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Understanding interior lighting

Heli Annola

Lighting is one of the most difficult design concepts to understand. Light is all around us, but we cannot touch or feel it, and yet it is responsible for all that we see; without light we perceive nothing. Interior designers use colour swatches or samples to demonstrate a creative effect and to help make decisions, but it is difficult to prepare a sample board of "lighting effects". The way light is used will, in fact, change the way that we see everything.

The potential of light has long been exploited in the theatre where the powerful combinations of light and shade, tone and colour, are used to create the mood for each set and direct our focus toward important characters or objects around the stage. There is no reason why domestic lighting should not create the same powerful effects as in artistic disciplines.

Light and shade

Good lighting stems from an understanding of the balance between light and shade. In simple terms, lighting is the presentation of space. If used skilfully, it provides the final invisible touches to your design. Artificial light thrown onto the surface of a room from different heights and angles will change its apparent dimensions. It can emphasize height, structure, and materials, and become almost an architectural element itself.

Whether your interior is traditional or contemporary, the lighting will set the mood. For many people, the traditional central pendant light is the main source of light - lighting in all directions but with little focus or direction. This kind of lighting is unexciting and rarely fulfils a room's potential; combined with table lamps and light sources, however, it can be effective.

Light can be manipulated to dim, brighten, obscure, and highlight, and to create plays of shadow and colour; it can transform the atmosphere of a the room just as theatrical lighting transforms a scene. This is the great advantage of lighting over all other design aspects. Good lighting design means flexibility; it enables a family kitchen used for the preparation of food, for example, to be transformed at the flick of a switch from a bright, functional space into an ultimate dining area for a party.