Walk into a room, flick a switch, and your room is normally filled with light. Is it the right light though? Could it be designed to help your health and well-being? Are there any rules or recommendations you should follow when installing new lights in your home?
We put all of these questions and more to Mary Rushton-Beales, a lighting designer and founder of Lighting Design House, a bespoke lighting practice based in the UK. Rushton-Beales has spent the last twenty years working with architects, interior designers, engineers, landscape architects and retail experts to create lighting projects ranging from installations on the London Underground through to airports to homes.
"We need light for so many reasons from health to making our lives work better," explains Rushton-Beales when we asked why lighting is so important. "We have evolved to respond to a natural cycle of light and dark, day and night, that changes gently but dynamically over time.
But in our very recent history we have deliberately ignored these natural rhythms and we expect our bodies to cope with instant and prolonged high levels of artificial lighting. It is like fast food: many of us are getting the wrong light, at the wrong time. We need to think about the amount and quality of light we need and avoid bingeing on it."
Light demands in our home have changed
In the home, one of the the simplest things you can do is to have enough light to do what you want to do, according to Ruston-Beales. It sounds like an obvious thing, but it's surprising how many people don't do it in their homes.
For many people, the average home hasn't fully caught up with our changing work and leisure behaviours, and in particular our urge to work from home some, if not all of the time. According to a report in 2014 by the Office of National Statistics in the UK, 4.2 million, that's about 13.9 per cent, of the UK workforce worked from home. That's a lot of people potentially working in poorly lit environments.
"Go to John Lewis or Ikea, for example, and look at how they've lit their rooms to see what their settings are like," says Rushton-Beales.
The idea is that by looking at what others have done, you should be able to get some idea of what you can achieve in your own home in the same way you would when it comes to buying a piece of furniture. Once you've worked out what kind of lights you like, you then need to look at the light itself and what light it provides.
"50 to 100 lux is good for general living, but for working, the recommended levels are around 300-500 lux. Make sure you have extra light to do specific tasks and the lights you are buying are up to the job," Rushton-Beales tells Pocket-lint.
"Light to do homework in should be colder and brighter if possible. If you can, change the light every hour to give you and your family a break, whether that's going into a different room or stepping outside. Being able to vary the colour of light is really good. That's what happens in the real world, so replicating that in the home is really nice."
The lighting designer continues: "Research has shown that you can stimulate the brain when it wants to rest, using a bluer, cooler light to increase alertness."
Lighting designers have embraced the offer of multi-colour ascents and app controlled lighting to help "paint" rooms with washes of colour that can be changed or adapted to suit the mood or needs of the environment's inhabitants.
"Psychologically, light can have a huge effect on your wellbeing," adds Rushton-Beales.
Eight tips for lighting your home
That's the why, but what about the how? Here are eight tips from Rushton-Beales that you should try and follow when adding new lights to your home.
1. In the kitchen, try and light the working surfaces. Use everything you can: pendants, down lighters, strips under the above cupboards. It is about creating layers of light rather than it just coming from a single source.
2. Do everything you can before you add downlights. They are the easiest and cheapest option, but are very boring. Nobody has ever said "don't those down lighters look good". You'll get a functionally lit place, but it won't be exciting.
3. Think about how are you going to control the lights. Is that by two-way lighting switches or something else? Also, you should think about where the switches are going to be. Do you need them by the door? Should they be low-level for kids? Do you even need them at all?
4. Maximise daylight. It sounds silly, but eat near the window if you can, and if you can't, make sure you go for a walk first thing. It will get your body working and up to speed.
5. If you are doing a new-build or an extension, don't leave it too late before you start thinking about lighting. Make sure it's one of the first things you do. If you can, make sure you factor in the depth of the ceiling and any access you need. In the case of the Philips Hue lights, the light strips need a plug socket. Many people love the idea of a fancy light dome or special fitting only to find that there isn't enough space to fit it when it comes to it and then have to change their plans at the last minute.
6. Look around you to see what others are doing, not just in department stores, but in restaurants, bars and hotels to get ideas. Public spaces have a much faster turnover and the designers are happier to take risks. That gives you a huge canvas to pick and choose what will work well for you in your environment.
7. In a kitchen don't use cabinet lights if you've got solid shelves, and if you can, add lights under the cabinets to light your work surfaces.
8. Sleep in complete darkness or use red/amber shades of low-level light. Of all the research Rushton-Beales has done on how light affects our bodies, she has found the physiological need for darkness is almost more important than the need for brightness and variety of light. When our bodies are properly asleep, natural healing hormones are released. These regulate our body clock, reduce the risk of depression and some studies show they can fight cancer and reduce susceptibility to lots of other illnesses. We really do "feel better after a good nights sleep"!
The Pocket-lint Philips Hue installation
For Pocket-lint's installation, Rushton-Beales first analysed the space and then worked with us to find our needs. She then used lighting heat maps and 3D CAD drawings to create and design a suitable lighting environment.
For us, the most cost effective and dynamic way to proceed was to use the Philips Hue lightbulbs that allowed the kitchen/family room to be used in a variety of ways.
The installation, one of Rushton-Beales' most adventurous designs to date, includes 24 Hue lights in total. Light strips, down lighters, uplighters, and pendants have all been used to create layers of light that can not only be turned on via a central switch panel, but can also be changed and adapted via the Philips Hue app, either as part of a scene or individually.
The Philips Hue light strips, recessed into the ceiling, add accents of colour to the experience, while still providing an ambient light when there isn't a need for the two Philips Hue Beyond lights that sit over the 3-metre long kitchen island to be on.
Those Philips Hue Beyond lights offer up to 500 lux of light giving plenty of light to work or prepare food.
In addition, there are six Philips Hue GU10 down lighters in the room that can be lit when specific light is needed, either over the work tops or the kitchen table. A further four Philips Hue GU10 bulbs are installed in the floor, bridging the divide between inside and out. The idea is to help convince the eye, along with matching floor tiles and a large sliding patio door, that the kitchen and the outside patio are a single space.