Home lighting solutions for period properties and listed buildings

When it comes to choosing a lighting scheme, that idyllic period property can pose something of a challenge! Whether it's a rambling country cottage, a Victorian terrace, a Georgian townhouse or a capacious converted barn, find out how to light your period property or listed building, with our guide...


Lighting a period property beautifully and practically

When lighting a period property, you should first think about the overall look and feel you want to achieve. You may want to mirror the original style and character of the property, or you might want to consider using some more contemporary lighting options to illuminate and enhance your space.

It’s also important to consider the practical aspects of your lighting scheme. The majority of period properties came into being well before the advent of electricity, and will not have been designed with modern lighting in mind (think more along the lines of wax candles, oil lamps and gas lights!)

Of course, it's those same historic features, quirky corners, and odd nooks and crannies which give a period home its charm, and the good news is with some careful planning you can create a lighting scheme that’s both beautiful and practical.

Townhouse in Kensington - design by Rebecca Hughes Interiors


Lighting a listed building - key points to consider

When it comes to lighting a listed building, there are some further issues to consider. Most listed homes are classed as Grade II listed, which means they’re subject to additional controls over the kinds of changes that can be made. These are designed to protect the character or appearance of a building of historic or architectural interest.

As far as lighting is concerned, a planning officer is likely to want you to preserve and maintain any existing lighting features wherever possible. For example, any early gas or electrical light fittings should be left in place and incorporated into the new lighting scheme. Meanwhile, any new lighting should be well designed and harmonise with the rooms, fittings and furnishings. You would also need to consider the routes of any cabling and how it could impact on the fabric of the building.

Under the rules, if a ceiling light or wall light is not already present as part of the existing lighting scheme, it may not always be possible to introduce one. However, if such fittings do already exist you will be able to maintain them, and you may have more freedom in your choice of fittings.

It’s essential to contact your local planning authority and to make sure you have the appropriate Listed Building Consent before you begin any planned works or make any changes. More information on lighting historic buildings is available from Historic England.


Layering light in a period property or listed building

Once you’ve decided on your overall approach to lighting your period property, you should think about how you want to use the space, and any special features you want to highlight or will need to work with (or around!) Take into account the available natural light, and pay particular attention to any dark or awkward areas.

The best lighting schemes will include a combination of different types of lighting – known as layering light. Lighting is divided into three main types:

Ambient lighting – this is the overall amount of light available in a room, including the main light and any natural light;

Task lighting – this is targeted lighting, which allows you to perform particular tasks such as reading, working, or preparing food;

Accent lighting – this type of lighting can be used to create mood and to highlight features or objects within a room, such as a beautiful beam, an original fireplace or a historic painting.

When it comes to lighting a period property or a listed building, you should aim for an even spread of light from a mixture of different light sources, including overhead or wall lighting where appropriate, supplemented by more flexible lighting solutions such as floor lamps and table lamps. (Find out more about layering light in our guide.)

Sitting room by Victoria von Westenholz


How do you light a period property with low ceilings or limited natural light?

Many older period properties tend to have a combination of low ceilings, small windows, narrow corridors, and/or no overhead lighting. This can make a property feel smaller and more confined. However, with the right lighting you can help to banish any darker areas and make the space feel brighter and more open.

If you have low ceilings, it’s best to avoid installing any overly large or low-hanging pendant lights, as this will emphasise the ceiling and can have a foreshortening effect, making the room appear smaller.

Wall lights and sconces make a lovely alternative in a room with low ceilings or limited natural light. A set of uplighting wall lights will wash the light up and along the wall, providing plenty of soft ambient lighting, emphasising the wider space and drawing attention away from the ceiling. Wall lights are available in a wide range of different styles, from traditional candle sconces and lanterns, to vertical torchieres and modern flush-mounted styles. For an even spread of light, place a series of wall lights at regular intervals.

Where ceiling lights or wall lights are not an option, floor lamps make a great substitute as they transmit the light effectively while also giving the illusion of height. Floor lamps can also help to brighten up any dark or restricted areas,creating a more balanced and cohesive feel. Finally, you can add in some warm, low level lighting with a set of designer table lamps.

For more tips, see our post How to light a room with low ceilings.

Townhouse in Kensington - design by Rebecca Hughes Interiors


How do you light a period property with high ceilings or an open plan layout?

Of course, not all period properties are on the dark and narrow side – take for example the beautiful high ceilings and spacious proportions of a Georgian townhouse, or a historic barn conversion with a large, open plan layout. Meanwhile, many Victorian properties have had their dividing walls knocked through to create a more open living space.

If your property has high ceilings, pendant lights are a brilliant way of providing a focal point while also making a stunning style statement. Pendant lights come in a huge range of different styles and materials, from traditional glass and brass lanterns, to elegant coppers, or cool and contemporary concrete, so there’s something to suit every space.

Lighting is also a very effective way of managing larger, multi-purpose spaces. By using your lighting scheme to create different zones, you can ensure that each area works from a practical point of view, while also making the space feel homely and welcoming as a whole.

For example, the kitchen area will require plenty of practical lighting for cooking and prepping. Pendant lights offer good quality ambient light, and a set of matching pendants will look fabulous suspended over a kitchen island. To supplement your overhead lighting, or where this is not available, you can use wall lights, spotlights, recessed lighting or under cabinet lights in the main working areas.

Meanwhile, the dining and sitting areas will require additional, lower key lighting for relaxing or entertaining. A large feature pendant or a rise and fall light suspended over a dining table will provide a visual focus and help define the eating area as a space in its own right. And in the living area, an elegant pendant or a striking chandelier will really celebrate the space, and can be supplemented with a series of downlighters, floor lamps and table lamps to create a more cosy, intimate vibe.

Cotswold Cottage near Cirencester – by Astman Taylor.


Using accent lighting to highlight period features

Once you have chosen your main ambient and task lighting, you can use some well-placed accent lighting to create a sense of depth and atmosphere and to highlight any historic or architectural features.

You can use a range of different types of lighting to highlight period features within your property, such as picture rails, cornices, beams, archways or original built-in cupboards – including wall lights, picture lights, floor lamps and table lamps.

Picture lights are a classy and effective way of showcasing those historic paintings or works of art, while a pair of matching designer floor lamps will frame a period fireplace beautifully.

Add in some designer table lamps to highlight alcoves or original shelving, while creating an additional layer of warm, low level light.

Finally, for extra flexibility, consider installing some dimmer switches so you can set the perfect mood at different times of day.

Bedroom in a 30-room Georgian mansion restored by Greg Penn (aka @manwithahammer)  and featuring a variety of Pooky lights


Mixing old and new when lighting a period property

Just because you live in a period property, it doesn’t mean you have to live in the past! Instead, you can integrate existing period features with your chosen lighting scheme in a way that celebrates both the past and the present. Barn conversions are a great example of beautiful living spaces where the traditional seamlessly meets the contemporary.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to choose a light fitting that’s of an appropriate size and scale, and will complement the overall feel of the space – but there’s still plenty of scope for adding in your own unique style.

If you don’t want to go the whole historical hog, you can use your period features as a fixing point for your lighting and then add in your own design choices. So rather than opting for a classic style of pendant light for that Regency ceiling rose, why not go for a modern twist on the traditional with a beautiful contemporary chandelier?


Pooky makes beautiful, affordable designer lights for beautiful homes. Browse our range of lamps and shades here.


Picture top: Georgian mansion restored by Greg Penn (aka @manwithahammer), featuring Pooky chandelier and table lamps.


See also:

How to light a room with no windows

How to light a kitchen effectively and beautifully

How to light an open plan space - 5 top lighting tips