Common lighting mistakes and how to fix them

  • 09 February 2016 | Rebecca Nattar

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A perfectly lit space. From our Hyde Park portfolio

So you are clued up on the 2016 lighting trends, and you know which lighting fixtures would look best in a particular room. 

However, while they may look good you could be wasting energy and not getting the proper lighting exactly where it’s needed.

While knowing what to do is great, knowing which lighting mistakes to avoid can shed some light on a room’s requirements when it comes to proper illumination.

Common lighting mistakes - kitchens

Recessed downlights everywhere!

A misconception is that if you space them out in a sort of grid at regular intervals, you’re going to get all the light you need. This isn’t necessarily true, as relying on just downlights won’t provide your vertical surfaces, such as walls, with enough lighting. This will create a sort of cave effect … with a lit-up middle but an expanse of darkness beyond that.

Getting it right: you need the perfect amount of layered light over your island, with a general overhead light and task lighting under cabinets. From The Ridge house portfolio

 Forgetting the task lights!

You lit up the kitchen space, but there just isn’t enough light at your work surfaces. While ambient light is necessary, it won’t help you maximise your work stations. You must have task lighting installed at these points.

A great option is to install lighting under the upper cabinets (LEDs work great here). If you don’t have upper cabinets over certain work surfaces, then wall-mounted lamps or ceiling adjustable fixtures can make all the difference.

Something with a narrow but strong beam of light that’s focused on the work area will be fine. Bear in mind that cool light works best in kitchens and bathrooms.

Getting it right: soft functional tones provide effective overhead lighting. And a pendant light over an island and kitchen/dining table provides the perfect task lighting. From our Waterfall Equestrian Estate portfolio

Not controlling different types of lighting in a space separately.

The last thing you want is to flip a switch and have the floodlights go on in your kitchen.

When you have different types of lighting in a room, you need to maximise the flexibility they offer you. You can attain this by controlling each light separately, which increases lighting efficiency, too.

You can do this the old-school way, with multiple switches, one for each light source. Or you can have a wallbox system with preset lighting options or even wireless controls that can be programmed using your laptop or phone.

The bottom line is, you have options. So no need to turn the floodlights on in a kitchen when all you’re doing is making a sandwich. Now you can vary your light output according to your specific needs for the task and different times of day.

Getting it right: illuminating a space for different moods and functions creates a beautiful and productive space when each light source is controlled independently. This allows you just the right light for what you need to do.

Common lighting mistakes - bathrooms

Using downlights, on their own, over the vanity without any complementary side lights.

This is a problem because standing directly under a downlight, without lighting at the sides of the face, creates shadows.

While the use of a downlight over the bathroom basin is a good way to accentuate your lovely taps and finishes, it really doesn’t provide you with sufficient task lighting for the things you need to do, such as shaving, applying make-up, tweezing and styling your hair.

At a vanity you need lighting at the sides of the mirror at eye level, so that light is evenly distributed and shadows are avoided. A great solution is to have your mirror flanked by sconces or wall lamps.

Getting it right: using proper task lighting in the form of wall lighting, concealed lighting and sconces gets you the proper task lighting needed in a bathroom.

The use of ambient lighting and task lighting in the form of sconces, at a bathroom vanity. 

Common lighting mistakes - general spaces

Forgetting to add accent lighting to your layers of light.

So you remembered the ambient and task lighting, but forgot the accent lighting. If you think this doesn’t really matter, you’re wrong.

Ambient light is general and used to illuminate a room. Task lighting is functional, providing a brighter but more concentrated level of light that’s required for things such as reading, chopping veggies and shaving. Accent light is used to highlight certain areas such as feature walls, artwork and architectural features like a great painting.

Combining ambient, task and accent lighting creates a space with more light sufficiency, greater interest and efficiency.

Getting it right: a well-lit room that makes provision for reading with the use of reading lamps, floor lamps or wall fixtures, while focusing light on artwork using another light source such as a spotlight. From our Oaklands House portfolio

Using recessed downlights in a high ceiling for ambient light.

What you’ll get in this instance is a lot of wasted light and a dark space. When a ceiling is high, the light originating from its fixtures must be focused and complemented with other light sources.

While recessed lighting and downlights are a great idea when it comes to low ceilings, with high ceilings you want to go with pendants and wall lights: lighting sources that have a powerful centre beam of light. These lights will also reflect off the ceiling, offering more illumination.

Getting it right: a room with a high ceiling can really benefit from a strong pendant light, wall lights/washers and a lamp or two. From our Kloof House portfolio