Avoid lighting angst – top tips for confidently choosing the right light first time.

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…..


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 lightAs 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.

Thanks for reading

Kate x