Lighting is one of the most crucial elements in interior design, yet simple lighting mistakes can be the difference between a luxurious ambiance and a cramped feel in a room. For such a major aspect of interior design, lighting does take a back seat, especially when it comes to residential interior design.
Lighting really can make or break your interior décor. Unfortunately, it is often taken for granted, and given little thought when designing a room. That's a shame, because lighting can bring out the best in your furniture and artwork—or hide them under a blinding glare.
As far as lighting mistakes go, many of these mistakes can be avoided with a little preparation and foresight. This article takes a look at the top 7 most common interior design lighting mistakes and gives expert tips on how to best avoid them.
1. Using a Singular Light Source
The most common mistake in lighting rooms is the reliance on a single light source. Since this one light source is required to provide adequate illumination for the entire room, it is often a high lumen ceiling light fixture placed centrally in the room. Lighting from a single source, whether natural light or artificial light, creates harsh unflattering shadows and uneven illumination across the room. While an overhead lighting fixture can provide general illumination in the room, it certainly will not offer enough light for carrying out specific tasks within the room.
To avoid this interior lighting mistake, it is best to have several layers of lighting in each room, namely: ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. This is one of the fundamental principles of lighting design. Integrate different types of fixtures, located in different areas throughout the room, to create a combination of ambient lighting for general illumination, task lighting for each functional area, and accent lighting for highlighting artwork and creating the desired mood. The right combination of lighting is one that allows you to see clearly, perform tasks with ease, and enjoy the ambiance in the area for your chosen purpose.
For ambient lighting, you can install overhead light, ceiling fixtures, recessed downlights, or track lights. For task lighting in areas such as reading zones, bathroom lighting, and kitchen countertops, consider using desk lamps, floor lamps, vanity lights, under cabinet lights, pendant light, or a wall light with a swing arm. Accent light fixtures may include wall sconce, picture lights, or track lighting strategically aimed at the artwork and unique architectural features. Our track lighting guide will teach you how to select and install track lights for your art.
2. Over-illuminating a Room with Bright Light
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to lighting their homes is using overly bright light, therefore, over-illuminating a room. Whether artificial or natural light, bright light can give off a harsh glare, causing visual fatigue and eyestrain to the occupants in the room.
Over illumination creates a false sense of brightness and can be very uncomfortable. This is especially true in small spaces. If you have an open floor plan, where one area flows into another, it can create a harsh lighting effect that might actually make the room seem smaller.
Each room has a standard recommended illuminance level depending on the activity that is carried out in it. Therefore, installing just enough light fixtures to meet this recommended lighting level will guide you in providing the right number of light fixtures. Instead of getting few high lumen light sources to meet the recommended illuminance level, you can opt for several low lumen fixtures to minimize the intensity of each fixture.
Additionally, investing in light fixtures with a dimmer light switch will allow you to regulate light levels throughout the day as desired. It gives you the flexibility you need to create the ambiance you want at any given time of the day. Furthermore, they can help you save money on electricity, allowing you to turn lights down when they aren't needed at full brightness.
It is important to remember that rooms and artworks with darker color palettes would generally require higher lighting levels than those with lighter colors. That is because dark colors tend to absorb light, while lighter colors reflect it.
3. Not Paying Attention to Light and Shadows
Both light and shadows play a major role in creating a pleasant aesthetic in a space. While we understand more of how to integrate lighting into the space, the common lighting mistake is in neglecting shadows. Light is important because it creates the ambiance, but shadows give depth and dimensionality to a space. The right amount of shadows adds contrast and brings out the textures in a room or art piece.
Each light fixture casts light differently, and the right light fixture can make all the difference in how your room looks and feels. Direct and indirect light sources generate different qualities of light. Install indirect light fixtures and uniform diffused light sources that scatter light, hence softening shadows for a more flattering look. You can also opt for glare control accessories such as shields, grilles, baffles, or screens to disperse the light. Glare control is particularly useful when illuminating glossy surfaces, especially in art lighting.
Another solution to this bad lighting mistake is to strategically place your lights to cast shadows in the right direction, preferably away from the faces your aim to illuminate.
4. Not Using the Right Size of Lighting Fixture for the Room
Another area of concern lies in the scale of the light fixtures used. Light fixtures should be proportionate in size to the room, object, or artwork that it illuminates. A fixture that is too big or too small can throw off the whole look and feel of a space.
We tend to select fixtures that are too small for the spaces we illuminate. Light fixtures that are too small will not provide proper lighting for the room and will look out of place if placed in rooms with high ceilings or large dimensions.
You need to think about scale when choosing the size of your light fixtures. For example, if you have a room with a high ceiling, opt for a larger fixture that will be able to provide adequate illumination without looking misplaced within your space. If you need to illuminate a large kitchen island with pendant lights, opt for more fixtures along the length of the island. Clustering the light fixtures will create a similar impression as a single large fixture.
For smaller rooms, install slim and sleek fixtures that are unobtrusive. Recessed lighting is also a great option when working with low ceiling heights. In this case, install your recessed lights uniformly spaced and flush into the ceiling.
There are also a number of principles that you can use to get the perfect fixture size for your space. For instance, your dining room chandelier should be approximately a foot smaller than the dining table’s width.
When it comes to art lighting, one of the principles of hanging a picture light is that the fixture should be approximately ½ to 2/3 of the artwork itself. This rule not only allows for proportionality, but also ensures an adequate spread of the light beam onto the artwork.
5. Not Thinking About the Mood of the Space
Most people do not think of lighting as a way to set the mood in a room, but that is exactly what it does! Lighting is key to designing a space, and an important first step is considering how you want your space to feel. It largely inspires how we experience art and interior design. When a poor lighting design of a room is actualized, your spaces may end up having mismatched moods that do not flow well with the purpose of each space.
A bedroom, for instance, should have a cozy and intimate atmosphere, while an office should have a bright, airy, and energizing ambiance. Creating an invigorating ambiance in the bedroom would therefore beat the purpose of the room as a place of rest and sleep. Similarly, creating a relaxing office ambiance would hinder the required level of productivity in the space.
Take the time to consider what mood you want to create in each room before purchasing your light fixtures. Once you have settled on the mood that best fits the functionality of the space, you can proceed to select light fixtures with the color temperatures in mind. Go for a warm color temperature to create an inviting and cozy ambiance, a neutral light source for a bright and vibrant atmosphere, and a cool light source for an alert and crisp setting.
6. Not Accentuating Artwork
The artwork in your interior spaces is meant to stand out, and accent lighting is just the right element to make it striking. Lighting artwork isn't as simple as plugging in a lamp and pointing it at the work. There are plenty of mistakes to avoid when lighting artwork in your interior décor.
First and foremost, the most common mistake in art lighting is failing to illuminate your art piece at all. You lose the opportunity to instantly capture the attention of all your guests to your artwork. Secondly, choosing the wrong light bulb, without paying attention to the UV rays and heat it generates, could potentially destroy your artwork. Finally, failing to select a light fixture with specifications that bring out the best in your artwork is another common lighting mistake in art and portrait lighting.
To elevate your art piece, you have to illuminate it, allowing it to clearly contrast from the background. The lumens of the art lighting fixture must therefore be at least three times the illuminance levels in the room.
Go for LED bulbs that are not only energy-efficient, but also provide a range of specifications perfectly suitable for illuminating your art. For instance, there are LED lighting fixtures with a color rendering index of over 90, a wide range of color temperature options, beam angle adjustment for framing your light, and UV filter accessories to protect your artwork from any possible damage. An incandescent bulb, on the other hand, generates more heat and UV rays, and is less efficient in comparison to LED lights. Aim your light fixture at a 30o angle of incidence against the artwork to minimize glare on glossy surfaces.
7. Installing Lights that Don't Compliment your Décor
Lighting constitutes a large section of your interior design, and therefore plays a major role in harmonizing your overall décor style. While it may not seem like home lighting can have a dramatic impact on the general look of your design, the wrong lighting fixtures can significantly affect the aesthetic of your décor. This is especially true when you're dealing with a small space where your fixtures are highly visible from every angle. A couple of mismatched lighting choices could ruin the look of an otherwise beautifully designed room.
It's important to match your light fixtures to your décor style for a cohesive look. Before shopping for new fixtures, take some time to consider which ones will work best for each room in your home, as well as which styles will complement your décor.
For Modern and Contemporary interior design, go for light fixtures with clean lines and simple shapes. A Traditional design style would fit better with ornate fixtures with metal and glass shades for your residential lighting needs. For an industrial look, select vintage light pieces with exposed bulbs and metals. Farmhouse or country design style could perfectly work with fixtures made of rustic material and with antiquated finishes and lanterns.
Light Beautifies Your Home
Lighting design- whether interior lighting, outdoor lighting, or landscape lighting- is an extensive subject that requires the understanding of a lot of variables. A lot of factors go into the selection of interior lighting fixtures for various spaces. If you're just starting out with your lighting knowledge, it can be difficult to know how to use light to bring out the best in your homes. The lighting tips and tricks in this article will help you create truly stunning spaces by avoiding some of the most common lighting mistakes. Perfect Picture Lights also offers a wide range of high quality art lighting fixtures, backed by knowledgeable customer service.
Winny Okoth is a practicing Construction Project Manager and Interior Designer. She is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Construction Project Management. Winny Okoth has a great passion for every form of design as well as 3D visualization skills for architectural and interior design.