subdued so as not to detract from the impressive view.