A beautiful sunset, a hearth fire, twinkling stars. How do we feel when we glimpse the Southern Lights, see fluorescence in the sea, catch a blaze of lightning? We have a primal relationship with light. Man-made lighting can’t compete with nature but it can be so much more than simply ‘what we use to see by’.
Why do so few people get their office or home lighting right?
Our ability to create and manipulate constant, controllable light is a very recent thing. For centuries humans used flames to see by night, and then in 1805 - all of a sudden in evolutionary terms - the electric light revolution began. But it’s only in the last 10 years that we have begun to see widely-available, creatively-adaptable, energy-efficient and sophisticated LED lamps at a workable price point. In the past we simply didn’t have the choices we do now.
1) Review or start your lighting plan by working out your need for the brightness, colour, direction and reflections of light, NOT just how pretty the fitting is. If you have a special fitting, eg Great Auntie Flo’s chandelier, or ECC’s latest designer floor lamp, this is Art, to be incorporated into the overall scheme.
2) Take Notes. Write down your ideas, gather pictures of the looks/moods you like and talk to your electrician about what you want to achieve. For the best design results, have your Interior Designer do this review for you. Start your lighting review here.
3) Identify the specific effects required and write a schedule. Be creative and practical. A bank of downlights will light an area cheaply and easily, but consider the cone, colour and brightness each light source will project. Train a spotlight to make dramatic shadows or light up a modern canvas or framed piece of fabric from behind, but watch the taste level. There’s a bit of a fad for lines of coloured LEDs on top of and under cupboards (woohoo!). Don’t be that fashion victim.
4) Hire a sparky. To avoid breaking the law and potentially killing yourself, always get a certified sparky to make the changes.
5) Maximise what you already have. Fix mirrors to reflect light and enlarge a small space. Use correctly-tailored window coverings to control how much light is allowed in or kept out, eg stop the sun glaring on your TV screen, or clear the window to look out at night to an up-lit Silver Fern.
Why should I care about Kelvins and Lumens?
The lamp (light bulb) you choose will affect the perceived colour of everything in the space. In lighting terms, the Kelvin Scale is a measure of the colour temperature of emitted light. A ‘warm white’ lamp has around 2700K, which feels slightly orange/yellow, whereas a ‘cool white’ at c.4000K is on the blue side. So if you have painted your lounge in Resene's popular 'Black White’, using only lamps with 4000 Kelvins will make it feel sterile and institutional. No amount of expensive cushions will fix that look.
Lux (Lumens per square meter) gives us a measure for perceived brightness. An old GLS light bulb labeled ‘100 Watts’ produced about 1000 lumens. The number of Watts just told us how much electricity each bulb used, but we’re more efficient these days, with a standard LED lamp using just 13 Watts to produce those 1000 lumens.
And finally... Health Warning! Get rid of those Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs).
Fluorescent lamps contain Mercury and when they explode whilst hot (yes, this happens) release their potentially brain-damaging toxic mist. As if this isn’t enough reason to ditch them, they are very cool in colour, and the lowest Watt ones are lumen-poor, too, throwing a gruesome, dingy green hue over everything. When the standard GLS light bulb was banned (the halogen is next up btw), CFLs were pushed as the great solution - LEDs were still relatively expensive then - so nobody wanted to acknowledge the effect these monsters had. Sadly they will last virtually forever, so if you have them, take their mercury–based horribleness to a toxic waste facility immediately and get an expert to help you find the modern LEDs to provide both the colour and the amount of light you deserve.