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Industry insights

Interior designer's top five lighting design questions answered.

A panel of leading interior designers answers five of your burning questions on lighting design, from what to consider, to when to do so. Their expert advice will shed light on how to get the most from your scheme.

Read on for the insights from industry leaders Siobhan Kelly- Director at David Collins Studio, Simone Suss- Founder of Studio Suss, Brian Woulfe- Founder of Designed by Woulfe, Rodrigo Moreno Masey- Founder of Studio MorenoMasey and chaired by Simon Stewart- Director at Charles Burnand.

1. When should you start thinking about lighting design in a project?

Siobhan Kelly- Director at David Collins Studio.
Siobhan Kelly- Director at David Collins Studio.
We start the conversation as early as we possibly can.- Siobhan Kelly, Associate Director at David Collins Studio.

The panel unanimously agreed that successful lighting schemes are born from early consideration. Whether you're working with a lighting designer, or going it alone, working on a lighting plan in tandem with the design scheme means the two work harmoniously.

"What I've learnt is that a lighting designer can only give you a good result if you give them a detailed enough brief at the start."- Brian Woulfe, Founder of Designed by Woulfe.

2. What to consider?

The interior design panel discussing lighting design on the eporta x Decorex Seminar Theatre Stage 2019
The interior design panel discussing lighting design on the eporta x Decorex Seminar Theatre Stage 2019
"Be clear before you start a lighting conversation that you know what you want to achieve." - Siobhan Kelly.

There are an enormous number of variables to consider when it comes to a lighting scheme, here the panel digest these into five critical points; atmosphere, tasks, flow, special features and control. Let's have a look at each.

Ambience and atmosphere

"How do you want to feel? It really comes down to the brief and understanding how everyone wants to feel at every moment in the space."- Simone Suss, Founder of Studio Suss.

So much of interior design is about encouraging or allowing a user to feel a certain way. Lighting can help you achieve that goal, with a soft golden glow wash to promote relaxation, through to stimulating daylight hues for excited energy.

Consider the emotion and atmosphere you want to create and layer the lighting accordingly, the temperature of the light source has a particular impact here.

Simone Suss- Founder of Studio Suss.
Simone Suss- Founder of Studio Suss.


"We divide the space into a series of moments of inhabitation and living, where one might sleep, eat drink or read a book, you use these moments of real-life to dictate how you control light in the situation." - Rodrigo Moreno Masey, Founder of Studio MorenoMasey.

Tasks are such an important consideration in lighting that an entire lighting type is eponymously named after it.

There's nothing worse than a space that doesn't suit your needs. If you're trying to look at your screen through glare, or you have to squint to read a book then something's not right.

Task lighting and the planning that goes into its placement can make or break a scheme.

Rodrigo Moreno Masey- Founder of Studio MorenoMasey.
Rodrigo Moreno Masey- Founder of Studio MorenoMasey.


"Think about how a space is going to be used in real-life, not just on a drawing board or computer screen."- Rodrigo Moreno Masey.

Floor plans are the bedrock of most designs, it indicates where each of the above tasks is designed to take place, but also shows how users will flow from one to the other.

Effective lighting schemes help direct the spaces flow too. Moving users safely and efficiently from place to place, whether purposely creating areas of light and shade or a constant wash of light that encourages general circulation, deciding on flow is fundamental.

Simon Stewart- Director at Charles Burnand.
Simon Stewart- Director at Charles Burnand.

Purpose and highlights

"Ask yourself, what's the purpose of this lighting?" - Simon Stewart, Director at Charles Burnand.

This sounds obvious, but understanding the purpose of a light fixture is necessary.

Does it have a specific function? Identifying particular jobs in the scheme, such as lighting artwork or architecture, demands attention. These require unique light fixtures and are often of crucial importance to the client and their budget.

Brian Woulfe- Founder of Designed by Woulfe.
Brian Woulfe- Founder of Designed by Woulfe.


"How do clients imagine controlling the light in their spaces?" - Brian Woulfe.

As buildings become more reliant on technology, from residential to hospitality, the knock-on effect on interior design and lighting systems is becoming more apparent.

Discussing with a client how they want to control their lighting is the role of the interior designer, do they want a fully integrated system incorporating audiovisual too, or is it simply a dimmable switch.

Thinking about this early saves retrofitting at a later stage.

3. How to budget for lighting?

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"Budget depends on the project and the client's priorities, as to how we apportion the budget. Often we look at statement pieces as something separate." - Siobhan Kelly

No-one on the panel had a hard and fast rule on budget allocation for lighting. However, it is fair to assume it accounts for a sizeable portion, because why design a fantastic space that can't be seen or perceived the way you envisage it.

Many on the panel consider bespoke or statement lighting as a separate expenditure to the lighting budget because they can be pieces of art themselves, or have a purpose so integral to the overall scheme.

Having clearly defined the above criteria, alongside educating the client as to how lighting can make or break a scheme, with illustrative examples makes budget allocation less contentious.

4. How to approach bespoke orders?

Lighting pieces can be real show stoppers, a dramatic chandelier spanning several floors or a neon sign that depicts a brands message. Whatever the purpose, bespoke lighting adds personality and uniqueness.

The panel of interior designers shared their top tips for co-creating the project perfect piece.

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Right person

"Fundamentally it's about knowing you are working with the right person for the right piece, so you don't end up battling the maker to achieve something that doesn't suit their style or approach." - Rodrigo Moreno Masey.

Time and respect

"It's about having respect for the craft and the time it takes, to allocate enough into your overall program. And also, communicate to your client the benefit of investing the time into that piece." - Siobhan Kelly.

Take advice

"Rely heavily on their expertise, take advice from them, they make lighting pieces for a living. We can give them the concepts, we can indicate what we want to achieve in a particular space, but take their advice." -Brian Woulfe.

5.What's the difference between designing lighting schemes for residential and commercial spaces?

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There is an argument that commercial spaces allow designers to take more risks with lighting their schemes than residential projects, which has only been encouraged in the age of Instagram.

"I think you can sometimes take more risks with commercial schemes, in the age of Instagram, especially. Designers are designing things that are more Instagramable because that makes it more memorable." - Simone Suss.

In fact, the panel agreed that there has been a notable increase in the demand for that wow factor, Instagramable memorable moment that sets the project apart, mainly as it makes commercial sense to stand out but also because commercial spaces are more forgiving.

"The time you spend in a commercial space is just so much shorter than in a residential one. So you're able to create a sense of theatre and scene... whereas in a residential design you have to be slightly cleverer how you create that drama. because it can become tiresome or annoying." Rodrigo Moreno Masey.

But one thing remains the same for any space, what you consider and when.

"The process is similar you work out what you're trying to achieve and bring lighting into the discussion early."- Siobhan Kelly.

You can watch the whole lighting discussion from the Decorex x eporta Seminar Theatre above here.

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