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Letting in the Light

03-02-2012

This article was written for the February 2012 issue of  Dorset magazine.

Whenever a magazine publishes photographs of a fabulous new home, you recognise each room straightaway. But it's as if the rooms aren't really lived in. It's more as if butterfly people fly in, balance on the edge of a chair and then fly away again. But my experience says that living ain't that simple. As I see it, a house serves as office, workshop, restaurant and entertainment centre.  So when it comes  to 'Lighting for the Home', we must think carefully about what we want from our homes. I ask clients to prepare a 'Day in the Life of diary for each of the major rooms so that we can get a better idea of what's expected. Why? Because lighting is for people, not for architecture. We light for what we do rather than for the photographer's  lens. Let's take a look at what that means in practice:

The home office: more of us are earning our living by occupying a spare bedroom (if we're lucky) or a corner of the living room (if we're not). And that means that we're doing stuff in places not originally designed for the purpose. Have you noticed how it's possible to have a laptop screen that's really bright but you still can't see the keyboard? How weird is that?  Lesson one don't work in the dark. Give your eyes a break. And once you've put the laptop away and gone through to the kitchen to make yourself a piece of toast, the same thing applies. Nothing spoils a piece of toast more than taking a slice out of your finger. So make sure that task lights don't cast shadows across what you're trying to do.

The kitchen and dining room are often the same space, so make sure you can adjust your lighting when the toasty mood takes hold. Shift lighting moods at the flick of a switch or at the turn of a dimmer, from kitchen to fine-dining, because that kind of sleight-of-hand is very important for the soul.

And even when you've finished for the day, there always seems to be something else going on. Before you settle down to watch a movie there's just one more bit of motorcycle maintenance that needs to be sorted out. What do you mean, you can't see to clean out the carburettor?

And I love the way that a bathroom can shift from being a candle-lit meditation space to a makeshift operating theatre because someone (else) has managed to get a splinter in their finger. I mean, really.

So how does his layering work? The essential thing is quite simple; you need to be able to switch some lights on and other lights off.  Yes, it really is that simple for starters anyway. If you're planning a major face-lift of your home, then you'll get the chance for a major overhaul of the electrical wiring. In which case, work the layers something like this: ceiling lighting for general illumination you'll need a way to find that dropped contact lens, after all; then wall lighting to add a bit of light-profiling to the space no, not a pair of brass sconces either side of the mirror. Think about how the room works (because you've already written your Life in a Day...); then bring in some really local lighting with table lamps and standard lamps sitting alongside the places where you'll be doing the crossword, knitting, carburettor cleaning, etc.

And make sure that you can control then individually not every fixture, but every group of fixtures. Dim them where you can, though that's a bit trickier if you're serious about low energy lighting which you should be. Dimming low energy lamps is possible, but you'll need some help from someone who knows the ins and outs and ups and downs about it.

And if you're not creating mayhem in the refurbishment department, the same principles apply with how you want your lighting to work, but you'll lean more on portable lighting to get those jobs done. And the nice thing about portable lighting is that being portable you get the chance of moving things around to see where the light works best. Have fun!

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John Bullock Lighting Design
The Coach House
2 East Mill Court
East Mill Lane
Sherborne
Dorset
DT9 3DP
England

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