The Psychology of Interior Lighting: Artificial Light

In lesson 2 of interior lighting, I show you how using different layers of artificial lighting can transform the atmosphere of your space.

In my last psychology lesson on lighting, we covered the various ways that daylight can affect a space. This lesson will pick up where we left off and will focus on artificial lighting. Light is the animator of space — it can be used to make a big statement. Lighting can make the difference between a vibrant and exciting or a serene and calming space.

Home of Fiona Richardson via Design Files
Design by Casa Joesphine via AD Spain

Psychology Introduction: Light & Temperature

The wavelengths of light are measured on a scale of nanometers. Whereas natural daylight has a wide range of wavelengths between 300 and 700 nanometers, low sodium lighting, such as the type used in warehouses and car parks, has a narrow range of about 10 nanometers, which makes it difficult to distinguish between colours and makes all colours look grey.

To reproduce colours as faithfully as possible low voltage downlights are used. They are often used in bathrooms and kitchens as they are most suitable for work environments. You can also find them in the form of directional spotlights above the vegetable aisle at the supermarket as a way of enhancing the colours and textures.

Light bulbs also come in warm or cold temperatures and whichever one you choose should be aligned with your preferences and the atmosphere that you want to create. Studies have shown that warmer lights are generally preferred in the UK where the weather is often cold and gloomy. In comparison, many bustling, modern, commercial Asian metropolises prefer bright, crisp and cooler (bluer) light sources.

Lesson 1

Three Layers Of Lighting

Try as we may, we will never be able to lighten a room as efficiently as the sun does. The art of artificial lighting is to go beyond making a well-lit and functional room and learn how to create an atmospheric and moody environment. For me, the most helpful way of thinking of lighting has been to think of it in three layers.

General Light

The purpose of this light is to think about how to light the room in the most functional way possible.

  • Most rooms have at least one light in the middle of the room. Depending on the layout of your furniture, this might be all you need. The central position of this light in the room makes it an ideal opportunity to choose a light fixture that serves as a focal point and a floating piece of sculptural art in the room.

    Home of Harry Nuriev photographed by Mikhail Loskutov
    Studio of designer Tommaso Spinyi via Yatzer
  • Another option could be a ceiling fixture with multiple directional spotlights that point into different directions. This allows for a diffusion of the light and a dissipation of shadows. You can use them to illuminate corners or draw attention to a feature in the room you want to highlight. I think this might work especially well in a long narrow hallway that only has one light outlet.

    Kelly Wearstler's home
  • Many newly built apartments come with downlights already installed. Their placement depends on the size of your room but they are usually placed in rows. You could replace these with an adjustable downlight version to achieve a similar effect as with the directional lights. I personally love how Pierre Yavanovitch has reinvented the traditional row of ceiling downlights in the image below.

    Design by Pierre Yovanovitch

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is simply anything that creates a mood. These are usually pools of light throughout the room: wall lights, picture lights, table lamps, and candles.

    Hotel Paris designed by Azzedine Alaia (via April May)
    Beton Brut Studio via The Modern House
    Design by Fleur Delasalle via Elle Decoration Sweden
    Home of Juliette Wanty photographed by Michelle Weir (via Sight Unseen)

Task Lighting

The purpose of task lighting is to illuminate an area that has a specific function. Examples include, but are not limited to: desk lights, bedside lamps, reading lights, kitchen counter lights, bathroom mirror lights, closet lights, etc.

    Delphine Courteille Salon in Paris
    Derek Blasberg's home via AD
    Derek Blasberg's closet via AD
    Design by Pappas Miron, Photography by Sargent Photo (via Domino Mag)
    Lamp by Hans Verstuyft
    Muller van Severens family compound in Ghent (via Sight Unseen)

Lighting As Art

To wrap up our second and last lesson on lighting, let me share with you some of my current favourite statement lights.

    Lamp by Katie Stout
    Lamp by Sarah Nedovic
    Lamps by Stine Mikkelsen

Wondering how you can apply the psychology of lighting to create the mood you want for your home? DM me a photo with a brief description on Instagram — @atelierakuko — and I'll happily send you some suggestions.

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