How to design feature lighting for your home - Lifestyle NZ
How to design feature lighting for your home

How to design feature lighting for your home

Feature lighting can inject class and charisma into any space. Here’s how to take your home lighting to the next level.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

Lighting design is an art and feature lighting is a vital part of any lighting palette. Light paints contrast and drama onto a space, and feature lighting is the brush with which you choose how it’s applied.

Here’s everything you need to know about using feature lighting to enhance interior spaces.

What are the different types of lighting?

Before we get to feature lighting, it’s helpful to understand the more basic categories of lighting, of which there are three. In most cases, the best lighting designs will use all of them, each to their strengths.

1. General or ambient lighting

Ambient lighting provides the main source of light for a room. It’s used for basic visibility and illumination of a space, and is a primary driver of how a room is experienced — a fact that makes ambient lighting important to get right.

Dimming switches can provide some flexibility in terms of how much ambient light a room is filled with. They control a light’s output, allowing for different light levels in different situations.

Recessed downlights, wall lights or central pendant lights are commonly used for ambient lighting.

2. Task lighting

Task lighting provides a light source for a specific task; a freestanding lamp, for example, over a favourite reading chair or a fixed pendant light over a kitchen island. Task lighting provides a more finely directed light than ambient lighting, which makes it perfect for adding light in places where it’s needed, without having to raise the ambient light level of the room.

3. Accent lighting

Accent lighting is used to highlight elements of a room or structure. Think cove lighting around a ceiling’s perimeter or a light that draws attention to a piece of art. Layers of accent lighting can be stacked upon each other to create new light textures and moods.

The character of any given space is created with a combination of different lighting sources and styles, all working in concert to create the overall lighting aesthetic of a room.

What is feature lighting?

Feature lighting can provide any of the three lighting functions, but it always does so with a strong eye towards aesthetics. The point of feature lighting is not utilitarian; how it looks is just as important as its light output.

The design-focus behind feature lighting is what makes it important to tie any lighting choices into the existing (or to be created) design elements of the room. Feature lights should play nice with the existing decor of the room, not contrast them.

Feature lights should work with the decor of the room.

Colour is especially important in this respect — not only of the fixture itself but the colour temperature of the lights you choose to occupy them. Spanning from a cool blue to a warm orange, the colour temperature scale and where your lights sit on it makes a huge difference to the mood of a room. A cold light can make an angular room feel sharper, and a warm light can make a cosy room even cosier. Consider the space and what it needs before choosing the colour temperature of the lights you put in it.  

The function of the room cannot be ignored either. What works in a bedroom may not be the right choice for a kitchen, and vice versa. Jazzy feature lighting that captures your attention might be overpowering in a bedroom that’s supposed to be relaxing, whereas an ambient wall-lighting collage might be too subtle for your kitchen.

To kick start your planning, take a look through ArchiPro’s Projects and Products. There you’ll find wells of inspiration, and countless images you can save to your personal Design Board. 

What types of lights can you use for feature lighting?

Pendant lights

Pendant lights hang from the ceiling and generally contribute to the ambient light in a room. From elegant chandeliers to abstract light installations, pendant lights make some of the best large feature ceiling lights. 

Floor lamps

Floor lamps are incredibly versatile as feature lights. They can be used as task lights for a favourite reading nook, accents for highlighting decorative elements, and even command attention on their own as ambient-light providers. A sculptural floor lamp can often be used as a central design feature of the room; a piece of art in its own right — offering both function and beauty.

Lamps can make bold feature lighting statements.

LED lights

LED lights are known for their ability to output more lumens per watt than traditional bulbs. What that means is more light with less power. They don’t create much heat either, which makes them a low fire risk compared with other kinds of lights. The unique characteristics of LED lights make them suitable for feature lighting applications that other lights can’t tackle, such as being lined up in a strip on an LED feature wall or concentrated in a tight space with low airflow.

What is the best way to choose feature lighting?

Designing the best feature lighting for a space is always going to come down to personal taste, but there are a few questions that are worth considering when you’re choosing home lighting.

1. What is the function of the room?

Feature lighting will play a different role depending on the function of the room. A bedroom will call for a different mood than will a kitchen or dining room.

2. What does the rest of the room look like?

If you’re starting with a blank canvas, the opportunities for feature lighting are endless. However, it’s important to consider the size and configuration of the space and the design aims. Conversely, if feature lighting is being specified for a space that is already furnished, the considerations will be different. For example, a room with considerable furniture and various textures and colours may suit more pared back feature lighting while a large, cavernous room with high ceilings might be well occupied by an oversized and captivating hanging feature light.

3. Where — and how bright — are the other lights in the room?

While the job of feature lighting isn’t to provide the majority of a room’s ambient light, the output of feature pieces needs to be considered. 

In a dining room that lacks a lot of ambient light, for example, a single pendant light with a low output might not be enough. While in a case like this a pendant light could still be the feature piece, it’s likely supplementary lighting will be required to ensure the ambient lighting is sufficient. 

Similarly, if the room already incorporates a combination of task and ambient lighting, more flexibility with feature lighting is possible, with required outputs less important than the design features of the piece.

4. What colour lights do you want?

There once was a time when the only colour you get from a light was the familiar tungsten glow of an incandescent bulb. With the range of LED lighting options available today, however, you have a much broader colour palette to play with when designing feature lighting, beyond the traditional cool to warm colour temperature scale of traditional lighting options. As previously mentioned, colour plays an enormous role in creating the mood of a room, so make these decisions carefully.

Think about the colours that exist in the space you’re lighting and what colour light could enhance their appearance. If you install colour changing lights, you can change the colour of your feature lighting as you change the interior design of your room.

Coloured LED lighting can change the mood of a room in an instant. Image: Display Lighting.

5. How high are your ceilings?

Ceiling height has a big influence on how well a chandelier or pendant light will suit a room. This is especially important for lights with fixed hanging lengths or when choosing lighting for over a dining table or kitchen island.

Measure your ceiling height before you start your search and save yourself the pain of choosing something you love only to later find it would hang too close to the table or kitchen bench.

There are no set-in-stone rules about how far from the ceiling a pendant light should hang (apart from the obvious ‘high enough that no one bumps their head’. Beyond that, choose a length that maximises the light projection you desire while also striking the right visual chord.

Take your ceiling height into account when hanging feature lights.

Are you looking to introduce some feature lighting to your home? Connect with the top lighting designers and electricians today, and start creating your new lighting look.

Top banner image credit: Inlite 

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