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Lighting and creating a mood

So today’s blog is all the more necessary now the days are drawing in and we are hibernating at home. Lighting! And more than that - how to light a room, how to set a mood and how to make it practical.

If a room is lit in the right way, everyone looks their best, feels relaxed and are comfortable without even being aware of the lighting itself. But how can you achieve that feeling?

Lighting is an essential ingredient in designing a room and not the afterthought many consider it to be. It can completely transform your space and transform your emotions too. Just as natural light will change over the course of a day, your interior lighting scheme should be dynamic and flexible too. This can be achieved by being aware of the interplay between dark and light and the layers of lighting you use. You need practical lighting, softer lighting and lighting to highlight areas.

Layering your lights - rule of 3

Most designers agree that you need more than one source of light in a room. The easiest approach to layering is to think of the number three.

Every room has different lighting needs and I will come on to that in more detail later but first you need to consider the three different types of lighting any room will need.

These are general lighting (ambient overhead light to illuminate the room at large), task lighting (for reading, meal prep, or working) and decorative or accent lighting (an intense or focused light that highlights certain decorative items in your room or helps zone areas).

By avoiding one single overhead light source and layering your lighting you can be flexible and create moods. This is especially useful in rooms with multiple functions. For example you can have a room that is a well-lit office space in the day, an intimate dining area at night and with an armchair and lamp a cosy reading nook for downtime too.

You need different lights for different tasks from a brighter overhead light for cleaning, to task lighting in kitchens and offices and soft lights in lamps and bedside lamps for relaxed atmospheres.

How do I build it up?

Your first layer of light needs to complement natural light. So imagine a brightness or luminosity that you could clean the room in.

Ideally aim to have your overhead lights on dimmer switches to add to the flexibility of the room.

You can then use light more indirectly too as these lights will reflect on the walls or ceiling and you can adjust the amounts with dimmers to suit the need depending on the time of day and even the time of year (they’re a great energy saver too!)

If possible, always plan your lighting from the beginning of your room design but of course we all find that we will inherit already wired-in lighting schemes and may need to work with those. Just remember that the overhead lighting (usually the built in lighting) is only the first part of your layering so you can build on that.

Your second layer will be your task lighting, so this is a strong, directional light to be used for focused elements such as over work surfaces in a kitchen or reading/desk lamps in an office space.

Your third and final layer will be the atmospheric lamps and highlight lighting that make the space interesting.

These are used to show off artwork, highlight darker corners of rooms and even be a statement sculptural piece when not in use.

These are the softer lights that enhance the overall quality of flexible lighting in the room and draw the eye.

Creating vignettes

Within a room you can add interest and depth by introducing vignettes. In the world of interior design, a vignette is a small, pleasing picture formed by grouping several objects — think of it as a small arrangement that tells a story about you and your home. These are small ‘scenes’ that work on their own but also as a whole with the room. So an armchair and floor lamp with a side table becomes a vignette, or a sofa, side table and lamp working together or even a shelf, shelf light and decorative accessories will create a small scene to draw the eye.

Considering orientation and room size

Which way your room faces (NSEW) will affect the light and feel of your room greatly and this is what you need to consider when it comes to how you light a room. So consider the time of day you use the room and how you may need to add lights to balance the natural daylight or lack of.

North facing rooms get the least light of all four orientations. They are the darkest in the home with diffuse, shadow-less, and slightly greyish or neutral light most of the day and year.

Everything in the space will appear and feel cooler on a colour spectrum, so it is important to add warm hues through lighting to make the room feel welcoming.

South-facing rooms are the brightest in the house, with the daylight being dominant from late morning to mid-afternoon.

These spaces, like north-facing rooms, have consistent light all day, but with crisp strong shadows and beams of light.

East-facing rooms are brightest in the morning, with a light of low altitude and casting long soft shadows.

The morning light can vary from a grey-yellow to bright and white. It is important to determine what time of day east-facing rooms will be used and what importance natural light will play.

If the function of the room lends itself to afternoon or evening use warm lighting to help balance the lack of natural light.

West-facing rooms have their strongest light in the late afternoon and early evening with a light of a rich gold-orange hue.

Morning use of a west-facing room means a warm light can be used without the risk of being overwhelming.

Making a small room appear larger is one of the most common interior design challenges and this is where lighting excels.

Alongside painting in paler colours, using mirrors and being clever with storage use lighting to help emphasise the vertical space with pendants. Use wall lights to enhance recesses and spread light around the room with statement lamps to draw the eye.

Know your bulbs

With the move to LED lighting there is now a shift in what we once knew in terms of the traditional incandescent light bulbs. What sort of bulb do you go for? Warm or cool? High or low lumens?

Warm, soft light creates a cosy, relaxed atmosphere in living rooms or bedrooms. So choose warm-toned LED bulbs, and light fixtures made from materials that will create a warm glow, such as lamps with fabric or woven shades, or wall lights made from wood, brass, gold, or copper-tones.

Cool, bright light works well in bathroom and kitchen areas, and consider adding dimmer switches for flexibility and to reduce the intensity. Add secondary lighting in warmer tones so that you can change the mood in the evenings.

Don’t forget the details

Now you’ve got the position, layers and temperature of the lights right you need to think about the details.

These are the things that make or break the overall style and feel.

From lampshade size to colour of flex they can all subtly have an impact on your room.

A rule of thumb for choosing the right shade for table lamps and floor lamps is that the height of the shade should be about three-quarters the height of the lamp’s base.

But if you are ever stuck between sizes then go bigger! It always works.

Light fixtures are functional decorative objects in their own right and add personality, charm, texture, or a sculptural element to your room design even when the light is switched off. So think about the material of your light choices. Ceramic and opaque glass give off a diffused light, woods, rattans and grasses enhance a natural room design or go for beautiful fabrics that add colour and style. There are even more materials being introduced weekly from marbles to resins to explore. It just gets better and better.

And finally think about the flex and fittings. There are some amazing options out there for coloured flex and light fittings that can fit with the era of your house or punchy colours for your room scheme. The devil is in the details!

Takeaways room by room

While general lighting principles apply to every room in the house, different spaces also have unique considerations. Here are a few pointers to consider when lighting specific rooms in the house.


  • Recessed overhead lights to be dimmable as bright light is an essential in the kitchen

  • Under cabinet lights for event lit work surfaces and task lighting for ease of prepping meals

  • Add pendant lights that soften the utilitarian feel of the kitchen over an island to highlight the area and for more intimate evening lighting

Living/Family room:

  • Use a combination of floor lamps, table lamps, and down-lights (recessed or track lighting) as this room lighting should be part of the decor

  • A living room does not necessarily need overhead lighting to be well lit. Just be sure that you add enough lighting to illuminate the space as a whole

  • Accent lights can be used to highlight art, and table lamps placed beside seating to add another layer of light. And for extra ambience a candle never hurts!

Dining room:

  • Add a chandelier or pendant light with dimmer over the table as a source of general light. Be aware of the hanging height - it may be lower than you think! Be sure not to shine the light directly into the faces of guests around your table

  • Typically, the bottom of the light fixture should be around 90cm above the table, and odd numbers of pendants work better than even numbers


  • Irrelevant of size, a bathroom requires multiple light fixtures for practical use as well as relaxing in. So you need both daylight lights and softer lights

  • Keep away from recessed fixtures over sinks as it casts shadows that are not flattering opt for wall-mounted sconces (around three quarters of the way up your wall) which will help cast even illumination across your face

  • Consider adding motion-lighting at the cabinet base to give a very subtle glow like a night light if you wake up in the middle of the night

Utility room:

  • Many utility rooms have limited natural light so make sure that the lights can be turned on as soon as you enter the room (usually with your arms full!)

  • You will need a cool, bright light in here but they can still be decorative lights to add some glamour to this utilitarian space


  • Task lighting is key here. Both desk lights and lamps for reviewing paperwork or reading

  • Don’t forget to use ambient light here (such as wall lights) to wash the walls with warm light and keep it feeling warm and productivity high


  • Controlling your natural light in the bedroom is key with shutters, blinds or curtains but use soft, lamp or bedside wall lighting too to get the relaxed atmosphere to help you wind down at night (just make sure it can be angled for reading!)

  • If you are adding an overhead light then make it a statement pendant shade that creates a focal point and use a soft light bulb to give a diffused effect when on (ideally with a dimmer)

  • Finally don’t forget task lighting for getting dressed on those dark winter mornings…


  • These are practical spaces but need to be inviting too so don’t neglect them

  • You can have fun here with a series of pendants or go for wall lights at eye level to spread the light evenly along the corridors

Open plan spaces:

  • Finally a note on open plan spaces and creating zones. When designing zones and layouts, also think about each zone having its own lighting source. This way you can turn on or off lights in particular areas when you are in or out of use and it will feel almost like closing an invisible door

For help with lighting design do give me a call at DEN LIFE interiors on 07764770375 or drop me a line at

Photo credits: Valeria Boltneva via Pexels and Pinterest assorted

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