6 reasons why lighting should be top of your interior design to-do list

Lighting should be the first thing you consider when designing a room - as some of the UK’s finest interior designers explain…

At Pooky we speak to a lot of brilliant interior designers. All very different, each unique in approach - but one thing they all agree on is that lighting is absolutely critical in designing a space. As Lucy Barlow puts it: 'Lighting is an interior designer’s secret weapon. It’s the best way to create instant warmth and ambience in a room. It’s a clever tool which can draw attention to or away from elements and gives you the ability to create several different moods in the same space.' (For lots of top tips and insights about the secrets and science of lighting, check out this fantastically enlightening video of Lucy Barlow and her brother Maxwell Barlow talking at the Pooky Pop-Up during Focus Design Week.) But another common theme the experts note is that all too many people treat lighting as an afterthought. They focus on floors and ceilings, colours and furniture, even curtains and rugs - before turning their attention to the thing that really makes everything work, which is how you light it all up.

"I speak to a lot of people who have finished renovations and who regret not planning their lighting better – and earlier. I would suggest that you start thinking about lighting at the very start of your project, ideally at the stage your designer or architect has started drawing up the plans." Tash South

So here are six reasons why lighting should be one of the very first things you think about when planning an interior scheme, as explained by those who know...

1) Bad lighting can spoil a good room

Quite simply, if you’re not careful you can spend painstaking hours and hard-earned cash selecting colours, textures, expensive flooring and gorgeous furniture pieces, and then ruin it all with poor lighting. Most common mistake? Too much reliance on overhead light sources - either one large pendant, or lots of little ceiling spotlights - killing the room’s ambience, subtlety and soul.

"Lighting is crucial and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated: bad lighting will ruin an otherwise beautiful room. I always try to limit overhead lighting to one dramatic pendant, and then add in several floor and table lamps where they are required, as these create atmosphere and warmth." Beth Dadswell

Images above and top: Lucy Barlow

2) Lighting is how you make a space fit for its purpose

Every room has a practical purpose, even if that purpose is just being a place to relax in. Some rooms have multiple purposes: say kitchen-diners, or sitting rooms with a desk area for work. As Diana Greenhalgh explains: ‘One of the first areas we tackle with each client is how they will use the space and plan accordingly. Lighting is so important at this stage as it’s integral to how you want to use the room, and be able to adapt it for different scenarios. For instance, the lighting requirements for a naturally light large room will be completely different to a small dark bedroom or study.’ Careful lighting design allows you to break up spaces into zones, each of which is fit for its purpose.

"Lighting is a crucial part of any interior design concept. It’s one of the first jobs I look at when designing rooms and I always ensure there’s enough lighting opportunities to create different zones and atmospheres in a space." Matthew Williamson

Belmond La Residencia, Mallorca. Image: Matthew Williamson

3) Lighting directly affects colours, textures and features

Another very practical point: colour is a function of light reflecting off a surface. So alas, there’s little point spending ages selecting colours for walls and ceilings if they’re not going to be lit so you can see them. Well designed lighting also highlights the bits of the room you want to draw attention to, from accenting architectural features to illuminating artworks.

"Lighting is a really crucial part of interiors. It has a huge effect on how different colours and textures will play out in a room and is therefore integral to the design." Verity Coleman

4) Lighting determines how a room feels

There’s also something less definable but just as crucial, namely ‘mood’. Lighting is the critical element for determining how a room makes you feel. As Michelle Ogundehin rather brilliantly says: 'We are sensory beings, and yet many people’s concern is only for what their home looks like, as opposed to how it makes them feel. We need to turn our attention to making homes that stimulate us positively on every level… This enables a truly holistic connection to the space in which you live, and thus you will, by default, be able to create a home that is uniquely tailored to your needs and desires. Which to me is the only point of any level of interior design.'

Dining with dogs’: inside Michelle Ogundehin’s house. Photo: Marianna-Wahlsten

"I often say that the brain needs shadows to think, by which I mean, light creates ambience and atmosphere as well as enabling concentration and focus. You can also use it to add drama to any space or to distract from less than perfect walls. We can effectively sculpt space with light. But lights also have to look as good when they’re off, and when they’re on!" Michelle Ogundehin

5) Your guests will appreciate it

People feel - and just as importantly for them - look better in lovely warm light. Designer Tamsin Leech-Griffiths even takes matters into her own hands: ‘You can have the most beautiful room in the world and a stark overhead light can drain all the joy out of it. Low, warm light is essential, I drive my friends mad walking into their houses and turning lighting down or off.' So even if you’re not particularly light-sensitive, your guests probably are.

"Lighting is extremely important – in a room I prefer to include lots of table and floor lamps rather than overhead lighting. Nobody looks good lit harshly from above! You need a nice, soft, warm glow. Lighting can make such a difference to an interior and to people’s moods when they enter a room – even a wonderfully decorated interior can be ruined by bad lighting." Luke Edward Hall

Showroom for Talisman. Image: Luke Edward Hall

6) You need to get all the fittings in the right places

Finally, a very practical reason why lighting needs to be right at the top of your interior design to-do list: you need to make sure you get all your electrics in the right places!

"For me it’s all about layering. I always start from scratch and plan out where every light switch, light fitting and plug socket will be positioned (I hate seeing stray wires!). Firstly I think it important to be able to flood a room with light from the moment you walk in a space so I always tend to start a lighting layout by having a large central ceiling light that is wired back to the light switch. After that I think about how the space is to be used - for example, where would everyone sit and would they prefer a focused light or a soft light in specific corners of the room to soften the light and add ambience?" Barbara Ramani

Image: Barbara Ramani

Read lavishly-illustrated, tip-packed Q&As with the UK’s top interior designers on the Pooky blog, and browse our range of beautiful, affordable designer lighting here.