Interiors: Lighten the mood
Illuminating a room properly should not be an afterthought
Light affects the way we feel. Downcast weather makes you feel downcast, while a bright, sparkly day will make you feel bright and sparkly too. Interior lighting works in much the same way. Bright clear light will help you focus and get things done, while warm soft light is there to soothe. Natural or artificial, there's a direct relationship between light and mood.
Ikea Ireland has just released the results of a survey that looks at how light effects our mood in winter. Thirty-six percent of Irish people reported a well-lit room made them feel more energetic in the dark evenings, while 34pc said it made them feel more productive.
More than a third of Irish adults call the main light in a room "the big light" and six out of 10 claimed that they always switched it off when they left the room. Yeah, right.
Incidentally, there's not much of a market for mood lighting in Irish bedrooms. When it comes to romance, 36pc of men and 40pc of women prefer to do it in the dark. The upshot of the survey is that lighting does change the way that we feel, especially in the darker half of the year.
"Lighting is hugely important to a design scheme," says the interior designer Gwen Kenny of Divine Design. "The main mistake people make is not thinking about it until it's too late."
In the average new-build or extension, lighting is often treated as an add-on. By the time people go out to choose their light fittings, the building is finished and all the wiring is already in place. That doesn't leave a lot of room to manoeuvre.
Instead, Kenny suggests you move lighting from the bottom of the list and give it top priority. "People tend to put the kitchen at the rear of an extension," she explains. "That's often the best-lit part of the house. I'd always suggest they use the rear as a living area, so they can live in the natural light and put the kitchen in the darkest part of the house."
The cheapest and easiest way to light a dark kitchen is to place LED tubes around the top of the units so the light bounces off the ceiling. "It's indirect light - you don't see where it's coming from - and it really works." The LED tubes can also be recessed into the coving, but this requires a bit more work and planning.
Lighting technology has advanced hugely in the last few years and Kenny's favourite development is the tuneable spotlight from Dlight in Tramore, Co Waterford. When LED bulbs first came on the market, their light was harsh and unforgiving. The design has improved a great deal over the past 10 years. LEDs now come in warm whites and can work on a dimmer switch, but she still found their light tended to be unflattering. "I went to Dlight with issues and they came back to me with a solution," she says.
The solution was a simple recessed spotlight called the Rovasi Dynamic White. Its distinction is that it's tuneable. While most spotlights have two settings - on and off - tuneable light is adjustable. Unlike an old fashioned dimmer switch, which simply reduces the brightness of the light, a tuneable light actually changes in colour. This creates much the same effect as natural light, which also changes throughout the day.
"It's great for open-plan living spaces with multiple uses," Kenny explains. "The light goes from bright task lighting to soft relaxing amber. Somewhere in the middle, you'd have a setting for the kids doing their homework."
And yes, tuneable light does affect your mood. Shane Crowley of Dlight, who works with corporate lighting design as well as residential, describes how tuneable light can be used to modulate the energy of business meetings.
For some, the price may be a drawback. The Rovasi range is modular, so prices vary, but a single tuneable spotlight could cost upwards of €100. On the plus side, the lights can be installed on an existing system and operated via a standard dimmer switch.
"Tuneable lighting is the future," Crowley says. "It's changed downlighting drastically." Once associated with down-to-business task lighting only, downlights can now be subtle and seductive. If the price is off-putting, he suggests you invest in sexy light bulbs and economise on the fittings.
Gwen Kenny agrees. "Lampshades are a really inexpensive way of dressing up a basic light fitting and clustered pendants look better than single ones. You could buy three plain pendants for €50 each and hang them over a kitchen island. One central pendant isn't going to look as nice, even if you spend €500 on it."
She also suggests you economise on the bathroom lighting. "Don't go for cheap and nasty, but you don't have to spend a fortune - some bathroom lights are bananas money." Likewise in the bedroom, a pair of pendants over the bedside lockers will look simple and stylish, while providing adequate reading light.
And if you have a few quid left over, splash out on a fancy light switch. The LeGrand Arteor range from Light Vault offers two different shapes (round and square) in a choice of 17 coverplate finishes, ranging from graphite to club leather. Again, the range is modular so the switches can vary throughout the house. Like the Rovasi tuneable lights, the LeGrand Arteor light switches are a bit of a luxury. The plates (that's the bit that surrounds the actual switch) range from €15 to €120 each. A bog standard white plastic light switch costs around a fiver.
"We'll always find a way to work within a budget," says Ciara McStay of Light Vault. "Lighting is what makes the design. It shouldn't be an afterthought - it should be your first thought!"
See divinedesign.ie, lightvault.ie, dlight.ie, ikea.ie.