John Cullen’s Essential Guide to Interior Lighting

For over 35 years, John Cullen have been known for planning and executing lighting schemes for residential, superyacht and the hospitality sector worldwide. Sally Storey is the creative director and her name is legendary in the lighting industry. Apart from lighting design, John Cullen hold lighting seminars and also supply a unique collection of energy-efficient light fittings. Here are John Cullen’s answers to’s questions about designing interior lighting.

Open-plan-kitchen-Lighting-John-Cullen-Lighting When working with the interior designer the lighting designers will determine the best option for an entire room as well as a specific area, taking into account natural lighting balanced with artificial lighting

How do you plan a lighting scheme?

The most important aspect of designing a scheme is the position of your furniture and artwork. Once you know your basic layout, you can decide which areas of interest to focus on, whether it’s artwork, architectural details (such as niches or pillars), or even the fireplace. Decorative lamps add softness, so remember to allow for 5 amp sockets and wiring to the right locations.

How can you create layers of light in a room?

Lighting at different heights in a room is known as layering. In each room, you can include as many as three layers of light: in the first instance, from above (in the ceiling) with the use of downlights, clever architectural lighting, pendant lamps, or chandeliers. The mid-level is provided by decorative lamps, wall lights, and illuminating joinery (such as shelving). Low-level lighting is added by up-lights, wall-recessed floor washers, or plug-ins. We recommend including at least two of these levels or light effects in a room to create a multi-layered scheme.

Grissini-and-Contour-bathroom-lighting-by-John-Cullen-Lighting Vanity lights need to provide a brighter light for make-up.In this examples the vanity lighting is from IP rated wall sconces and recessed light from around the sides of the mirror

What is the ideal height for light switches?

Switches should always sit below the picture or art hanging space at a height of 90cm from the floor, or what we call the finished floor level (FFL). This means that switches will be in line with door handles.

Can you dim low-voltage lighting?

Yes, low voltage lights can dim down, provided they are specified, along with dimmable drivers and dimmer switches.

Fireplace lighting -John Cullen Lighting
Image: John Cullen Lighting

When should you use mains lighting?

Although 0-10v/Dali wiring (digital dimming controls) provides smoother, lower-end dimming, mains wiring can be used when planning or retaining the existing wiring or when wiring decorative fixtures such as pendants, wall lights, and table lamps on 5 amp sockets.

What is a 5 amp circuit?

A 5 amp circuit is a three-round pin socket that can be controlled by your dimmer switch alongside other lighting. This is especially handy when there are multiple lamps in a room.

How do you decide which type of lightbulb to use?

An easy way to decide is by thinking about the colour/temperature of light the lightbulb provides. A halogen light source in full brightness is a bright but cold colour but can provide a warmer amber light when dimmed. Compact fluorescent bulbs are energy-efficient but can have a blue, cold light which is on/off only. Retro-fit LED bulb temperature/colour is measured by its Kelvin. You will find that the light colour measured in Kelvin cannot change, unlike halogen lighting.

Retro LED lightbulbs
Image: John Cullen Lighting

What is the best way to illuminate works of art?

There are many ways to light artwork; what is best will depend on the style of the property and the artwork being lit. For example, a picture light works perfectly in a traditional setting to highlight artwork. Also, picture lights are great on staircases and landings, which do not have a flat ceiling to accommodate recessed lighting. Recessed downlights work well in flat ceilings, are discreet, and complement any interior style. Framing projectors are the most bespoke solution. They highlight artwork precisely, but framing projectors are an expensive option.

Lighting for art work
Image: John Cullen Lighting

How should you illuminate a doorway?

Doorways set the tone and provide the first impression of your home. To offer a warm welcome, we highly recommend pendant or wall lights. Even better, they can be paired with low-level lighting, which gives the illusion of widening what is often a small, narrow space.

What is the best way to light hallways and landings?

Highlight points of interest such as artwork and add low-level lighting to help navigate stairs and landings.

Sirolo-floor-washers-and-Polespring-downlight-John-Cullen-Lighting - Low level floor lights on a lighting plan are a good lighting option in circulation areas where no specific tasks are carried out and dim light levels are sufficient.

How can you light a sitting room without using ceiling downlights?

Include lighting in joinery, such as bookshelves. During evenings, this will give the appearance of an “artificial window.” Consider adding decorative wall lights and table lamps for softness and general lighting. If the ceilings allow, add a pendant or chandelier to provide a warm glow.

Contemporary-Living-room-John-Cullen-Lighting - Ambient lighting is created in this living room with led strips and a warm colour temperature of lights

What is the best way to light a dining room?

Lighting over the dining room table is the most important element. Recessed downlights, a pendant or a chandelier over the dining table will provide a visual focus and drama when dining, as well as general lighting when needed. Pair this with low-level lighting around the room, with up-lights to windows, door or window reveals, or with joinery lighting.

Dining room lighting
Image: John Cullen Lighting

Where should you install lights in a kitchen?

Lighting the front of cupboards with ceiling downlights is fundamental in the kitchen. Integrate lighting under wall units to provide a boost of light for cleaning, preparation, and setting the mood in an open-concept room. Don’t forget to install recessed downlights over a kitchen island unit paired with decorative pendants for visual focus and warmth.

Luxury-Kitchen-by-John-Cullen-Lighting Kitchens require different types of lighting, task lights as well as overhead lighting and decorative pendant lights as a focal point

What type of lighting is essential for bedrooms?

In addition to general lighting, lighting for reading and mood is fundamental in a bedroom. General lighting can be achieved by recessed downlights that wash light over strategic places, such as artwork, cupboards, and curtain treatments. When winding down, table lamps and wall lights provide mood lights that can be used for reading, or you can choose to add dedicated locally switched reading lights.In a bathroom, you will need to adhere to the IP rating zones (ingress protection against dust, accidental contact, or water). Regardless of ceiling height, it is good practice to include IP-rated downlights or ceiling fixtures in the shower and over the bath. Remember to allow for wall lighting beside the basin, task lighting for shaving or makeup, and low-level lighting as a night light.

Bedroom-Lighting-John-Cullen-Lighting Avoid overly bright light in bedrooms and opt for warm light. Table or wall lights provide good bedside light for reading

What types of lights are best for bathrooms?

In a bathroom, you will need to adhere to the IP rating zones (ingress protection against dust, accidental contact or water). Regardless of ceiling height, in the shower and over the bath it is good practice to include IP rated downlights or ceiling fixtures. Do not forget to allow for wall lighting beside the basin, task lighting for shaving or make-up, and low-level lighting as a night light.

Bathroom-John-Cullen-Lighting For dramatic effect, the lighting fixtures in this example highlight the freestanding wall, illuminating the floating vanity unit.

Interior Design Lighting Tips for Every Room

Finding the right light can transform the interior of your home—for the better and brighter. Here are some tips and tricks on how to properly illuminate your space:

  1. Living Room: Use a cosy combination of ambient, accent, and task lighting to create layers of light. Install dimmers so people can control the lighting based on their mood or activity.
  2. Bedroom: Create a soothing sanctuary in your bedroom by opting for warm or neutral white light. Try to have all your lights at the same or similar temperature to avoid color clashing.
  3. Bathroom: Look for bathroom light bulbs that mimic natural light, and steer clear of those that give off cold, clinical, or harsh illumination. Keep safety in mind when installing light fittings.
  4. Kitchen: Incorporate task lighting in essential areas like sinks, stoves, islands, and meal prep surfaces. You can use a mix of pendants, under-cabinet lights, and recessed downlighting.
  5. Dining Area: Use pendant lights or a chandelier to direct all eyes to your dining table. This will allow you and your guests to share an immersive and intimate mealtime experience.
Living room lighting
Image: John Cullen Lighting

Lighten and Liven Up Your Home

Lighting affects the form, feel, and function of your home, so it shouldn’t be an afterthought. By following John Cullen’s expert advice on good interior lighting, you can make your personal space shine at the simple flick of a switch.

Visit John Cullen Lighting at 561-563 King’s Road, London SW6 2EB.

See the website for showroom opening times: 

Contact: ; +44 (0) 20 7371 9000

We hope you have enjoyed reading this interior lighting design guide. For more on lighting, read How to Light Art, Choosing LED Lighting, or Guide to Garden Lighting. You can also click here to read more inspiring and informative blog posts from our members. 

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