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Is Lighting Design an Essential Part of Interior Design?

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Working as a professional interior designer for many decades, I've been involved in design-and-build residential building projects.

One of the few interior design elements that can be changed or manipulated easily and quickly is lighting.

One of the few interior design elements that can be changed or manipulated easily and quickly is lighting.

Lighting is the most practical, exciting and mysterious of all design mediums. It is exciting because of its ability to transform any physical object it illuminates. It is a mysterious medium because light rays are invisible to the naked eye until they touch an object. And it is practical because of its value to our lives and its aesthetics, which is based on our scientific knowledge of lighting.

Light possesses the absolute power to show, enhance, and display objects and things to the human eye, so it is virtually impossible to evaluate any visual effect without the presence of lights.

To understand and manipulate lights, and to design creatively and effectively with it, an electrical lighting designer must understand its technology and at the same time aim to be decorative with the effect it produces.

Types of Lighting and How It Relates to Interiors

Illumination and the use of light to achieve a general, creative, or aesthetic effect includes the use of both artificial lights at night and natural daylight that captures the day. So, whether you’re lighting your home or your office, incorporating all three types of lighting into your interior design theme will ensure that you create the ideal stylish space in every room.

There are three types of lighting that are directly related to interior design.

  • Ambient lighting
  • Accent lighting
  • Task lighting

Ambient lighting: Ambient lights are general lights that are a necessary part of any good lighting plan. These are the lights that provide an overall glow to interiors. They are meant to set the tone for space and create enough light to see and move around safely and comfortably.

Ambient lighting generally consists of overhead light fixtures that include recessed lights, ceiling lights, spot and track lights, pendant lights, and chandeliers. Table and floor lamps also fall into this category.

Accent lighting: They create a focal point that builds on the ambient lights in a room. By adding dimension, accent lights are used to draw attention to decorative features like wall art, plants, or a display statue, and highlight them as special design elements of the interior.

When well placed, accent lights draw attention to the elements without drawing attention to how it is being lit. Examples of accent lighting include track lights, recessed lighting, picture lights, and wall sconces. They can be set at an angle and directed to serve as a spotlight.

Task lighting: These are localized lightings and are provided by a variety of different sources. This allows the option of adjusting the lighting for a workspace and brightening or darkening it as required. Effective task lighting is ideal for actions like reading, cooking, studying, or working. Basically, it is meant for whatever activity or work it is needed for.

A good task light should provide about 40 to 100 watts to a workspace. Task lighting can be created using a variety of light sources like recessed lights, track lighting, desk lamps, or adjustable task lamps. Halogen bulbs can be used for task lighting because they produce white light that is similar to natural daylight.

Accent lights draw attention to the elements without drawing attention to how it is being lit.

Accent lights draw attention to the elements without drawing attention to how it is being lit.

Lighting and Interior Design

One of the few design elements that can be changed or manipulated easily and quickly is lighting. With the click of a light switch or the turn of a dimmer switch, light can be used to alter interior space aesthetics, moods, colours, patterns, or intensity.

Lighting is used to direct attention to some great interior décor piece within a room, because the eye always (unconsciously too) seeks out the brightest and most interesting object in its field of vision. And at night, outdoor lighting can be used effectively to direct movement through or within an outdoor environment.

There is no doubt about the importance of lighting design and how it is being used as a direct source of interior design and decoration. Below are some examples of how lighting properties can be related to the area, space, and interior design.

  • Lights reveal objects shapes and forms. It can make an object look flat, or it can visually increase its dimensional form.
  • Effective lighting design can cause objects to seem to recede into the background, or it can visually accentuate the separation of planes.
  • On stage in the theatre, an effective lighting design can make old starlets appear younger, and younger stars with elderly roles will actually look aged.
  • In the home, a good lighting design with a warm effective ambience can make home occupants and guests look calm, healthy and refreshed.
  • It is a well-known fact that light placements are used in jewelry shops to enhance glass, making them look like gems. This is achieved by the clever manipulation of lights through a lighting designer's creative skills.
  • Interior designers know that costly furnishing may end up looking like discount store copies with the wrong kind of lighting. So beautiful qualities such as sheen and colour should be properly revealed with enhanced lighting.
  • Store lighting designers have a way with lighting up meat counters, so that meat looks fresh at all time throughout their opening hours (even though stale food may be slightly off-colour). Vegetables will look crisp and fresh at all times with the right lighting illumination.
  • Silhouette projections produced by lights can form interesting surface patterns on floors, walls, or ceilings.
  • Transparency projections can produce either impression of detailed realism, or visions of the wildest 'flights' of our imaginations.

Effects of Lights on Colours

Colours in an interior space can be delicately balanced by selecting different light sources, each with its own specific attributes. So for example, if the interior décor is dominated with reds and blues tints, it's possible to subtly alter the emphasis of each colour by supplying different artificial light sources.

In interior spaces, no single source of light is visually pleasing. It is good to have a combination of portable light such as lamps and installed lighting fixtures. Using excessive light from one source and in one place causes a wild glare and can become quite unpleasant. So, it is better to use more light sources so as to have a successful and more effective lighting scheme.

Lighting, as an abstract and intangible design component, has a significant influence on our perception of the environment around us and whether or not our visual experience will be pleasant or not will depend on a lighting designer's skills in creative lighting design.

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