Take a space such as a hotel lobby or bar area decorated, ironically or
otherwise, with an opulent, gilded ceiling (previous page, bottom).
As a general rule, we want to see the effect of the lighting not the source,
so cove lighting might be good here as a way to create a warm, rich,
gentle, graduated glow. On the other hand, we might want to use a point
source suspended below the ceiling to create a play of brilliants (above).
If the interior were to include a wall of mirror mosaic, for example, we
would plan points of brightness at all levels so the reflected lit image was
pleasing to the eye.
Conversely, while a dark, glossy floor (or ceiling) might be grand and
imposing, spots of light can be distracting and you would be better off
with large lights with diffusers, and arrayed points of light (opposite,
top). Matt, solid coloured walls will benefit from a ‘squeeze’ of light at the
top or even a wall wash, while highly textured surfaces generally benefit
from being lit vertically, upwards or downwards; this also has curious the
effect of making rooms look longer (opposite, bottom).
Clearly the colour of a surface is also important. On most projects,
the choice of colour and surface texture is lovingly considered by the
design team. Sometimes, however, the decision-making process for
colours is strangely delegated.
We encountered an example of this in the 1990s, when we were
asked to analyse the existing lighting scheme of a large high
This was back in the day when its stores were lit with fluorescent
louvres with a very sharp cut off. In theory, the level of light was
quite high so why did the space, particularly the white ceiling, look
so grey? We realised it was the combination of carpet colour – grey
with a purple weave – and the quite powerful direct illumination that
was being reflected into the space that made the ceiling dull and the
There was no brooking that though; the carpet had been ‘expertly’
chosen by the chairman’s wife.