Ever bought lights in a hurry because the electrician needed a quick decision? Then, once fitted, you realised they looked cheap or out of proportion, ruining the whole look of the room you’d spent months planning?
Maybe you’ve been stuck with bare dangling wires for months or even years because of indecision and the fear of getting it wrong?
If any of these scenarios are striking a chord (excuse the pun) you’re in the right place.
I’d go so far as to say that lighting is one of the most important elements in how a room looks, feels and functions. It can make or break a scheme but all too often it’s the last thing we think about. We end up making decisions in a hurry and then wonder why the image we had in our head when we set out on our re-decorating journey just doesn’t look the way we wanted. But…..
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!
The good news is that there are so many beautiful, affordable lights available. And, armed with a few simple tips, it’s easy to avoid overwhelm and make confident choices about what is going to look right in your home.
I’m going to focus on the living room but you can apply the same process to any room in your house.
An effective lighting scheme is all about having a good mix of general, task and accent lighting. The bigger the living room the more layers of light you need. In my opinion you need an absolute minimum of 5 sources of light in any one room.
If you’re starting from scratch, I would always begin with task lighting
As the name suggests this is the light you need for carrying out specific activities. Think about all the different things that take place in your living space. Is it predominantly used for relaxing and watching TV? Does it need to double up as an office? Do you like to read, sew or do other crafts?
Make a list of all these things and next think about the lay out and where you’ll be sitting to carry out these activities. This will determine where you want your task lighting to be.
Ideally task lighting should be adjustable and angled down. A floor standing reading light or a discreet angled table lamp that can be switched off or turned away from you when you want a more relaxed vibe.
How to choose the right ceiling lights
Now, stand in your lounge and take a good look around.Look at the size of the room and the height of the ceiling. Are there any architectural features you want to draw attention to or away from? Is it a period property or more modern? Your answers will determine what sort of general or ambient light you need.
Ceiling lights such as pendants or chandeliers are a practical option in a lounge. They don’t have to be positioned in the centre of the room and can look stunning hung low in one corner, providing a more flattering indirect light.
If your existing wiring is in the centre of the room, you can be creative and hang more than one fixture at different heights or choose a light with a diffuser to avoid harsh glare. If you want to emphasise a high ceiling choose pendants with a long drop which draw the eye upwards.
If you have lower ceilings a semi-flush light which is wide but doesn’t hang down too low can make for a stunning feature. Retro style lights look amazing in both modern and more traditional rooms. The fact that they spread out horizontally emphasises the room’s width. They take up little space in the drop so suit homes with lower ceilings.
How to avoid buying lights that are too small for the room
If you’re unsure whether the light you’ve picked out is going to be the right size this simple formula can help.
Add together the length and width of your room in feet and then add 5 inches. These two figures make up the range of sizes you could choose to ensure the light is in proportion to the room. So, if your room is 10 feet by 14 feet your light should be around 24-29 inches in diameter. Remember, this is a guide, not a rule but it can give you a starting point and enable you narrow down your choices with confidence.
Ideally ceiling lights should be no lower than 2 metres from the floor if you need to walk underneath. If the light is hanging over a table you can obviously go much lower.
Choosing the right lamp
Table lamps are an affordable and versatile way to introduce light. As well as adding an injection of pattern and colour, they also add height and texture. They enable light to be pushed out to the edges of the room which makes it feel bigger.
There are so many amazing bases and shades available now and, again, this can be a little overwhelming, but these quick tips can help you choose the right one to suit you and your space.
Choose a base with one or some of the accent colours already in the room. Then either add a plain fabric shade in a complimentary neutral or if you’re feeling brave choose a patterned shade in a coordinating colour. Darker shades add a dramatic effect to the room. Lighter shades are more relaxed and give off a warm glow.
Think about the shape and size of the shade as well. Drum and square shades look more modern, whereas tapered and pleated shades suit a more traditional scheme.
To keep things looking balanced the diameter of the shade should be at least 1 inch wider than the widest point of its base and overall, the lamp should be no more than 1.5 times the height of the surface it sits on.
For a relaxed mood and to avoid glare the bottom of the shade should roughly be at eye level when you’re sitting down.
Use floor lamps to bring visual height into a room.Avoid torchiere lights – those floor lamps which just cast light onto the ceiling, as they can make the room itself feel quite dingy. Instead go for a standing lamp with a fabric shade to throw light down as well as up.
Accent lighting can then be introduced to highlight artwork, ornaments on a shelf or a particular architectural feature. This can be done very inexpensively with small plug-in spotlights. These also look great positioned at the base of a large houseplant or behind furniture to create shadows and a soft glow.
My pro-secret to a professional looking scheme
Unless you’re having the room completely re-wired and can choose to include a 5-amp circuit to control all your lamps from one switch, your secret weapon will be plug-in dimmer switches! These allow you to control the mood in the room. They plug into your lamp and then into the wall, making them fully adjustable.
Finally, a tip to hide those unsightly cords – use clear decorating clips with a self-adhesive backing. These can be attached to the back of tables and shelves to keep wires hidden.
People worry about mixing metals, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. But it’s something you should consider doing if you want to add interest and character to your home.
Sticking slavishly to the same finish can look predictable and dull and it’s absolutely not necessary to coordinate everything. Just follow a few simple rules and you’ll soon be mixing with confidence.
Here are my top five tips for making it work.
Stick to two or three different metal finishes and don’t worry about including your appliances.
These are more often than not stainless steel and, like a pair of denim jeans, generally fit in with any scheme. But do remember to think about the metal that appears elsewhere in the room – on table legs, chairs and bar stools, as well as light switches and sockets – include these as one of your choices.
Have like objects in the same finish.
So, for example you could choose to have all your light fixtures in one metal and all your hardware such as cabinet handles and knobs in another.
One way to add real impact is to have the lighting over your island or dining table in one finish such as brass or copper and have all the other finishes in a different metal so that the lighting becomes the real showstopper in the room.
Alternatively, if you have a kitchen island in a different wood to the rest of the cabinets this is a great opportunity to introduce a contrasting metal in any hardware on the island unit.
The key to doing it well is contrast.
Make your choice look considered and deliberate and you’ll create a scheme that has energy and character.
Contrast warm with cool – warm metals like brass, copper and gold look great mixed with cooler colours like chrome, iron and silver. Or opt for matte black with a polished bronze or brass. Avoid mixing metals that look too similar such as nickel and chrome. Although one is the warm version, and one is the cool they’re too similar and it can look like you haven’t thought it through
Don’t forget about texture.
Mix shiny with matte or rusted finishes and polished with hammered metals. Remember to disperse them throughout the room for a balanced and considered look.
Finally, think about the style of the room.
Chrome and matte black work well together in an Industrial style kitchen, as does copper. A traditional style bathroom looks beautiful with antique brass,matte black and satin nickel.
Feeling Inspired? If you are looking to create your own beautifully unique home, I can help. Whether you’re planning a complete re-design of your home, want to transform a particular room or just need a bit of help and advice on colour and decoration.
Never agonise over paint colours again. This quick guide will have you choosing colours with confidence in no time at all.
We’ve all been there – staring at a wall covered in little square samples of colour with absolutely no idea which one we like, which one is which or how any of them will look when painted on a whole wall. After spending a fortune on tester pots it can feel like you’re no further forward with your decorating project and to top it all there are now unsightly blobs of colour dotted about the room.
You have a common case of colour overwhelm
But don’t worry. In this article you’ll discover seven quick and easy steps to take you from feeling swamped by indecision to complete confidence in choosing the right colour, first time.
List everything that is staying in the room
This is an important first step, so arm yourself with a pen and paper and take a good look around.
First look at all the fixed elements. These are the things that couldn’t easily be picked up or moved. They may include your flooring, curtains, a fireplace and any built-in furniture.
On your piece of paper make a note of the colour of each of these different elements. If your fireplace is brick or stone try and pick out the dominant colour. This may be red or orange if it’s brick. The stone may have a green or yellow tint to it. Slate usually has blue undertones.
Have a look at the wood in the room – is it pine with a yellow or orange tint to it or is it a darker walnut or oak?
Now do the same for any pieces of furniture you’re planning to keep. This will give you a really good idea of the existing colour palette you have to work with and will automatically start to narrow down your choices.
How much natural light does the room get?
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is the room mainly bright and sunny?
Does the room lack a lot of light?
What time of day do we mainly use the room?
Light levels have a massive impact on how colour looks in a space. Those brilliant bright colours you see when you’re abroad rarely translate to the softer more hazy light we get in this country. That’s why bright whites can often look cold and a little bit dirty.
This doesn’t mean you have to go dark in a darker room (unless you want to). It just means it’s often best to avoid a bright white and instead go for a softer neutral shade.
It can be tempting to look at Pinterest or Instagram and choose a colour based on an image you’ve seen but the only way to get a true colour reading is to test it (more on this in a moment).
Images are often filtered or light levels enhanced to make them look better, so the same colour will rarely look the same in your own home.
What sort of atmosphere do you want to create?
Once you’ve figured out what the light levels are throughout the day you can begin thinking about what sort of space you want to create.
Maybe you’re tempted by a dark, dramatic scheme that feels cosy and luxurious. Dark colours can work brilliantly in rooms that are used mainly in the evenings such as lounges or dining rooms. But they can feel a little oppressive in offices and kitchens, where work is carried out.
Maybe you prefer pale neutrals shades that exude calm and tranquillity. These schemes can look beautiful, particularly when subtle differences in tone are layered together. But be aware, this seemingly simple look is deceptively difficult to get right. Neutral schemes done well rely heavily on exquisite details and texture to create visual interest. If you don’t have a large budget, you need to use colour and contrast to draw the eye away from those less-than-perfect small details.
Always test paint in the room it’s going in
It can be so tempting to miss out this stage and get straight down to painting the walls. But this is a crucial step and should be avoided at your peril.
It’s time to buy some samples
Start off by looking on a paint chart. Taking into account everything we’ve just talked about, what colours are you drawn to? Most paint manufacturers are really helpful and group colours together based on their undertones. Generally, you can be confident that these colours will work well together.
At this stage you need to be quite strict with yourself. Refer to your answers to the first three questions and try not to get seduced by all the pretty colours. You don’t want to go back to that rainbow of little squares on your wall.
Now, with the samples you’ve selected, tempting as it may be, don’t rush to paint them straight on to your walls. When you do this the colour you’ve chosen can look very different depending on the existing colour.
Take a few extra minutes to paint the samples on large (A4 or bigger) pieces of paper or card. Make sure you do 2 or 3 coats to give a true representation of the final colour and remember to write the name of the colour and the brand on the back.
Do at least two of these for each colour you’re sampling and place them next to the things that are going to be staying in the room. So, if the curtains are staying put one of the samples by the curtains. If you have a feature fireplace make sure a sample goes next to this. In a kitchen put samples next to cabinets, flooring and countertops.
A small square of paint in the middle of the room won’t relate to anything and won’t help you to make the right choice.
Now live with these samples for a few days. Move them around and keep looking at them at different times of the day and evening. Note how the colour looks at night with the lights on and in different light levels.
A quick word about paint finish
Generally I specify an eggshell or satin finish on woodwork. It’s not as shiny as gloss and is much quicker and easier to apply. If you’re using Farrow & Ball I would opt for the Modern Eggshell on woodwork as I find that the Estate eggshell is too chalky and marks more easily.
Choose emulsion with a higher sheen content on walls that you may want to wipe down or in areas of high moisture like kitchens and bathrooms.
If the room is very dark a good tip is to use an eggshell finish on the ceiling as this really helps to bounce light around.
In busy hallways I often paint the bottom half of the wall in eggshell or satin finish and use exactly the same colour but in a matt emulsion above. It creates a lovely effect, is more hardwearing and really easy to wipe away marks and scuffs. It’s very easy to achieve with some good quality masking tape.
Don’t forget your woodwork and ceilings.
The colour you choose for skirting, window frames, doors and ceiling is just as important as your walls. It can be the difference between loving your newly painted room and feeling that you’ve made a terrible mistake.
The traditional way is to paint all these elements in a ubiquitous bright white but this doesn’t always work best for the colour you’ve chosen on the walls.
Painting woodwork in a strong contrast to the wall colour will draw your eye straight to these elements and can make the room appear smaller. By choosing a softer white or a neutral that compliments the wall colour the perimeters of the room become blurred, making it feel bigger.
Alternatively, paint woodwork the same colour as the walls. This can create a real calm, sophisticated scheme. In modern houses where trim can be quite small and functional this trick makes them disappear into the wall and again has the effect of making the space feel larger.
Hold your nerve!
Even after all this careful planning, when your chosen colour goes on the walls it can be a shock. Particularly if it’s dramatically different to what was there before.
At the cutting-in stage even a fairly light colour can look really dark and this is often when people start to panic. Stay calm – you won’t get a true representation until the whole room has been painted with at least two coats.
If you don’t feel instant joy that’s fine. Give yourself time to fall in love (the best relationships develop slowly). Once you’ve put all your furniture back, re-hung your curtains and dressed the room with all your artwork, books and ornaments you will see your new colour in all its beauty.
Time to sit back and enjoy all your hard work.
So you see, choosing the right colours in your home is easier than you may have thought. No more staring at countless little blobs of colour on your walls. By following the 7 easy steps you’ll be well on your way to complete colour confidence:
Make a list of everything that’s staying
Think about light levels
What atmosphere do you want to create?
Test the paint properly
Choose the right paint finish
Remember ceilings and woodwork
Hold your nerve
Now that you’ve discovered how easy it is to plan your next decorating project why not share it with someone else you know who is suffering from colour overwhelm? Alternatively, share your own decorating dilemmas and I’ll see if I can help.