Using light to create atmosphere and set the mood is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to transform a well-decorated, but otherwise lifeless room. The trick is not to go for the most obvious lighting positions.
Most of a family’s life is spent in the living room – often with several people wanting to do different things at the same time. To cope with a variety of activities, the lighting system in a living room needs to be as flexible as possible.
Making the most of ceiling lights
Usually, living rooms are equipped with a central lighting point in the ceiling. Using a traditional half-shade in this position creates a harsh, monotonous light that does nothing to show off the good points of your room, or to disguise any less attractive features.
There are a number of ways to avoid this problem without spending a great deal of money. For instance, try extending the central flex and looping it through a ceiling hook – this gives you the scope to hang a pendant light wherever you choose, perhaps over a dining table or in a corner near a sofa.
Downlighters are another good solution for a central lighting point. Basically a downlighter is a fixed, downward-pointing spot, available in either a cylinder-shaped holder or as a special fitting designed to be recessed into the ceiling.
A central group of these recessed downlighters will provide excellent, even floor illumination, although it does mean cutting holes into the ceiling – or having a false ceiling installed – to fit them. Up to four may be wired from the same central ceiling point. They are available with varying beam widths and the wider the beam, the more light is spread over the floor area underneath.
Downlighters are especially useful for visually lowering a high ceiling and. If you can position them more freely, for highlighting coffee tables, plants and ornaments.
Any potential accident spot, such as a step-down between an open-plan lounge and dining area, will need to be constantly lit – -a downlighter or spotlight is ideal for this purpose.
Spotlights provide a versatile solu- tion to most lighting problems and if you fit a cluster of them in place of the central light, you can direct the light around the room to where it is most needed.
Spots can be aimed directly at an object for a dramatic effect – and still give an adequate general light over the rest of the room. They can be angled at walls, ceilings or mirrors to make a small room seem larger or a dark room seem brighter. You can direct light over a chair, a table or a section of the floor area where a member of the family normally reads, plays, or sits.
Where extra lighting is needed, spot lights on a ceiling-mounted track give you plenty of flexibility. The aluminium tracks come complete with ceiling mounts and all the electrical conductors are safely concealed inside. You can fit up to four spotlights to a track, providing their combined wattage does not exceed that of the power point.
Probably the cheapest way to soften the effect of a single central light is to use one of the many shapes of large, paper lamp-shades. These create a virtually glare-free, two-dimensional light. Light shining from the hole at the top of the shade bounces off the ceiling, forming a pool of brightness, while light through the shade diffuses gently over the room. However, if the effect is to be maintained the shade will need regular dusting.
Ceiling light systems can be made even more flexible by installing a dimmer switch at the main control. These are easy to fit and are wired in exactly the same way as the switch being replaced. They allow the light to be adjusted from full strength to a cosy glow with many subtle moods in between.
Before installing a dimmer switch to control several lights, check that it has the correct wattage rating. A standard dimmer will usually control up to four 60 watt or two 100 watt bulbs. Fluorescent lights need a special kind of dimmer switch, ideally installed by a qualified electrician. Plug- in dimmers are also available if you prefer a less permanent fixture.