Frequently Asked Questions on Residential Lighting Design

Why would I use a lighting designer for my home?

People use lighting designers for several reasons, but usually because they consider lighting is an important aspect of their living environment. Usually people call a designer when they are starting a new project or buying a new property, but it may be just because they are unhappy with their existing lighting at home.

What does a lighting designer do?

Residential lighting design can be different to that in the commercial sector, because the designer can be involved in project management and supply as well as just design. The design itself is primarily about creating an ambiance and appearance for the home and garden that suits the tastes and lifestyle of the client, rather than the more grandiose ideas of the designer.

Is there an established process?

Yes and no. There are established processes on building projects, because the lighting design has to fit within the overall architectural and building programme. However smaller projects are much more flexible and evolve to meet the needs of the client.

How does it work on a building project?

Ideally we are brought in quite early on in the design process. We would quote a fee for work done up to a certain stage, i.e. tender or appointment of the builder/landscape contractor. We would then liaise with the rest of the design team to try and integrate lighting into the design. We recommend that we also supply the fittings because the design and product are intrinsic to each other.

What does integration of lighting into the design mean?

Lighting works best when it works within the architecture or landscape rather than being overlaid on top as an afterthought. In particular when we can work more closely with architects we can create a better result.

What happens if the project has already started?

That is quite common. Often the design is well progressed before the lighting is thought about. We are used to this, but it does mean budgets and technical changes have to be considered quickly. We adjust the way we work and products we use accordingly.

What are the stages of a project?

The initial stage is usually a meeting to take the brief and then to develop the concept design, which will be an outline of the proposed lighting. The second stage is then to develop the design either for tender or build – the drawings become more detailed and schedules are produced and costed. For some projects our involvement ends at this point.

Do you get involved in Project Management?

Yes, we think that is very important in residential, because the design and products are interdependent. If we are not supplying it is important that someone ensures that the correct fittings are supplied to ensure the design works. We usually get involved in the supply, because we think it is the most cost effective way of project managing the project and ensuring the best result.

What other design work is required?

There are very often integration details with joinery and elements that are not known during the earlier design phase. Then there are the lighting circuits, switching and possibly also lighting controls, which will require scene scheduling. Later on there is liaison with the contractors and installers and finally commissioning – this is all necessary even when we are not supplying.

Do the lighting controls companies not do their own commissioning?

Yes, they do, but they will usually commission from a technical perspective, rarely from a lighting design angle. They will usually need to be told to how each room is to work or every plate will be standard dim steps, which is only one aspect of the control. Scene setting involves getting the right circuits and levels to match forms of mood and types of activity.

Why is lighting important?

Lighting dictates the whole perception of space and architecture. Although most people are unaware of this, the light determines what you notice most about any interior. Light completely governs the way people feel about their environment at home, but many people persist with giving it little thought.

Why do you need specialist lighting designers?

Lighting is a more complex element than almost anything else in the interior. It helps to have experience and knowledge of interiors, vision, lighting products and technology if attempting anything more than a very basic scheme. For this reason many architects and interior designers are happy to work alongside a specialist.

What are the main elements involved in the design?

From the client and building end it is about their lifestyle, preferences and the architecture itself, whilst from the product angle it involves directions, intensities, beam angles, positioning, light quality and then the practicality of the scheme in use.

What is light quality?

In a residential context we are most probably talking about the quality of white light. This is a complex and important area often ignored in the rush to produce cheap light fittings. It is something that goes beyond just colour temperature (is it cool or warm to look at) or rendering (how do colours appear). Quality also involves colour gamut, fidelity and consistency, all of which have a subconscious impact on how people feel about the way a space is lit.

Is light quality just about colour?

Definitely not, however we have recently moved into a world dominated by LED technology, for which colour seems to be an Achilles’ heel. Other quality issues involve avoiding the negative elements which can be so annoying such as glare, flicker and noise from the lights. In design terms, it is working with nice controlled beams which put light where it should be and not where it shouldn’t.

Is it just about having enough light?

People often think that, but that is usually wrong. Light is a relative element and so the amount of light falling on adjacent surfaces creates the contrasts at the heart of lighting design. We use these differences to create texture and relief that makes space more appealing. If a room is flooded with light it is flattened and loses much of its visual appeal. This is the most common mistake. A poor design scheme will put uncontrolled light everywhere. Lighting design is as much about the darker areas as the brighter space.

Why are architectural light fittings so expensive?

Partly this is just a reflection of their higher quality – they use better components to produce higher specification performance. It may also a product of volume – the more specialist applications and finishes used by lighting designers do not attract high volumes. Added to that many of the products are made in UK and not the Far East. We are also concerned with fittings that will last, because LED products offer that potential, but many cheaper products have so many design compromises that a long life is unlikely.

Is it possible to do a project with standard fittings?

Yes, but with limitations and the designer needs to understand this at the beginning of the design. It is a mistake to get a design done on a project based around architectural products and then try to substitute with cheap products at the build stage. There is every chance that the design will be badly debased and may not even work. Standard fittings offer a very limited palette and the designer needs to know this is the intention from the outset.

How should a lighting project be budgeted?

Do not be afraid to discuss budget. Ideally you should know that you can meet the cost of the architectural fittings as well as the design cost. The most important thing is that you talk to your designer about budget early on. The designers need to know what they have got to work with to optimise their design. We usually recommend a budget of around 3% of that of the overall build budget for fittings, however controls and special requirements might increase this further.

Would a lighting design be energy efficient?

Lighting is large user of electricity and as such has a significant impact on the environment and household running costs. Our lighting schemes are inherently efficient because the LEDs we specify are amongst the most energy efficient on the market. In addition, the process of circuiting and control enables lighting to be used only as required and energy conserved when not. Even if a whole variety of light is installed in complex scheme it will be controlled in such a way that the consumption will be much less than expected.