Arriving at a lighting technique that complements the textures and
colours of all the surfaces in a space is almost guaranteed to raise the
temperature of any discussion between architect, interior designer and
lighting consultant. Regardless of the fittings that will go into a space,
there are rules and relationships that govern the play of light off, for
example, polished, as opposed to rough concrete (below).
A rough surface can be made to look flatter by lighting it from further
away and from a low angle, or you can emphasise its texture with a source
that is offset slightly but also closer. The more light a surface absorbs, the
darker it appears, even with the same illuminance. Leaving aside colour
for the time being, matt and textured surfaces, under the same level of
lighting, look darker than smooth, polished surfaces. This is because the
light that comes off a surface with lower reflectance is diffuse.
You can use dark and light finishes (and fabrics) together to create a
feature, for example in a retail setting, or to emphasise the shape or
contours of a space.
In some circumstances you may want soft light; elsewhere you may want
punch and sparkle. It is not hard to visualise the differences between
shining the same narrow beam directly on to slate and on to polished
marble, for example (opposite, top). At the same time, it is easy to picture
indirect lighting that grazes a surface as being ‘gentler’ than light hitting
it directly. Atmosphere and energy efficiency are both affected by light
reflections and viewing angles.
It is very unusual for all the vertical and horizontal surfaces of a space
to be of the same material, so ways have to be found to balance out or
emphasise the characteristics of different materials on different planes.
How to take the rough with the smooth
In the second of her series on lighting surfaces, Mary Rushton-Beales, principal at the Lighting Design House, reflects on
the differing properties of matt and glossy materials, the ways they interact with light and the careful use of colour