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Lighting design tips: brighten up your home

By Rebecca Milligan

We look at lighting design and how installing the right combination of lights, spotlights, lamps and dimmer switches can make all the difference to your living space.
row of pendant lights with clear shades next to window, lighting design

With clever lighting, you can fend off the winter blues and improve the ambiance of your home.

A good electrician can advise you on the right lighting design for your needs, but they do need your input to get the ball rolling. So before calling in the professionals, have a good think about the look and feel you’d like to achieve in each room.

Do you want particular areas to be brightly lit to allow for detailed work? Or perhaps you’d like to highlight particular favourite pictures or ornaments. Are you looking for a lower level of ambient lighting suitable for entertaining, or do you want the flexibility to change the mood of a room according to your needs? Once you’ve considered a few of these basics, an electrician can tell you how to make it a reality.

Which? Trusted Traders can help you find an electrician in your area now.

Updating old-fashioned lighting

Many homes still have a single ceiling-light fitting in the centre of each room. This is a legacy from the days of gas lamps, and can create a flat feel.

One trick is to supplement this central light with accent lighting – usually taking the form of a mixture of halogen spotlights, downlighters, uplighters, tracks and table lamps. Accent lighting should draw attention to different areas of your room. Simply putting a couple of floor lamps in dark corners can bring a room to life, while table lamps can make it feel cosy and welcoming.

DC Electrics UK’s Dan Collier advises tailoring the number of lights to the size of your room. ‘If it’s a big room, then spotlights are ideal, but in a smaller room a pendant or central light can work better.

‘Spotlights can actually look a bit cluttered in a small room. Not everyone wants to replace the traditional look; some people like an antique feel.’

Place additional ‘task lighting’ in areas where you need extra illumination to work or read. Table lights are effective in areas where you need to do close, detailed work, while under-cabinet lights are ideal in kitchens and bathrooms.

Wall lights or sconces can help to change the feel of a room, highlighting one particular area. Or a row of wall lights can work well to lead you through a room – they’re often found in hallways and entrances.  They come in a wide variety of designs that can complement different styles of interior.

Spotlights and switches

Those looking for a more modern look tend to choose spotlights, because they’re so flexible. You can angle a series of spotlights to provide different effects, to suit how you use that room.

While a few multimillionaires may have homes with separate rooms for music, gift-wrapping and spas, most of us have multifunctional homes. Installing spotlights across your ceiling, that you can switch on and off independently, allows you to create a range of effects to suit each activity. For example, if you have eight lights on your ceiling that you switch on at once, that bright light could work well while children are playing or doing homework. Switch the outer lights on, leaving the inner spotlights dim, and you’d have a lovely backlight, which would be ideal for a dinner party - once you’d cleared the toys away, of course.

‘Design is all down to the way you configure your lights nowadays,’ KG Electrics’ Sam Grant told us. ‘During the day you might want a brighter light, so you’d switch more spotlights on. Independent switches are a really effective way of controlling light levels, particularly if you are using LED light fittings.’

Check the Which? guide for more information on how to buy the best spotlights.

Different lamps provide different qualities of light. While few of us are likely to want a multicoloured bulb, different tones of white light can create subtle differences between rooms. ‘I’ll always try to suggest a different tone of light for different parts of the house,’ Dan says. ‘It can really make a difference. For example, I’d suggest a whiter light in a bathroom or kitchen, and a warmer light for living areas.’

Lighting is not generally an area of expertise for most of us, so if you’d like an electrician to come and advise you, Which? Trusted Traders has electricians in your area.

Getting lights right

When you’re considering redesigning your lighting and looking for quotes, ensure your electrician visits your home to thoroughly evaluate your property and your requirements. They need to assess what you want to achieve, as well as advise what’s possible within your budget. Dan charges roughly £50 per spotlight, but charges will vary between traders and in different locations.

‘If a customer is thinking of having a lot of new lighting units, and I can see the number needs to come down because of the amount of ceiling they’ve got, or vice versa, I’ll explain that and talk to them about different options,’ said Dan.

It’s important to get the right number of lights in a room, to ensure you have the flexibility and the ambience you require. You don’t want your home to be glaringly bright, even with the options of dimmer switches and LED lights, which are typically lower wattages. Sam tries to dissuade clients from using dimmers. He told us, ‘A lot of companies say their LED lamps are compatible with dimmers, but I find they tend to go wrong a lot more quickly.’

Installing spotlights can be done in a day, or less – depending on how easy your ceiling is to access. It’s not an exact science – a plasterboard ceiling in a new build is going to be much easier to work with than an older plaster ceiling, where the electrician has to be wary of drilling into ceiling joists. Generally, getting six spotlights installed in a room could be done in a day.

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