How to get lighting right

The way your home is lit can dictate the way it feels and functions. The right lighting will make your home inviting, and provide safety and security. The wrong lighting can do the opposite, and worse.

Bad lighting can cause health problems like headaches and impaired vision.

So why do we often leave lighting until last when we’re planning a room?

We asked some experts for their advice on getting lighting right in your home.

It all starts with light

According to Coco Republic interior designer Jodie Kingman, lighting is a vital element in any room. “It sets the mood and tone of a space,” says Jodie. “Bad lighting can alienate the furniture and people in the space, creating a tense or uncomfortable environment.”

Interior designer Bronwyn Poole runs Touch Interiors in Sydney; Bronwyn agrees and says lighting is crucial to making the space come to life, “Many designers would go so far as to say it is the most important factor in interior design.”

“Lighting is integral to the dynamics of space within a room as it can alter your mood and change the colour of your walls and furnishings,” Bronwyn adds.

Know your lighting possibilities

So how do you get the right lighting for your home?

Glowing retro light bulbs hanging from ceiling

Firstly, you should know your lighting options. Generally, lighting can be broken down into three main types:

  1. Ambient or general lighting
    • Provides overall illumination for the room.
    • It’s the cornerstone of lighting a room and usually consists of ceiling, wall or recessed lights.
  2. Task lighting
    • Used for specific jobs like cooking, reading, putting on makeup or doing homework.
  3. Accent lighting
    • Brings drama and depth to a room by illuminating key features like artwork, books, or architectural features.

“A great room will have all three”, says Bronwyn.

Create a lighting plan

Given how integral lighting is to our experience of a building, most experts agree that you should plan it, just like you plan any other part of a build or renovation. Bronwyn advises, “Many lighting shops offer free advice but for larger projects consider engaging a lighting expert”.

A well-considered lighting plan can help create continuity, build inviting spaces and solve problem areas. Work out your needs, but don’t overcomplicate it.

Jodie Kingman says considering all the different ways to light a room will give the best result, “Lamps can create intimacy and mood at different heights within the room.

Consider the wattage, don’t use a high wattage throughout, different task areas require different levels of light. For example, a softer light near the sofa and a stronger light in the kitchen.

There are some really innovate designs on the market at the moment that are mixing different materials – try a timber, copper or gold, even corrugated cardboard light fittings”.

Each room has different lighting needs


Bathroom amenities

Combine strong task lighting with ambient lighting. Light mirrors from each side or above. Avoid shadowy corners in showers or baths by adding some light. Under cabinet or floor lighting can help for night time trips to the loo.


Think about mood lighting, dimmer switches, wardrobe lighting, dressing table and bedside table lamps. You might want to invest in remote control options you can use from bed. Kids and babies might need safe nightlights.

Living room

Feature lights can add a decorative splash. Make sure you can adjust the lighting or dim it for watching TV. Accent lighting works well in a lounge – and don’t forget about the cosy warmth of firelight in winter!

Bronwyn Poole says focus more on up-lighting (floor lamp or wall lights) which offers a purer quality of light through refracting off the ceiling. Or use side table lamps which offer a softer more ambient light.


Your kitchen cabinets can showcase your treasures and collectables with feature lighting. Recessed downlights and task lighting are also great in kitchens. Bronwyn Poole suggests you consider practical applications such as a sensor to turn your light on when you open your pantry door.


Candlelight can be a great additional light source and dining tables lend themselves to feature pendants or chandeliers, but bear in mind experts say the light should be narrower than the table. Wall sconces above sideboards and track lighting above tables are also options.

Work with existing natural light

The best (and cheapest) light is natural light. But the quality of your natural light depends on the aspect of your room. East facing rooms are sunny in the mornings, while west-facing rooms suffer afternoon glare. If it faces north you might be trying to tone it down, but if it faces south you’ll be trying to amp it up.

You can maximise natural light by hanging mirrors opposite windows, using light, sheer window coverings, reflective surfaces, and a lighter colour palate.

Conversely, you can reduce harsh light with filtering blinds, darker softer fabrics and textures.

Get the right light bulbs

It’s not just where or what to light, you’ve also got to consider the minefield that is light bulbs or globes. Energy efficient, halogen, LED, fluorescent, incandescent – the list goes on.

Not all bulbs are good for all lights, and not all work with dimmers. It pays to do some research.

Lighting tricks

The right lighting tricks can make a small room feel bigger, or a big room feel cosy. Here’s a few basic tips:

  • Use up-lights or washes to make a small room feel bigger
  • Vertical lights to make a room feel taller
  • Table lamps reduce the light going towards the ceiling, which makes the room feel cosier

“The absence of lighting is probably the most common mistake I come across, or using just the one type of lighting,” says Jodie. “Make sure the light is flattering and give some thought to what you want to highlight, it might be lighting a dark corner, highlighting the texture of a brick or rendered wall or maybe it’s the fitting itself that will introduce warmth, colour and another surface.”

But getting the right balance is key, “I always go by the rule less is more, as over lighting is far less forgiving than under lighting,” Bronwyn concludes.

Article repurposed from How to get the lighting right by Emma Sorensen. Author at