For Getting Your Lights Right, Placement Equals Perfection
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For Getting Your Lights Right, Placement Equals Perfection

Aug 08, 2023

Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week, we explored how to get the light placement just right in your home.

A striking light fixture hung from above can add illuminating detail to your space. “Lighting is key to any space and can make or break a scheme as the atmosphere of the room can be significantly affected by the lighting choice,” said Charlie Bowles, director of original BTC lighting in Oxfordshire, England. However, the height at which you hang it matters. Here, advice from the design pros on how to get the light just right.

Take the Space into Account

“The right decorative selection infuses a room with ambient light. Ambient light is also integral in blending the other layers of light in a space; for example, accent lighting aimed at art.

“In rooms with high ceilings(12-feet-and-up), dropping the fixture to occupy the top one-third of overall room height is a good metric. Fixtures in low ceilings should be held tighter to the ceiling so they are not obstructive. Keep in mind, fixtures can be lost when mounted too high in a vast space, and the ambient light won’t breathe as it’s designed to. When mounted too low, it can be unnerving for tall people.

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“Dining tables, and especially kitchen islands, have higher requirements for light levels. I like to supplement decorative fixtures with tight-beam spread recessed architectural lighting in these scenarios, so the decorative fixture can be dimmed to a comfortable level while the recessed does the work. Ketra is a good solution for the supplemental layer, because it can be color-tuned to a brighter, whiter task light while cooking and warmed to a more ambient vibe when entertaining.

“We study ceiling height, scale and function of a room, as well as hierarchy. I tend to think the bigger decorative moments are reserved for important rooms, whereas a succession of surface-mounts could be successful in a corridor.

“If a bespoke fixture is being designed, we recommend mocking it up in the space before signing off on the scale.”

— Nathan Orsman of Orsman Design in New York and Miami

Consider the Effect

“Lighting length depends on where the fixture is being positioned, the fixture itself, the height of the ceilings and the feel you are wanting to create in a room. I always recommend being there in person when the fixture is being installed and working with the electrician to situate the light to your preference.

“If you hang your light too high, you will not notice or be able to appreciate it. It can also cause the pool of light to be wide with less focus on a particular area. Hanging the fixture too low may reduce the pool of light too much and prevent the rest of the room from being lit properly. You also need to think about head height: Is the light positioned where people will be walking underneath it or into it if it is positioned too low? If the light casts an interesting shadow around the room, check to make sure you are happy with where those shadows fall and adjust the height appropriately.

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“If you have good ceiling height you can always go for large pieces. The size of the fixture then depends on how much of a focus or statement you want the lights to be in the room. If the lights are in an area where you will be standing around chatting, consider whether they will be in the way of the eye line. Lights can also be used to help create zones in larger rooms by using lights over dining tables, coffee tables or seating areas.

“If you are wanting to keep the space free and open but want the decorative look of a pendant, a flush light can be a great choice. Also, where you don’t have the ceiling height, flush fixtures are the perfect choice. They can be used for zoning or simply throwing a bit more light in a darker area of a room.

— Charlie Bowles, director of Original BTC lighting in Oxfordshire, England

Think About the Task Surface

“A beautiful light fixture is a unique opportunity to influence the room both aesthetically and functionally. Light itself is an essential element of interior design, and how you bring that light into the room is so important.

“The size of the table or task surface is very important, as is the activity taking place. A table primarily intended for dining would require a lower light level, 7 to 15 footcandles [a metric that measures illumination] typically, than a kitchen island where you are going to be chopping vegetables, where 30 footcandles minimum is recommended.

“Typically, you would want to match the fixture (if it’s linear) to the length of the table or island you are suspending over but keep it a little shorter. A fixture hung too low will block sightlines and/or create a hotspot on the table or work surface. On the other hand, a fixture hung too high might create unintended glare issues because you are able to see up into the fixture. Plus, the light on the task surface will be weaker than is preferable.

“The size of the fixture itself depends on the room and where the fixture is being used but I think about eye level (are you typically seated or standing?), the light distribution from the fixture (how and where do you want the light to go?), and of course visual proportion.

“Ceiling height is the biggest factor. If it’s 8 feet or lower, I would recommend a good flush/surface-mounted fixture.”

New York-based Tom Simon, design and product development manager at Juniper

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By Jennifer Tzeses Take the Space into AccountMore: — Nathan Orsman ofOrsman Design in New York and MiamiConsider the EffectMore: — Charlie Bowles, director of Original BTC lighting in Oxfordshire, EnglandThink About the Task SurfaceNew York-based Tom Simon, design and product development manager at Juniper