Five common lighting mistakes – and how to avoid them

Swerve these lighting blunders and your home will be a much lovelier place…

We all have a bit of a responsibility when it comes to interior decor. Every piece we choose, every little nook we carve out, every empty space we leave… each can have a purpose, whether that’s to create a feeling of airy space or cosiness, provide workplace focus or ooze relaxing warmth. Lighting has the magical power to bring all that to life. Or at least, it does so long as we don’t make a hash of things.

So the most common general mistake that people make when lighting their home is not matching the atmosphere to the purpose of the space. Think about what the room space is used for and how it should feel, and then use lighting to help achieve that.

Of course, that’s easily said and nobody gets it right all the time. But to help you avoid going completely off beam, here are five common lighting mistakes, with practical remedies supplied by the lighting experts…


Mistake #1: You only have one type of light (and it’s probably hanging from the ceiling)

Being one-dimensional with lighting rarely cuts the mustard, and a classic interior design mistake is relying on a single overhead source of light – either a pendant or (even worse) a load of recess spotlights.

Yes pendants are important – and make a fine focal point, but you simply can’t create atmospheric options if you only have a single source of ambient lighting.

How to fix it:

The secret to interior lighting design is an understanding of layering light. Essentially, this is about balancing the three main kinds of light: ambient (the general light in a room); task (practical light for a purpose); and accent (highlighting features).

With a bit of thought and care and experimentation you can ‘sculpt’ light in a room to create different zones, moods and textures, and then change them to suit different occasions or uses.

But to have any chance, you must have multiple light sources: pendants, floor lamps, table lamps and, ideally, a few wall lights too.

For much more on this, read our comprehensive guide to layering light in the home here.

Use multiple light sources including wall lights and table lamps. Image: Lucy Barlow.


Mistake #2: You don’t think about the shadows

As someone once said, “you don’t light for the light, you light for the shadows”. The contrast between light and dark makes a room interesting. Shadows create depth, texture and ultimately ambience. But you need to understand and control where the shadows fall, or else rather than creating an enticing atmosphere they can become a serious inconvenience.

How to fix it:

This is all about positioning. Put your lights so that shadows fall where you want them and are eliminated in spots where you don’t. Naturally, this is where eminently portable and moveable floor lights and table lamps come into their own.

Misplaced lights can form shadows that hinder the functionality of a room so it’s also worth thinking about practical shadow-elimination. For example, in a bathroom a pair of wall lights at eye level either side of your mirror can remove the shadows from your face and make making-up a lot easier.


Mistake #3: No dimmers

A full-powered light show is great if you’re working from home on a gloomy winter afternoon, but for cosy after dinner drinks you need some subtlety. A simple on/off switch is not what’s required.

How to fix it:

Embrace a dimmer switch - the easiest way to create immediate ambience in a room. A simple wind down from day to night, with the flexibility to stop at every mood in between.

Beautifully layered light and shadow in a showroom for Talisman by Luke Edward Hall


Mistake #4: Your shade is the wrong size (and it’s probably too small)

Finding the shade colour that sits perfectly with your décor is marvellous. But bringing it home to find it looks absurdly small is less so. Sadly, this happens all the time, as instead of measuring we just look at a nice shade in the shop and tell ourselves: “I think that looks the right size”.

How to fix it:

Have a read of Pooky’s guide to finding the right size lampshade here. But for some quick rules of thumb:

For a table lamp, the height of the shade should be about three-quarters the height of the base and at least half an inch wider than it on both sides. For a chandelier or pendant over a dining table, find one you love that's one foot smaller in size than your table's narrowest width, and voila, you’ve found the perfect fit.

And if in doubt, go bigger. That’s especially true for ceiling lights, where you can generally go surprisingly large.

Pooky's Loki chandelier - you can go suprisingly large with overhead lights and shades


Mistake #5: The wrong bulb

You’ve bought a beautiful lamp, positioned it perfectly…and then you go and spoil it with the wrong lightbulb. But with the days of the energy-munching incandescent bulb now long behind us, and so many options about lumens, light temperature and style to think about, choosing a bulb can be surprisingly headachy.

How to fix it:

LED lightbulbs are lower cost to run, are better for the environment, and these days they cast a lovely warm light and they even look gorgeous. The trick is to pick the right one for your lamp and its use. And you can find out exactly how to do that in our complete guide to choosing a lightbulb.

Pooky's Luxor lantern with a large 5 watt LED filament bulb


For inspiration on how to get interior design right, have a browse through our blog.

And see Pooky’s full range of affordable designer lighting here.



See also:

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