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10 Tips for Lighting your Period Home

How to layer your lighting to light your period home

In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary

- Aaron Rose

Yellow table lamp with lampshade and wallpaper

It's very easy to feel overwhelmed by having to choose lighting for your period home, but if you go back to the basic idea of layering different types of light, you'll be able uncomplicate things a huge amount. It is also not necessary to spend a fortune on lighting design. Keep your lighting simple, always think about what the room will be used for and have fun with your lighting...

Start with a furniture plan

If you are lucky enough to still be in the planning stage of a renovation, get a basic lighting plan ready BEFORE the electrician gets there. You will need a simple plan that shows the layout and furniture in the room so that you can plan your lighting and electrics around this plan. This will also help to ensure that you have enough light coverage in the different areas. The furniture plan will also show the position of lamp tables and side tables so that you know where to place the sockets for lamps. Make use of floor sockets which could be installed underneath a table or chair so that you don't have electrical leads trailing around the room.

In England, you could have your electrician place all the lamps on a 5 amp circuit so that you can turn them on and off from the same switch.

Use lamps to add warmth

Table lamps are essential in any room scheme, but this is especially true in a period home - they will add atmosphere, warmth and interest.

Find reasonably priced old lamps at auctions or at antique fairs and replace the shades with something special. This is an excellent way to make cheap lamps look more expensive. If the lamp cable is old plastic, you can have this changed to a braided fabric cord.

Have Fun with Lampshades

Don't be tempted to choose all white or cream shades just because you feel it's the safer option. The many lampshades available out there now makes it easy to have a mix of different shades which will add interest to your space. Handmade fabric lampshades, gathered ones, hand painted card or marbled paper shades, they're all readily available in different shapes and sizes. And don't forget about the lining! I like using cream lining for lampshades as it gives off a much warmer light than white.

Lamps are essential for lighting period homes

Lampshades are more than just visors for your lightbulbs, they're decorative investment pieces in their own right and a great one can make a huge impact on a room.

- Eleanor Cording-Booth (House & Garden)

Use a dimmer switch!

This will not only give you control over the level of light, it will also help save the environment and save you money as a dimmed light uses less wattage. Being able to dim your lights will make it easy to set the mood in a room, similarly to the use of candle light. In a bedroom, it is a wonderful way to create a sense of calm and prepare your mind for sleep before bedtime.

Create atmosphere with layers of light

Lighting should be layered to add warmth and character to a room; table lamps, wall lights, overhead ceiling lights, floor lamps and a fire will each add a different layer to your lighting. Once you understand what the three basic types are, you'll be able to layer them to create a balance of light and shadow in the room.

General Lighting

Also known as ambient lighting, this is the overall illumination in a room and in most homes, this comes from the ceiling light. But it doesn't have to - wall lights, spot lights, down lights, chandeliers, floor lamps or table lamps could all be used to achieve a good level of general light. General lighting acts as the base layer and once you have this planned, you can start adding other layers of light and this is where the magic happens. It will make a huge difference to the overall atmosphere in the room.

Task Lighting

This is a direct light which is specifically intended to light an area where you perform a particular task like desk lamps or reading lights.

Task lighting is very important in kitchens and other work rooms like laundry rooms.

Accent lighting

This is the aesthetic touch that will add beauty and visual interest to your period home. Accent lighting is a concentrated light that creates focal points around the room and is used to accent or highlight a particular object like a picture, fireplace or architectural feature.

Light is the magical ingredient that makes or breaks a space; it's one of the most important elements in all my interiors

- Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

Think about where to position your wall lights

In a small bedroom, using wall lights next to the bed instead of bedside lamps will give you more space on your bedside table. But, before fitting wall lights next to the bed you have to be sure of the height and size of the bed so that you can position these in the right place, otherwise you might end up with the lights being too high or too low.

In a bathroom, the ideal is to place two wall lights either side of the mirror. This will provide a more flattering light than a single light above the mirror.

Consider the height of the wall lights. For example, in sitting rooms, where you'll mainly see the wall lights from a seating position, they will be slightly lower than in a hallway where you don't really spend time sitting down. There isn't a hard and fast rule that applies to all. It is very much a matter of getting the proportions right - if you live in a Georgian house with very high ceilings, the wall lights cannot be placed at the same height as in a small Tudor cottage with much lower ceilings, for example.

Pooky Lighting has a great guide for placing wall lights which you can read here.

What if there is no ceiling light?

In many period homes there aren't any ceiling lights in the reception rooms and main bedrooms. If this is the case, don't automatically think you have to add one. The key is always to carefully consider what the room will be used for. If you only use your sitting room for relaxing with family and friends, for instance, the general lighting could be provided by wall lights and if these are on a dimmer, you'll have control over the brightness. Add a few picture lights, floor lamps and table lamps around the room to help create a warm atmosphere.

Another example is the bedroom - if you only use your bedroom for sleeping and relaxing before bed, you do not need a ceiling light. Wall lights and lamps will provide enough light, but make sure the wall lights are on a dimmer. On the other hand, you might need a ceiling light to provide good overhead lighting in a children's bedroom as they will often use the space for more than just sleeping.

It goes without saying that in rooms like kitchens or laundry rooms where you'll be working, good overhead lighting as well as task lighting will be essential.

Use picture lights

Mounted on the wall or on the individual frame, these work particularly well in period homes. Apart from lighting the picture and inviting you to look at the work of art, they will add another layer of light to the room.

Consider your light switches

We can't all change our sockets and light switches, but if you are lucky enough to be in a position to choose where these will be placed, ask your electrician to place them so that they are not directly in your line of sight. In a period home, these look best if they are placed about a metre from the floor.

Take time to think about how your sockets and switches will look in the finished room - it might not seem important, but the attention to detail will make a huge difference. There are so many different finishes to choose from now - make sure you consider all the options.

And finally, don't buy all your lights at the same time.

It is not necessary to try to find all your light fittings at the same time. Lighting is a large investment and I suggest taking your time to find that perfect light, just as you would an exquisite piece of art.

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