Step into the Light
Eleanor Flegg talks to the bright sparks of the lighting industry Here's some illuminating design ideas to brighten up your home this winter
"I love lamp," said Brick, Steve Carell's character in Adam McKay's 2004 classic comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
"Do you really love the lamp," asked the eponymous anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), "or are you just saying it because you saw it?"
"I love lamp. I love lamp," said Brick.
Actually, Ron Burgundy had a point. Most people fall in love with pretty light fittings without thinking about how or where to use them. Lighting -- that is the light that actually comes from a lamp rather than just the fitting itself -- is hugely important. It creates warmth and atmosphere that you need on these cold dark January days.
Luckily the experts are at hand. And improving your lighting design can be as simple as changing a light bulb.
Patrick Kerr is a lighting designer. His company, Shadowlight supplies light fittings and offers a design service. "People don't often give a lot of thought to lighting design -- they just inherit it when they move into a house or apartment," he says.
One of the most common mistakes he sees in Irish homes is a pendant light dangling from the centre of the room. It doesn't light anything in particular and creates dark shadows in the corners. At worst, it gets between you and the TV. The simple solution, if you can't afford rewiring, is to hook the light back into a corner. Instant atmosphere.
Kerr insists that pendant lights have their place -- just not in the middle of the room. "I love a low pendant light hanging just in the centre of a dining table," he says. In a recent project, working with the interior designer Maria Mac Veigh, Kerr installed two pendant lights over a kitchen island.
The light fittings are K-Tribe, part of a family of light fittings from the Italian company Flos (€570 each from Shadowlight) and the shades are simple flared cylinders in bronze.
"There was very little other light in the kitchen, so we placed the two pendants over the island so that they reflect light down onto the work surfaces and up onto the ceiling," he explains.
Open-top shades are one of Kerr's top tricks for troubleshooting lighting design.
"I've seen a lot of houses where a grid of down-lights is set into the ceiling. This darkens the ceiling and makes it seem lower than it actually is. You create an illusion of a height by using table or floor lamps with shades that are open at the top to reflect light back onto the ceiling."
Although Kerr usually works with architects or interior designers to bring lighting into the early stage of the design process, he also offers a one-off consultancy service. This takes about an hour and costs €123.
Another money-saving tip is to put the spectacular light fittings in the public parts of the house, such as the living and dining areas, and use more cost-effective ranges upstairs.
Shane Holland, a furniture designer who specialises in lighting, has another piece of useful advice. Be careful about the type of light bulb that you buy.
Old-style fluorescent bulbs are an endangered species -- and for good reason -- they're not energy efficient. LED bulbs are super-efficient but need to be chosen carefully.
Good quality LEDs cost more but, Holland reckons, this is money well spent.
"You can get lovely warm white light from an LED bulb, but you need to check that it has good colour rendering before you buy it," he says.
"It's easy to buy something in a packet and come home to find that it has a greenish hue. Ask the supplier to show you how the bulb works in a display."
His own recent family of light fittings, The Ghost of Ash, are made from the branches of ash trees from the hedgerows of Co Meath. The series includes a pendent (€1,895); tall standard lamp (€1,130); medium standard lamp (€875); and a table lamp (€465), made in limited editions of 100 each.
Because they are made from real branches, each lamp is different. Some are painted black and others retain the natural colour of the bark. The branch is lodged in a cast steel or timber base, depending on the size of the lamp, with a touch of red acrylic at the place where the branch and the shade meet.
All the lamps have a braided red flex, like an old-fashioned kettle, which runs down the branch, held in place with stainless steel fittings placed on the knots where the branches used to be.
"It's a nice process to be out in the countryside foraging for these things," says Holland. "Most of the time, as a furniture maker it's about trying to find perfectly straight pieces but with these branches -- the weirder they are the better."