BY DANIELLE POPE | PHOTOS BY JEFFREY BOSDET
Light rarely feels more important than during dark winter months, when a fireplace and a few candles can transform a home into a cozy retreat. Knowing how to layer lighting for year-long function and style, however, is an art in itself. Fortunately, SPRUCE has gathered a few bright ideas from industry experts who can help do just that.
Interior designer Ines Hanl has a simple philosophy around this work: light is life.
“Lighting affects humans at our most basic level — it can change mood and cognition, and the ancient part of our brains reacts intensely to it,” she says. “I honour this in my designs.”
Studies have long shown lighting can influence our well-being and impact the nervous system, memory and sleep. It’s little wonder light choreography plays a role in ensuring a higher quality of home life. Hanl’s passion has helped her create some of the most dynamic lighting in Victoria’s design scene, including a recent project on Bear Mountain which combined impressive modern and traditional lighting techniques.
“The key to great lighting in a home is to layer it,” says Hanl, principal at The Sky Is the Limit Interior Design Concepts. “The right light can create a sanctuary.”
The Three Horsemen of Lighting
Hanl’s illumination principles developed from growing up in her parents’ poorly lit 1970s house. A designer once helped the family renovate their main floor, but even then the lighting was so terrible the atmosphere barely changed.
Since then, Hanl has mastered the three main types of lighting that can transform a space: general, task and mood lighting. When used correctly, these “three horsemen” of lighting create dynamic layers.
“All three aspects need to be combined in order to achieve practical and esthetically pleasing results,” says Hanl. “Lighting in this way has to be an ongoing topic, thought about from the start of a project, right through to the end.”
General lighting includes ubiquitous ceiling lights, fixtures, pot lamps or fluorescents. Hanl cautions against leaving the placement to the whim of an electrician. Instead, lighting arrangement should focus on what matters in the room. In Hanl’s Bear Mountain project, a grid of 4-inch LED pot lights run along the ceiling to create natural aisles of light.
Task lighting illuminates areas to improve function. This can include under-counter lighting, vanity lamps, floor lighting, stairwell tracks and even desk lamps. This lighting is essential in creating usable space. Hanl added exterior wall sconces and path-finding lights to the Bear Mountain project to create an attractive, functional entry.
Atmospheric lighting is created with finishing touches — firelight, candles, string lights and accent lamps — to develop the mood of a space. In the Bear Mountain home, a central fireplace provides a warm glow and softens the room. While mood lighting is essential, Hanl urges people not to over-prioritize this form.
“You have to be mindful. A lot of restaurant lighting nowadays is mood lighting, and it doesn’t allow one to read the menu,” she says. “If you have to pull out the ‘cellphone torch,’ there is something wrong.”
To make full use of light, Jim Wong, manager of Illuminations Lighting Solutions, says there are a few practical tools to help. Start by assessing how a space will be used, he says, then plan around that.
“Lighting is everything when designing a home,” he says. “If you can’t see properly, the beautiful quartz countertops or hardwood floors, or all the other work you put into the house is a waste.”
Dimmers are worth the expense for any light, he says, to allow movement from a day of cleaning to an evening of relaxing. Both Wong and Hanl also encourage the use of direct and indirect light sources, which project onto reflective areas — like a wall or ceiling — to create diffused lighting.
“When you build in layers you avoid shadows under the eyes, or uneasy corners in a room,” says Wong. “You want everything to pop as it’s supposed to.”
Hanl pays close attention to the esthetic of the fixtures. Some lighting is meant to be hidden, like puck lights and LED strips, while decorative fixtures, pendant lamps or sculptural pieces should be given room for display.
In the dining room of the Bear Mountain home, a trio of Herman Miller Nelson bubble lamps make playful use of the 16-foot ceiling. The wine bar is accentuated by pendants reflecting through a mirror, and Hanl designed a stainless steel cable system in the living area for flexible, low-key lighting that enhances the clients’ art collection. The room is accented with table lamps to add diversity, and a contemporary chandelier in the foyer utilizes indirect lighting to showcase the tall ceiling.
“You can actually have too much lighting,” she says. “If the space is too bright, or the light is too even, you need to employ dimmers and other tools. You want islands of light, offset by shadows for a natural effect.”
Just the Right Light
Small efforts can make a big difference, especially at entry points of a house. Lanterns or hanging lights welcome people into a space, and backlighting can create a focal point for wayfinding.
Architectural lighting — uplights or downlights — will emphasize noteworthy features on a house, like stone cladding, and soffit lighting can help with navigation. Hanl and Wong emphasize the importance of building in outdoor plugs for seasonal lights too.
Natural window light and mirrors play a role in improving light dimension as well, and Hanl often pairs accessory and task lighting. She creates illuminated display shelves, cabinetry backlighting, lighting along a bar overhang or under the kick for extra drama. She also says the toilet, shower and tub should be lit, and vanity lighting from side lamps is the most flattering.
“Lighting is often the final touch in the room, but it should never be the last thought,” says Wong. “At bare minimum, plan the wiring. Good lighting makes any house happier.”
A few clever techniques can take your lighting efforts to the next level.
Use motion detectors: These allow light sources to save energy while becoming responsive to the environment. Jim Wong of Illuminations suggests installing occupancy sensor switches on all outdoor lights, and even mini motion detectors indoors that come in handy for dark hallways.
Install stairwell and step lighting: LED strips recessed under steps or handrails act as gentle guides for passersby. Small wall sconces or pot lights set into the steps can pair functional decoration with a theatrical look. However, Wong says to avoid lights that will blind people as they walk down or up steps.
“Step lights look great in every home, but you have to position them well, especially with children or older adults who need extra visibility at night or in the shadows,” he says.
Don’t forget about style: Mike Randall, principal with Kurva Design, says another consideration is how the fixture will look in the room, and whether or not it will enhance the overall design.
“I encourage people to select fixtures that are minimalistic but also sculptural so they don’t interfere with the room or the view,” says Randall, whose company created the “S-Light” for this reason. “Your fixtures should look like a piece of art, even when they’re not in use.”
Consider the colour temperature: Getting a fixture that produces the right amount of light is also important. Randall notes that “warm white” can vary greatly between manufacturers and can appear cold against incandescent bulbs. “It is important to see the product in context so you can sense whether or not it will work,” he says. “Dimmers can also help to create different vibes though, and can adjust colour temperatures.”