Interior Lighting Design Elements

Lighting and materiality are the two most important core elements that determine how your home feels. Look around; your home and your spaces are a manifestation of sensations designed by the materials and lights that coalesce into these moments of feeling and emotion. The tactility of your wooden desk, the smell of your stone walls, and the shadows cast by your lamp onto your bedside table are all crafted moments by these two elements.

These two elements work hand-in-hand as we would not be able to experience space without light. Materials are defined by their interaction with lighting, often completely warping a space depending on the quality, lux, and direction of the component which influences the area. An area devoid of lighting can be sensational as well, especially when it is designed around that quality, as it can heighten other sensations. Because of these rules, we should consider how we want spaces lit when designing our homes, as different moments within our homes require different treatments of interior lighting. To examine this concept, I will break up this text through the aforementioned quality, lux, and direction denotations.

An open concept living space featuring floor to ceiling windows as a part of elevating interior lighting design
Natural Lighting as an interior design tool in Woodland Ridge by FrankFranco Architects. Big and bright windows allow your interior to blend into the surrounding landscape, bringing your ravine into your living room.

Artificial and Natural Light Differences

Light quality can be best understood by differentiating between natural and artificial lights. Natural light is the diffusion of sunlight into your home, whereas artificial lighting is the creation of luminescence through bulbs and fixtures. Natural light stays constant year-over-year as the sun illuminates your spaces differently depending on the season and time of day. For example, a Southern facing window in Canada will be well lit throughout all of July, whereas a Northern facing window may get very little direct light throughout January. Consider your window angles relative to the sun in the sky, as their location and orientation can have a drastic effect on the space you are envisioning. These are important factors in the interior lighting design of your home.

Natural lighting in a bath house designed by Peter Zumthor
Natural Lighting in Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals. At Therme Vals, a bathhouse in Switzerland, large windows placed recessed into the building allow the filtering of sunlight on a soft angle into the space. The orientation and recession of the windows do not allow harsh direct sunlight, but rather a moderate diffusion to illuminate the space.

Artificial Lighting

Spaces lit by artificial lighting offer a more controlled environment as the ability to maintain an intended interior lighting design can be controlled through a switch or a knob. It would be rare to design a space in a home that is only lit by artificial lighting, but certain rooms may accompany the qualities of the controlled environment. An in-home theatre or a recording studio are good examples of rooms that would want a fully artificial lighting system as the space requires precise control. Because of the control offered by artificial lighting, lighting temperature can drastically change a space.

Featuring internal light diffusion at Therme Vals, a bath house in Switzerland designed by Peter Zumthor
Internal Light Diffusion at Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals. Lighting temperature plays a drastic role when illuminating a space. The cool diffusion of sunlight creates an entirely different atmosphere than the warm glow of a campfire.

Effects of Lux and Luminescence

Lux is the measure of illuminance cast by a lighting object onto a surface. Working hand-in-hand with quality, the lux of an element, combined with its temperature, can have a drastic effect on the feel of a space.

Consider the warmth of a hearth illuminating a living room versus pulling back the curtains on Sunday morning; the difference of these lights completely changes the feel of your space. Direct bright lighting can create visibility and opportunities for materials to flourish in their glory, whereas dimmer and diffused lights can define a mood for your dinner party. The transition from your sunroom to your library should be accompanied by a change in lux as an alteration of luminescence would coincide with a change in the materiality of your room and the feeling of your space. Consider the dim, warm floor lamp livening your mahogany armchair, versus the bright chandeliers enriching the marble flooring in your foyer.

Large windows of a custom built home featuring warm incandescent bulbs creating a familiar golden glow. To learn more about interior lighting design, read our post!
Modern Victorian by FrankFranco Architects. Warm incandescent bulbs create a familiar golden glow that is associated with comfort and relaxation.

Lighting Direction

This last point segues into lighting direction, which is an often understated element of interior lighting. The easiest example to define how direction warps a space is by lighting a candle versus using a flashlight. A candle offers an organic illumination of a space, whereas the flashlight is a directional input of harsh lighting. Using this example as a scale, we want different moments in our homes to incorporate flashlights and candles in different areas. Direct lights are incredibly useful when trying to impose even lighting over an area, like pot lights in a kitchen or a bedroom ceiling. Top-down lighting illuminates spaces without being choosy of the elements in focus. Horizontal rooftop skylights are the natural evolution of this idea, except much brighter and less controllable.

Indirect Lighting Elements

Indirect, or diffuse lighting, often come from lamps, fires, chandeliers, candles, or purposely designed architectural lighting fixtures. The variety and decisions when considering the placement of indirect lighting elements can completely transform the feeling and usage of a space. A warm fireplace that livens a family room by casting soft shadows on the walls, versus a low hanging chandelier over your dining room table on Christmas Eve, can achieve different moods within their intended spaces while accomplishing the same concept of soft, room-wide illumination.

bright kitchen filled with natural lighting designed by FrankFranco Architects on their Deja View project. Find out more interior lighting design tips in our post!
Kitchen in Deja View by FrankFranco Architects. Natural lighting direction can be controlled through window orientation and material finish as we see soft lights bouncing off reflective floors and walls to offer a series of pseudo-lighting elements.

Without listing out every example of a light fixture and how it would change the way the grains in your leather sectional change based on the quality, lux, and direction of them, think bigger picture and work your way into intimate details. It is important as a client to understand how you want your rooms to feel, and that starts and ends with lighting. The change from a soft incandescent bulb to a bright LED strip can make all the difference.

Are you looking for more design ideas and insights for your custom home? Here are “The Features You Should Incorporate In A Wine Cellar Design“.