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 TheHouseDirectory.com’s questions about designing interior lighting.

How do you plan a lighting scheme?

The most important aspect when designing a scheme is the position of your furniture and artwork. Once you know your basic layout, you can decide which particular areas of interest to focus on, whether this is artwork, architectural details (such as niches or pillars) or even the fireplace. Decorative lamps will add softness, so don’t forget 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. Our recommendation is to include at least two of these levels or light effects in a room to create a multi-layered scheme.

What is an ideal height for light switches?

Switches should always sit below picture/art hanging space at a height of 90cm from the floor (or what we call the finished floor level or 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 providing they are specified along with dimmable drivers and dimmer switches.

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 you are planning or retaining the existing wiring or when wiring for 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 which is measured in Kelvin cannot change, unlike halogen lighting.

What is the best way to illuminate works of art?

There are many ways to light artwork and what is best will depend on the style of the property and artwork that is 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.

How should you illuminate a doorway?

Doorways set the tone and provide the first impression of your home. Pendant or wall lights are highly recommended to offer a warm welcome. 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.

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

Include lighting in joinery, such as in bookshelves, as during evenings this will give the appearance of an ‘artificial window’. Think about 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.

What is the best way to light a dining room?

Lighting over the dining table is the most important element. Recessed downlights, a pendant or chandelier over the 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 window, door or window reveals, or with joinery lighting.

Where should you install lights in a kitchen?

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

What type of lighting is essential for bedrooms?

As well as general lighting, lighting for reading and mood are fundamental in a bedroom. General lighting can be achieved by recessed downlights to wash light over strategic places, such as artwork, cupboards and curtain treatments. When winding down, table lamps and wall lights provide mood light that can be used for reading; or you can choose to add dedicated locally switched reading lights.

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.

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

See the website for showroom opening times: www.johncullenlighting.com 

Contact: sales@johncullenlighting.com ; 020 7371 5400.


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