Interior Architecture


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Lighting open plan spaces can be a daunting prospect. The room will inevitably have multiple functions and you may want to use the light to help create specific zones. With professional advice from Lighting Design consultancy, Brightfolk, we have pulled together our top tips for lighting open plan spaces.

It’s best to consider your lighting scheme early on in the design process to avoid any costly changes down the line. It’s likely you’re going to want to light areas differently at different times of day, especially if your space includes a kitchen, dining area and casual seating area. 

This image demonstrates how multiple layers of light creates the opportunity to vary the mood depending on the occasion. Design: Gazey Architects.

Firstly, we’d advise you to maximise the amount of natural light entering the space. Large expanses of glass are a great way to achieve this, whether it be large sliding doors, bi-folds, french doors or fixed panes of glass, there are many options to suit a variety of budgets. Roof windows can offer up to three times more light than a standard window so they’re a great addition if you have the option. It’s also worth noting which direction the sun enters and leaves your room as this may affect many aspects of your design, not just the lighting. 

“When I’m lighting an open plan kitchen dining area that I know will be used for tasks such as cooking and cleaning as well as relaxing in, I always try to include a variety of accent lighting” says Lisa Mills, founder of Brightfolk Lighting Design.

The concealed lighting above the hob and bespoke wall cabinets here help to brighten the work tops and create an efficient work space. Design: Conrad Architects.

For a kitchen, creating layers of light is key. Consider concealed under-cupboard, under-shelf or wall lights to achieve shadow free task lighting to ensure visibility along your works spaces. Dimmable directional down-lights are great, however we suggest you don’t position them in grids. Instead, opt only to light where is required. For example, use a low glare directional down-light to softly wash light over the fronts of your cupboards. For an island, it’s likely that you’ll want it to perform multiple functions, from an extended kitchen worktop space, to somewhere you can relax with a glass of wine in an evening. With this in mind, we recommend you light the centre of the island with either dimmable pendants or recessed down-lights.

“When I’m lighting an open plan kitchen dining area that I know will be used for tasks such as cooking and cleaning as well as relaxing in, I always try to include a variety of accent lighting” says Lisa Mills, founder of Brightfolk Lighting Design. “To create ambience and interest in a space, you need separate layers of light, and contrast between higher and lower light levels. Getting the right task lighting in place – so that it doesn’t cause shadow is clearly important but to avoid what I call ceiling acne (a ceiling littered with downlights), I will always start by building up layers of accent and feature lighting first, and then add in downlights only where needed. Obvious accent lighting opportunities in a kitchen are running LED ribbon under the island worktop, or concealing light along the top of cupboards so that it washes light up onto the ceiling. The beauty of light like this is, if dimmable and controlled separately it can be used to provide a gorgeous glowing backdrop to an evening meal and create that all important relaxed atmosphere.”

Of course, your dining table is also an ideal place to hang a feature pendant to provide that soft glow for evening entertainment. “And remember, the lower you hang your pendant over the table, the more it will anchor the space and help to create a specific zone” says Lisa.  You can also consider pairing your pendant with wall lights for added ambience and again that all important layering of light. 

Bare in mind that if you’re planning to include skylights or roof lanterns, it’s best to consider beforehand how you’re going to light the areas beneath them. There are many ways of successfully achieving it, but ideally you want to plan ahead to ensure a considered approach. You don’t want your lights to look like an afterthought! “Rooflights also provide an opportunity for feature light by concealing LED into the fabric of the structure. But just because you have one, doesn’t mean you need to light it” says Lisa. “Concealing LED in a roof light is a very modern aesthetic that won’t suit every room. When done well, it can look amazing and will stop your roof light from turning into a big black mirror at night, but careful coordination is needed with your contractor on site to ensure the LED is indeed concealed and not reflected back at you in the window. You’ll also need to pay attention to the quality of the LED, to avoid a dotting effect.” 

Decorative floor and side lamps are ideal for relaxed seating areas as they give off a softer light; great for areas you’d like to feel ‘cosy’. “You may want to consider installing 5-amp sockets for floor and table lamps” suggests Lisa. “Adding a 5-amp circuit allows you to control the lamps as part of the overall lighting scheme from the switch on the wall. It saves you having to walk around the room turning lamps on and off individually and also means they can become dimmable circuit, perfect for next to a little snug sofa in an open plan space. Floor sockets are particularly useful when walls are not available.” It’s also worth considering integrating lighting into bespoke joinery to create that extra layer of ambient light.

Lisa’s next tip is to pay attention to the quality of light that you use and by this she means the colour temperature and colour rendering capabilities of the light installed. “Normally in residential settings we look to install 2700K or 3000K lights which in the industry is known as warm white. However, for layers of light that are intended for evening use, to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere such as floor and table lamps, you might want to use lamps that are even warmer, around 2400K to really make the space feel inviting.” When it comes to colour rendering or CRI as it’s usually referred to, Lisa suggests checking that the lights are at least 90> CRI. “This means their ability to render colour accurately is pretty good. The index goes to 100 so 90 is towards the top end. By only installing light that has a good CRI you are ensuring that all the colours in your interior scheme will look as good as they can, this means, paints, materials, fabrics etc. but not only that, your skin tone will look better too!”  

This image demonstrates how combining pendant, downlights and floor standing lamps can create a homely feel, even within an open plan space. Photo Source: Love Renovate

It’s important to plan how you will control all your lights early on as it’s often a point that is overlooked. “Sometimes I find that people misunderstand what layering light really means. It’s not just a case of adding different types of light into a room, this is one part of it. But if you did that and put them all on the same circuit, you’ve still essentially got one layer. Therefore, adding in different circuits really is the crux of layering light and this can be difficult to get right, especially in large open plan spaces” says Lisa. “The last thing a client wants is to be confronted with a bank of switches like your lighting up Oxford Street at Christmas so we always try to limit a room to 4 circuits but clearly in open plan spaces the boundaries are blurred and it can be easy to go over this. If a space really does warrant extra circuits, then I will always talk to a client about the use of smart control. The beauty of smart control is that you don’t need to use it in the whole house, so you can just opt to use it in open plan spaces. What it allows you to achieve is ‘scene lighting’ where you programme the lights that you want to come on together for different times of day or different uses. So for example, your ‘entertainment scene’ may be your accent lighting under the island worktop, plus your dining room pendant and maybe some wall lights. You can also set how bright you want each light to be so that it remembers your perfect dining dimming level every time!”

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