Life Home & Garden

Friday 20 September 2019

Gareth Brennan: ' I’m in the dark over my architect’s lighting plans — what should I do?'

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Architect's Clinic: Gareth Brennan

Query: My architect suggests a significant portion of my budget should go on lighting. Is this really a good idea?

Answer: At this time of year with the clocks having gone back and the days getting shorter, we tend to rely on artificial lighting to a greater extent than we do during summer months. When we get up, it's often dark, and likewise when we return from work. Particularly in the evening times, during the winter, artificial lighting is critical in terms of how the house is used, experienced, and enjoyed.

Artificial lighting plays a significant role in the performance of our homes - in terms of how we use our spaces for living, working, cooking - in terms of the atmosphere it creates in different areas of the home, and in terms of the visual impression it can create.

Artificial lighting can be placed into a number of categories - primarily task, mood and feature lighting.

Task lighting

Generally, this is aimed at providing lighting in specific areas to facilitate the function generally carried out in that area. For example, lamp-lighting on a study desk, lighting above a bathroom mirror or lighting of food preparation areas in the kitchen. This requires careful consideration of all the spaces within the house and how they should be lit to best facilitate the activities intended for those areas.

Mood lighting

Lighting creates mood and can be used to create specific ambiences in different areas of the house intended for relaxation or recreation. For example, floor-lamps adjacent to couches or arm-chairs intended to create a soft light which contributes towards the relaxed atmosphere that may be desired in that area. Soft lighting can also be used successfully in bedroom areas - think of the night-light you will position in a young child's bedroom to help them sleep peacefully rather than have them lying awake in a pitch dark room or unable to sleep in a bedroom flooded with light from a ceiling bulb.

Feature lighting

In many ways, feature lighting can over-lap with task and mood lighting. A light source to facilitate food preparation can for example be recessed into the kitchen units themselves, often below eye-level but washing the work surface with ample working light. Lighting can be integrated into stairs (at low-level on the wall or into the steps themselves) to light the way to the upper floors without flooding a hall and landing space with unnecessary light. Often wall lights will work well to cast an ambient - rather than direct - light over circulation and relaxation spaces.

Often the light is the more desirable and effective feature than the type of light source itself, and as such, recessed and concealed lighting built into the building fabric will create a much more practical, usable and enjoyable light source than a directly-visible alternative.

Ceiling spot-lights, for example, should be used carefully as they can tend merely to wash a large multi-use space with an indiscriminate light which fails to help define various zones within an overall space.

Finally, you should also carefully consider external lighting. If you're planning an extension with expansive windows or doors overlooking a garden, consider the view at night-time as well as day-time. If you think about the garden in terms of lighting, then, at night, the house will visually continue to extend into the garden, with the glass disappearing rather than becoming a mirror once the sun goes down (or the clouds roll in).

  • If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. You can find a registered architect on, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
  • Gareth Brennan is a partner in Brennan Furlong Architects & Urban Planners;
  • Do you have a design dilemma we can help you with? Email designclinic@independent. ie. Advice provided is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.

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