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Ambient Lighting Design 

An elegant kitchen design with warm white downlights and glass pendant lights.

Lighting design for comfort and ambience

When designing the interior of any home, it is important to curate a comfortable and warm environment, while ensuring a sophisticated design plan. Lighting effects play a huge role in the comfort of a home. When it's done well, indirect warm lighting can help you and your family unwind after a long day, and can make guests feel welcome and comfortable. These lighting effects should be used in spaces where you would like to prioritise relaxation and ambience, including lounge rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.

Warm white or cool white?

Colour temperature is one of the primary decisions you will have to make when it comes to lighting. Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins, and generally ranges from 2000K to 6500K in residential lighting products. At the lower end of the scale, 2000K - 3300K classified as “warm white”. This colour temperature has a yellow hue, making it soft and comfortable on the eyes, and making any setting feel more ambient.

This media room showcases the unique effect of layering overhead lighting with wall lighting.

On the other hand, cool white lights provide clearer illumination with a true white colour. However, these lights are quite stark and are not ideal for rest and relaxation. Cool white lighting is more suitable for task areas such as study rooms or home offices. For living areas and bedrooms, it is best to select lights with a tinge of warm white, with a 3000K rating. For an even more ambient look and feel, opt for very warm LED lighting with a 2700K rating.

Layer 1: Direct Lighting 

To create a more sophisticated lighting design, layering is a must. Layered lighting includes both direct and indirect lighting to add depth and dimension to any space. For direct lighting, start with overhead downlights. A recessed downlight shines a narrow beam of light, creating a pool of illumination for a more intimate and comfortable mood than a general wash of bright light. As the beam is quite narrow, the light is able to avoid the direct line of sight, and instead lands on working surfaces in the room, such as coffee tables or dining tables. This type of light fitting also hides the light source in the ceiling, producing a less cluttered and more clean look and feel overall.

This media room showcases the unique effect of layering overhead lighting with wall lighting.

When selecting recessed downlights, consider selecting baffle trims. Baffle downlights have grooves that trap excess light, creating a softer light output. A black baffle trim goes one step further in achieving this lighting effect, as the black colour assists in absorbing light.

When arranging and spacing downlights, it is important that they do not create shadows or overpower the natural light sources in the room. To avoid these issues, space your recessed downlights approximately 1 metre away from the walls of the room. The distance between the lights should be half the height of the ceiling. For example, in a home with a 2.7 metre ceiling height, recessed downlights should be spaced 1.35 metres apart from each other. This will achieve adequate coverage of the space without creating uncomfortable shadows or excessive light.

Diagrams to show the appropriate spacing of downlights for varying ceiling heights.

It’s always a good idea to pair your downlights with a dimmer so that you can control the brightness at your will. For example, when preparing dinner or cleaning the home, you may want to keep downlights at full brightness for adequate visual clarity. Then, when guests arrive in the evenings, you have the ability to dim the lights to create a more intimate atmosphere.

Layer 2: Supplementary Lighting

As secondary or supplementary lighting, consider using indirect light sources. Indirect lighting is achieved when light shines towards the ceiling or wall, and reflects back with a softer and more diffused illumination. This ambient effect can be achieved with track lighting and gimbal downlights. Track lights are linear light fittings which include multiple “heads” or spot lights. These heads can be adjusted to shine light in different directions. Similarly, gimbal downlights can be physically maneuvered to redirect the beam of light. You will often see these lights being used in contemporary or industrial-style cafes, as they give a sophisticated and modern lighting effect with low-intensity light output. Try this lighting solution in a media room or kitchen area to bring the ambience and intimacy of a cafe into your own home.

 A modern style media room with warm white track lighting for increased comfort.

Indirect lighting can also be achieved with a shade, which partially blocks and diffuses light output. Shades can be used on batten fix lights, close to ceiling pendants, floor lamps, and table lamps. Floor lamps and table lamps provide a soft glow and can achieve a more intimate and comfortable atmosphere in living areas. Lamps, batten fixes, and close-to-ceiling pendant lights also give you the opportunity to be more creative in selecting the style, colour, and aesthetic of your light fittings. These types of fittings open up opportunities to explore design aesthetics such as industrial, contemporary, hamptons, eclectic, French Provincial, and Scandinavian styles.

Alternatively, if you prefer decorative lighting with exposed globes rather than a shade, select low intensity LED filament globes for a more modern take on mood lighting. These globes include interesting linear light filaments, and are often used in industrial or contemporary pendant lights. Select an output of 200 - 400 lumens for a minimal amount of supplementary light.

A contemporary style pendant light with warm white exposed globes and a brass finish.

Final Thought

When it comes to designing comfortable residential lighting, you will often find that less is more. By selecting lights with narrow beams, low intensity, and warm colour temperature, any home becomes friendlier and more inviting. Using layers of direct and indirect lighting also brings depth and sophistication to any interior design plan.

Browse Elekzon’s NEW pendants, lamps, and recessed lighting to create your own ambient lighting design plan.

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