Lighting Guide (Elle Decoration) | Katie Treggiden Skip to content

Lighting Guide (Elle Decoration)

This article was written 8 years ago.

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Lighting made easy

Lighting is one of the most effective ways to create atmosphere, but one of the hardest to get right. Follow our step-by-step guide to creating the perfect scheme.

1. Make a plan

Plan lighting at ‘first fix’ stage – at the same time as plumbing – to minimise disruption. Think about the layout of the room and position lights where they will have most impact, avoiding grid arrangements. ‘When it comes to downlights, less is more,’ says Georgina Wood, Design Director at David Collins. ‘They need to be discrete and have a purpose.’

2. Start with natural light

Natural light changes throughout the day, so think about when you use the space. Optimise light with additional windows (if feasible), high-gloss ceiling paints and mirrors.

3. Compensate with ambient light

Use ambient light to mimic daylight, using pendants or downlights. Light the room for after dark, but also balance areas that are less bright during the day. ‘Make as many things dimmable as possible, to give maximum flexibility,’ advises Tessuto founder and BIID president Susie Rumbold.

4. Add task lighting for specific activities

Will the spare room double up as an office? Will your children do their homework in the kitchen? Match task lighting – ranging from desk lamps to integrated LEDs – to these activities, and to the people doing them: a 60-year-old needs 15 times as much light as a 10-year-old. ‘Use adjustable spotlights to direct light exactly where you need it,’ says interior designer Lisa Adams.

5. Use accent lighting to highlight features

‘What is the first thing your eye is drawn to when you enter the space?’ asks Susie. ‘That’s often a good thing to highlight.’ Use halogen spots, traditional picture lights, or hidden architectural lighting.

6. Think about ‘kinetic lighting’

Moving light – think candles, open fires or even lava lamps – creates a cosy atmosphere. Flickering flames have comforted humans for millennia and shouldn’t be forgotten in the rush for the latest gadget.

7. Choose your fittings

Light sources can be included architecturally or as a decorative lighting. ‘Architectural lighting is discrete and seamless, allowing decorative lights to act as jewellery in an interior,’ says Georgina. Check compatibility between light fittings and switches in terms of circuit loading, and find out what kind of power source your LEDs need.

8. Decide on circuits and controls

Think about combinations of lights you want on shared circuits so they can be switched on and off together – using anything from a simple switch to the latest smartphone-controlled system.

9. Installation

Anything involving electricity is best left to the professionals. You’ll need an NIC-approved electrician – and a self-certifying one can approve his or her own work to ensure it complies with Building Regulations too.

How to light your outdoor space

‘Good exterior lighting has the power to transform your home and should be considered carefully to maximise your outdoor space,’ says Peter Bowles, MD of Davey Lighting. Follow our top tips to make the most of your garden.

Welcome home

  • Porches can be lit with a pendant above the door or a pair of ‘up-and-down’ lights either side. Either will look half their size from 50 metres away, so go big – a quarter the height of your door as a rule of thumb.
  • ‘If there are stepped areas, consider mounting linear LEDs under each step,’ says Richard Strange of Darklight Design.
  • Use a PIR (passive infrared sensor) and photocells so that lights are triggered by movement after dark.

Room with a view

  • Large windows are black holes at night. ‘You can increase the perception of space by making your garden visible at night,’ says Peter.
  • Use up-lights to highlight favourite trees or sculptures.
  • ‘Use exterior floor lamps to really bring the indoors out,’ adds Richard.

Let’s go outside

  • Weather-proof festoon lights bring a party atmosphere to outdoor dining.
  • Kinetic lighting such as a fire pit or chiminea will also keep you warm.
  • Don’t forget task lighting for outdoor food-preparation areas.

Whatever the weather

  • All outdoor lighting needs to be IP-rated for ingress protection.
  • ‘Natural materials with interesting patinas such as weathered bronze, copper and brass are the best choices as they’re low maintenance and age beautifully,’ advises Peter.

How to use architectural lighting

Architectural lighting is fitted into the fabric of your building or furniture, making it a little more complicated than a lamp, but the effects it can create are worth the effort.


  • Shadow gaps between walls and floors can be lit using linear LED strips installed into the plasterboard, making the walls appear to float.
  • LED strips underneath stair treads or behind handrails can aid navigation. ‘Alternatively, LED ribbon in a cabinetry detail such as a bookshelf is a great way to add atmosphere,’ says Bruce Weil of The Lighting Design Studio.
  • LEDs once produced a cold light that distorted colour, but they’ve improved. ‘Choose 2700K, which is at the warmer end of the scale and a Colour Rendering Index (CRI) of 90 or above,’ says Bruce.

Wall lights

  • Indirect light is softer than direct light, so use wall lights to bounce light around and create a flattering effect.
  • Wall lights can also be positioned either side of a feature to add drama.


  • Your plasterer can skim trimless downlights into the ceiling. ‘They create the effect that light is coming from apertures in the ceiling,’ says Richard Strange of Darklight Design. Try Whitegoods for plaster-in fittings.
  • Spotlights can also be installed under wall-mounted kitchen cabinets to light worktops, inside wardrobes, or inside alcoves to highlight favourite objects.
  • Surface-mounted spots can be used to pick out features in a room, or to bounce light off walls or ceilings. The Minos collection by John Cullen is a contemporary option.


Lighting Trends

Hot on the heels of’s Sebastian Wrong calling 2016 a ‘very exciting moment in lighting,’ here are our top tips for the latest trends.

  • LEDs are coming of age. ‘LED lighting is becoming much better quality at much lower cost, so there’s no reason not to use it in your home,’ says Bruce Weil of The Lighting Design Studio. ‘What’s available now is tried and tested so we can confidently design lighting with integrated LEDs,’ adds Sebastian.
  • OLEDs, or organic LEDs, are a relatively new technology providing a uniform area of light, rather than single light points. They produce very little heat, and with low glare and shadow, can reduce eye fatigue.
  • Lightbulbs are having a moment. Pioneers of beautifully-designed, energy-efficient lightbulbs, Plumen have just launched the Plumen 003; the URI collection from Hong Kong’s Nap is a laser-etched acrylic LED bulb that casts spectacular shadows; and vintage-style filament bulbs are enjoying a revival.
  • Research shows that light can affect everything from sleep to productivity. New products promote healthy living by adjusting the brightness, colour and temperature of artificial light to mimic natural light as it changes throughout the day.
  • Lighting controls are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Alongside wireless smartphone- and tablet-controlled systems, lighting will soon be intelligently managed in the same way that adaptive thermostats such as Nest learn your behaviour to adjust room temperature.


Contact Katie


Katie Treggiden is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular — an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers, artists and craftspeople.
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