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Designs on the home

Joe Public is at a disadvantage when it comes to lighting his home - he probably can’t afford a professional designer, and the fittings available to him are rubbish

Ray Molony: Residential has traditionally been the Cinderella sector of lighting design - it’s been incandescent-based and unsophisticated. But there have been improvements. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable to have had a residential category in the Lighting Design Awards, now it’s highly contested, but only at the high end.

How we democratise quality lighting design?

John Bullock: I think you’ve missed a word out, and it’s ‘aspirational1 In the glossies every Saturday and Sunday, we see the idea that people should aspire to the next thing. At the top end, you get people who collect designers, and they have a list of the consultants they expect to have.

But then there’s that sector of middle class people who aspire to something that they don’t understand. They know that there’s this thing out there called good lighting, but they don’t know how to do it.

“How do you explain lighting design? How do you start talking about colour rendering to somebody who thinks lighting is a table lamp?”
Karen van Creveld

It’s not about buying expensive light fittings, it’s about having quality in your living space. It’s not always the case that where the money’s being spent is where the best design happens.

Of course, it would be nice if the mainstream newspapers and magazines also took lighting design seriously.

Karen van Creveld: How do you explain lighting design from scratch? How do you start talking about colour rendering to somebody who thinks lighting is a table lamp?

John Bullock:The Guardian is running a series on how to be a novelist, how to write kids books. Surely to God you could do the same thing in home improvements.

Sally Storey: I think one of the reasons is they don’t know quite how to tackle it. I remember Homes and Gardens, I think, doing an article on lighting and when I saw the pictures they were illustrating it with the lights weren’t even on! I queried this and they said “we prefer pictures in daylight1 and I said “but that’s not the point of the article1

But it has changed. All those glossy magazines never used to do lighting. But you have to do it visually. There’s no point in doing it in text. You have to show before and after, otherwise it’s meaningless.

Karen van Creveld: There have been loads of Grand Designs-type television programmes where people are enthusiastic about having better lighting, but advice is not readily accessible. I think there’s a certain elitism about having a lighting designer.

Peter Veale: Have you ever seen one of those programmes where, at the end, you think the lighting design is good?

Karen van Creveld: Some of them are appalling. Sometimes those programmes do us more harm than good, but the better programmes show what is possible to meet people’s aspirations.

I think that, for the client, there’s often a lack of information about where to get lighting design advice. Misunderstood concepts are bandied about by people like electricians who have a different kind of knowledge. For the client it’s quite difficult to get a grasp of what constitutes good lighting.

Entering the mainstream
Ray Molony:
Sally, you’ve written a lot of books on lighting the home. Do you think it’s something that could be more mainstream?

Sally Storey: The first book I wrote was Lighting (Recipes & Ideas). It was a practical, DIY book about lighting and it put into simple terms everything that we do. Things like, put a 5A socket in the corner and have an uplighter there, something different from the central pendant.

You divide things up into different rooms, but the same techniques are used in lots of different rooms - even in the garden. It’s just a case of reinforcing those ideas and giving people confidence.

Having written a book, I have been asked to do lectures, and the people who come to those lectures aren’t all hugely rich and they’re making reams of notes. Some of those who come could probably afford to hire a lighting designer, but there are a lot there who are there just to try to learn about it.

“People are terrified by electrics. That’s why they go back to these installations with a single pendant or a grid of four downlights”
Sally Storey, Lighting Design International

Karen van Creveld: When I’ve lectured, I’ve always insisted on going back to basics - talking about light before I’ll talk about lighting design. You’re not really going to be able to go beyond suggesting a few tips and they, unfortunately, can get taken out of context. People like to take away a rule of lighting and then they churn it out again and again.

Reaching the public
Ray Molony:
So how do we reach those people who don’t buy books on lighting design? How do we tell people about these techniques?

John Bullock: I think one of the problems is that people don’t relight their homes very often. As Sally says, it’s about confidence to be able to go out and risk doing something wrong. But because they’re not doing it often, it’s difficult to say, “I’m confident about what I’m doing1

Sally Storey: People are terrified by electrics. That’s why, in the end, they go back to these installations with a single pendant or a grid of four downlights. They just chucked it in because the architect or the interior designer said so and they didn’t know any better.

Chris Jackson: There are people out there who think lighting design is simply the choice of a fitting. They’ve been given a scheme that generally consists of pendants and wall lighters and downlights in the kitchen and bathroom.

I’ve recently bought a property, and it had exactly that. To rip it all out and to replaster the ceilings and change the lighting design costs a lot of money, so people look for a retrofit solution.

Unfortunately, the quality of products in the mainstream is very poor.

Karen van Creveld: Yes, Joe Public can’t go to the specifying market we use, he has to go to a retail outlet, and those retail outlets only stock a certain quality and it’s usually poor.

Mary Rushton-Beales: You can avoid the retailers and go through the internet. I helped my friend with a kitchen, and we purchased a nice fluorescent glass shelf for the kitchen, only about £40.

Karen van Creveld: But I think internet shopping can be dangerous. If you Google ‘LED striplight1 you’ll get hundreds of people selling these things and there’s no way of ascertaining the quality. I still need to see the product.

Mary Rushton-Beales: There are two or three big websites you can use, but I don’t think they give any advice. I was holding my friend’s hand when we made the choice, I was making informed decisions.

Give them the tools
Chris Jackson:
Often once they’ve got the products they don’t know how to use them. They’re not lighting designers, so they need guidance.

John Bullock: People will go onto the internet to look for advice, and they’ll find lighting designers. The question is, when they come to us, how how do we respond, knowing that they’re on a limited budget?

Do we say “well, if you can’t afford £20k then you can’t come1 or are we all going to write self-help books?

Paula Owen: I’m a typical punter. I like the idea of good lighting. I know what good lighting is. But there’s no way I could afford for anyone around this table to come and light my old, Edwardian house. There must be a lot of people like me.

John Bullock: I lost out on a BBC series to Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen - who is clearly a much better lighting designer than I am. The original premise was exactly that. You take an ordinary house and ask: “How do we make that work?” This personally interests me because I live in a rented farmhouse and there are things I’ll do for my landlord and there are things I won’t.

Most of the answers will have to be portable. If there’s a central shade, go and buy a cheap paper shade and stick a blue lamp in it and see what happens.

Chris Jackson: Yes, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Karen van Creveld: You might have a bed with a headboard and want to integrate some lighting behind the headboard so it lights up behind you. You could get a linear batten fluorescent fitting and just put it behind the bed with a gel on it.

Sally Storey: And you could put an uplighter on the top of a wardrobe.

Karen van Creveld: Most people who have no access to that sort of design would not think about doing that. But when you do it the effect is remarkable. It’s all about giving people that box of tools.

Ray Molony: How is new technology affecting residential lighting design?

Sally Storey: I don’t think there’s ever been a time when lighting has changed so much, so quickly. If you’d asked me to do a few things in January, my whole specification would be completely different now than it was then.

John Bullock: I do feel very conscious putting specifications together and thinking, “this is intermediate stuff, in five years this is going to be old hat”.

There are so many CFLs available that at some point there’ll be a rationalisation. They’ll decide to get rid of all the two pins, or get rid of all the four pins, and half the fittings out there are suddenly going to be redundant.

Mary Rushton-Beales: We just keep creating more lamps. Nothing ever seems to really die. I started my career at Philips Lighting and on my first day they said: “Mary, there are 8,000 light sources and we want you to learn them all by the end of the day1

I reckon there are more than 50,000 light sources today.

Sally Storey: If things are moving so quickly for a lighting designer, it’s very hard for the general public to keep up.

Chris Jackson: I’ve just completed a penthouse apartment that’s solely lit with LED and it was very tricky, but the outcome’s very good. Even those areas where you want warmth and good colour rendering and good colour temperature - we’ve managed to achieve that.

Ray Molony: Did the client want LEDs?

Chris Jackson: It was the buzzword ‘LED’ really. It’s a high-tech penthouse apartment close to the City, the developer wanted all the computer-controlled toys in there with controls and touch-panels.

My fear is what will happen when they get to end of life? It’s not just a matter of changing the lamp, somebody’s is going to have to change the fittings, and by then LED technology will have moved on rapidly. It’ll probably need a rewire and a completely new installation.

The LED is not the best solution for various issues, as we all know, but I think they can be used with other technologies in the home, especially outside, to great effect. But I don’t think they are necessarily the be-all and end-all of lighting.

The LED experience
Ray Molony:
What are people’s experiences of LEDs in the domestic environment?

Sally Storey: It’s getting the colour right. I tend to use them for precise things like a steplight or a low-level indicator light or even a shelf light with a linear strip, but I have to say I trial each of them because the colour of the whites varies. Also the colour of the whites when you’re lighting timber is important. Timber can look very green under one light.

Karen van Creveld: I think LEDs are quite handy for residential exteriors. The colour is the issue, but the better LEDs are also the more expensive ones. ACDC has got a great downlight, and the LED board can be replaced - that answers the question of the longevity of the fitting. But it’s expensive.

LEDs are limited for residential use.

John Bullock: With LEDs we’ve got to separate the light source from the fitting - that little game is over - we’ve got to have LED lamps that stand on their own, they’ve got to be replaceable, they’ve got to fit into a standard socket of one sort or another to make them more generally useable.

Sally Storey: The best thing about LEDs is their size. The compact fluorescent is too much like office lighting. If I’m using fluorescent, I tend to use it in an indirect way, otherwise it just feels like you’re in the office.

It’s interesting that the manufacturers are trying to make a more efficient tungsten source. There are two things that we all want in the home. One is that when you dim your lights you want them to become warmer, the other is the sparkle from the filament.

Ray Molony: Osram and Philips are gearing up massively for mains halogen that will look exactly like a GLS. Efficacy will be over 40 lumens per watt.

Quality sacrificed for efficiency
Chris Jackson:
People are jumping on the bandwagon, banning the bulb and replacing them with CFLs, but some of the low wattage CFLs are not necessarily that high in efficacy. I was looking at a 5W lamp and it was 44 lumens per watt, now that’s not a great target to be trying to achieve. We’re easily achieving that now with general LED fittings.

“If there’s a central shade, go and buy a cheap paper shade and stick a blue lamp in it and see what happens”
John Bullock, John Bullock Lighting Design

Do we have to lose the quality of the light source because of the energy issue? Should be look at the products individually or at the whole installation? A mixture of energy efficient with traditional halogen or tungsten sources can be a very efficient installation.

Karen van Creveld: I’ve been in a hotel room that was lit only by CFLs and it was dull, it felt unpleasant, it felt underlit. Somebody had clearly designed the lighting for this hotel, and yet the effect was awful.

If you ask the general public, they’ll say, “I felt so miserable in that hotel room1 and yet they don’t know why.

Paula Owen: The Energy Saving Trust has had to do a lot of work to change public opinion about CFLs. What we try to do is to keep the quality up. We have a marque that you can put on a lamp if it meets certain requirements - brightness, warmth, hours of use.

We’re trying to promote the best by getting people to look for the quality ones and get over the perception that they are bad.

The road to L
Sally Storey:
To be honest, Part L, to my mind, has gone the wrong way. It should all have been done on watts per square metre, so you have the choice to be very low in one area and much higher in another. Most homes don’t have to be lit like an office, mostly it’s about pools of light and creating an ambience.

Mary Rushton-Beales: I want to talk about outside lighting. I’ve had three or four recent instances where we’ve been an expert witness on light spill for developments. A lot of the local authorities are supposed to have lighting designers and a strategy. It’s a good thing that we’re finally being involved in looking at the quality of outside lighting, partly because of this sudden interest in light trespass.

Ray Molony: Is there more demand for landscape, garden and exterior lighting?

Sally Storey: I think the public wants it more. You might have a setting with lights only immediately outside. At home, all I have to do most of the time is just light the terrace, but if I had friends over, I could light to the end of the garden.

Karen van Creveld: My pet hate is decklights. That’s another one of these misunderstandings and popular ideas without much basis. They don’t really do anything, they’re just blobs of colour.

Ray Molony: People get their lighting education from walking down the lighting aisle in Homebase.

Chris Jackson: Yes, the general public needs a lot more education about lighting. They need to stop thinking about products individually and think about design instead.


Metering madness

Paula Owen: The problem with electricity tariffs is that the first 500 or 900 units you use are at a high rate, and the more you use the cheaper it gets. That is such a perverse way of doing it. All you have to do is flip it over - the average home uses about 4,000 kilowatt-hours in a year, take that, put that at a lower rate and bump up the rate for anything over that.

John Bullock: When I was doing my apprenticeship with the electricity board, industrial users paid a maximum demand tariff. That was difficult to do before we had computerised metering, but it’s very easy to do now. You were guaranteed that you wouldn’t take a load of more than, say, half a megawatt, and if you used more than that you paid, and you paid heavily.

Now it’d only be a small step to apply this to the domestic sector. If the threshold was only 500W, it starts to get interesting. It would affect lighting and running a mixed scheme. If you installed 300W of halogen and then turned your TV and kettle on, you’d be buggered.


Around the table

The participants in the Lutron/Lighting residential lighting forum were:
Ray Molony, editor, Lighting
John Bullock, John Bullock Lighting Design
Matt Bridges, Lutron
Chris Jackson, Lighting Analysts and The Bartlett
Paula Owen, Energy Saving Trust
Martin Preston, Lutron
Mary Rushton-Beales, The Lighting Design House
Sally Storey, Lighting Design International
Simon Thorpe, LAPD
Karen van Creveld
Peter Veale
, Firefly


Readers' comments (1)

  • Thats why I spent the last three years on getting a hybrid CFL onto the market. Houses can have a fluorescent OR tungsten light from the same ''bulb'' and dimmable as well. WHY need change the light fitting that you had for years. Was a dimmable 100w tungsten lamp that bad ? All the classic lamps need good alternatives. Do we intend that probably 100-million dimmer switches be simply added to the waste stream. Don't ask me my full thoughts on this subject. Be enough we abolish the imported 10pence tungsten and replace it with imported LED's for £6 !!! Great for the Nation who not see as they busy disposing of their dimmer switches.

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