The secrets to lighting a room – and common mistakes to avoid

You may have exquisite furnishings, but the wrong lighting can ruin everything. Lit up like a warehouse, your home will feel garish and sparse; dull bulbs will make it feel like a budget hotel; too many spotlights will turn your rooms into a stage-set. Lighting vastly impacts your interior décor and there are some common mistakes that many people – even the most au fait of home stylists – might make. Here are some common errors – and we’ll shed some light on how to fix them.

Overhead dos and don’ts

A central overhead light is often an essential, but should never be your only option. Though an attractive feature can be made of an overhead light or chandelier, in central areas of the home – the living room, dining room, bedrooms and other chill-out spaces – lamps and wall-lights should be used to illuminate the space. This low-level lighting creates a softer atmosphere, is more flattering (to the room and its people) and less harsh on the eyes.

Pendant positioning problems - solved


Of course, some ceiling lights can emit soft low-level lighting, such as pendant lights. Pendants should be hung low enough to cast light on the surface below them. Perfect spaces for pendant lights are above a dining table or kitchen island, but can be used in many spaces as an alternative to lamps. The ideal length to hang a pendant light above a dining table or kitchen island is 30-34 inches, and about 5-7 foot off the ground above a coffee table or side table, although these may vary depending on the space. In all other places, the light must be high enough for people to walk comfortably underneath.

Which lamp where?

Lamps – vital accessories for a soft, warmly-lit space – come in many different styles. When choosing a lamp, its task and location should influence the style you buy. Two lamps may be sufficient to light up a small room, but try them out to see how many are needed. Traditional lampshade designs include scalloped and pleated styles and modern shades might be rectangles, drums or cylinder shapes. Task and angled lamps are great for reading chairs or anywhere that light may need to be directed, such as a desk, picture or workspace, or as an attractive feature light in a low-level lighting space.

Neglected natural light

Making the most of natural light is the best way to illuminate your rooms. Ensure heavy curtains or blinds don’t block your windows. If your interiors are dark or small, curate your interiors in a way that lets the light flow throughout the rooms: open up passageways and use glass or transparent partitions between rooms and thin railings for staircases. Maximise the window light with white walls and mirrors. Assess where the light naturally falls and seek to compensate with bright lamps or spotlights where it is lacking.

Forgotten spaces

So, you’ve nailed the lighting in the bedroom, living room, kitchen and dining room. Done. Not done! There are some spaces in the home that are frequently forgotten: the staircase may require lights leading upwards, and the hallway is all too often ignored. Likewise, the landing, since this space is often windowless, may require more than just one overhead light to avoid it being a dull space. Beside the front door will require one or two lights, as does the garden.

Try to position mirrors with their back to a window, but if this is not possible, place a light nearby for the best use of the mirror. Likewise, bathroom lighting must be correct: go for spotlights overhead and two wall lights flanking your main mirror. Other spaces in need of good light include: large cupboards, desks, kitchen worktops, built-in shelves, dressing tables and wardrobes. Phew.

[Image credits: Cote Maison; Elle Decor; FrenchByDesign; Kitesgrove Tour, ACHICA Living; Houzz; Maison Creative]

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Annabel Sheen

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