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The light fantastic

Summer is a relatively quiet time for the interior design industry, what with virtually the whole of Europe’s manufacturing closing down for the entire month of August, and folks here either going off on holiday, or concentrating on their gardens. Mind you, that still hasn’t prevented me being a little tardy in submitting this month’s editorial. Better late than never I’d say (let’s hope you agree !!!).

This month I’d like to talk about lighting, and for a couple of reasons. More often than not lighting is just about the last element of a room that people think about, almost an afterthought, and this really is a mistake. Lighting should be as much a part of a room scheme as choosing the curtain fabric or the carpet, and for very practical reasons should be done at pretty much the same time – the development stage. I say this because it’s no good falling in love with a pair of fabulous wall lights to go on a wall where previously there were none, and having to tell a very disgruntled decorator he’ll have to re-paper the wall after the electrician has channelled in the cables!

By the same token, don’t just automatically put a new fitting where there has always been one. Take a step back and think about your own vision for your new room. Add or subtract at the design stage, when the upheaval is minimal and planned. You may want to move the position of a ceiling fitting, especially in bedrooms in older houses, where they used to put ceiling lights in some very strange places. It may be that you will be having a sofa in the middle of a living room, with a lamp table next to it, so why not have a floor socket fitted underneath the table before the carpet is laid, thus avoiding unsightly trailing cables.

For me lighting falls broadly into three categories, which are functional, mood and creative. Most rooms should be a combination of at least two of these, the priorities of which depend on the room in question. For example, function is of prime importance in rooms such as kitchens and studies, whilst mood takes precedence in living rooms and bedrooms. Before deciding on exactly how to light your room, consider what you need from the finished scheme. Does the room need to be bright enough to read in comfort, or soft and atmospheric to create a romantic ambience? Even in rooms where function is the prime concern such as kitchens, mood lighting can greatly enhance the look and feel. As well as the ubiquitous downlighters in the ceiling you can add soft lights under or inside cabinets, or LED strips under the plinths to give a wash of light to the floor. Until recently I’ve not been a fan of LED lights in general. I always thought them to be cold and clinical. That all changed when a lighting consultant friend of mine challenged me to replace one of my own kitchen downlighters with one of the new generation of softer LED lamps, and try to tell the difference. He was right – I did, and I couldn’t !!!

Creative lighting is where light is used as an accent or a statement, without necessarily adding to the overall brightness of a room. This could be a well placed but hidden spot trained on a picture or wall sculpture, or a cube light used under the staircase to give a pool of warm light in a hallway.

For me, the key to a successfully lit room is in multi-level lighting, and I mean this in a number of ways. Not only should sources of light come from diverse areas of a room and from fittings at different height levels, but thought needs to be given as to how the various elements can be used separately or in conjunction to create different moods. For instance, by all means choose a stunning centre ceiling fitting for a living or dining room, but don’t forget to add table and/or floor lamps so that the feel of the room can be altered quite literally at the flick of a switch (or two!). And whilst we’re on the subject of switches it’s well worth having any ceiling or wall fitting on a dimmer switch, once again for increased flexibility. You might also like to consider installing a dedicated lamp circuit next to your wall sockets. You can then plug in some or all of your floor and table lamps, so that they will all be controlled by one switch.

When it comes to lighting, I believe the most common mistake people make is to make it too small. This is particularly true of ceiling lights. Although you don’t want to have to duck under a ceiling light, please do make sure it’s in balance with the rest of the room. In a dining room however, the ceiling light can be pretty much as big and dramatic as you like, as it’s often centred over the table.

We’ve thought about lighting within the home, now let’s consider for a moment exterior lighting. This can be extremely effective if used thoughtfully. Flood lamps within a shrubbed border look great, especially when used sparingly, and add a perception of warmth to otherwise chilly evenings in early or late summer. I love to see the front of a house lit up, whether it’s by more floods or in the case of a contemporary property by pencil up-and-downlighters. A path with set-in LEDs also looks great, inviting you to follow it to its ultimate destination.

The second reason I wanted to talk about lighting this month is that I’ve always thought that the midlands in general and Birmingham in particular was very poorly off for good lighting stores. It was all much of a muchness. There was no flair, no individuality, no “Wow” factor. Well not any more !!!!! If you want to see a superb selection of jaw-droppingly beautiful and inspiring lighting from the UK and the Continent beat your way to the i-lite showroom on Soho Hill, Handsworth. It may not be in an area where you would expect to find such a gem, but believe me this showroom would be just as at home in the new Mailbox, or even Chelsea Harbour Design Centre. We’ve worked closely with the lovely folks at i-lite for a while now, and each time I visit I see at least one new light that absolutely takes my breath away.

And that makes me smile . . . a lot.

John Biddell, John Charles Interiors

Live 24 7 magazine editorial - August 2015