Lighting fixture choice and placement are important aspects of interior design, and artificial lighting should complement natural light, room size, color palettes and furnishings. Drew McGukin, interior designer and owner of Drew McGukin Interiors in New York, shares tips on using lighting to inspire or complete your space.
Lighting plays an integral part in interior design. “Lighting is a functional art and a way to add dimension,” McGukin said. “It gives you a moment to create a sense of sculpture within a space.”
But finding inspiration for your lighting design takes a keen eye. “A space has to inform you,” McGukin said. “The needs of the space and the architecture combined with the lightness and darkness inspire great design.”
Lighting fixture design evolved from covered lights with shades to include exposed bulbs and minimalist design. Now, thanks to a dynamic shift in styles, things might be coming full circle. “Exposed bulbs had their moment but are starting to fade,” McGukin said. “Covered bulbs allow the light to play with materials, like canvas, and create various glows and hues.”
Lighting can add to or subtract from the room’s color palette or from only those surfaces the light is meant to enhance. Darker colors make a room feel smaller and more compact, while light-colored walls do the opposite.
The illusion of space is defined by light reflected off wall surfaces. Some types of lighting help with this illusion by further illuminating the walls. In addition, directional lighting can soften the wall colors. Lights hung from the center of the room provide ambient illumination or wall lighting, while the soft, downward glow of recessed can lighting illuminates the floors. In both cases, the lighting affects the appearance of colors and objects.
The lighting in a room either provides illumination for the entire room, or it highlights specific elements. Track lighting is the perfect example of positional lighting. Hung from the ceiling, the adjustable necks and lamps can be pointed at specific elements such as a wall painting, a vase of flowers on an entryway table or a kitchen island. Recessed lighting can be used in floors and ceilings to create vertical beams of light as opposed to an overall glow from central light fixtures hanging from a ceiling.
Enhancing delicate details or creating contrast with shadows allows for a space to change and evolve over the course of a day. What we experience during the daytime in one room may shift completely at night. “In the daytime, light adds sculpture to a space, but at night a space needs help,” McGukin said. “Creating layers of light to enhance a beautiful setting is key all day long.”
Layering light not only improves function, it also creates multiple atmospheres and environments in one space. “You may have large, statement light fixtures in key areas, but you have to think about when those pieces aren’t being used,” McGukin said. “This is exactly when fixtures like accent lights and background lights can come out to play, and smart layering plays a crucial role.”
Modern lighting controls systems offer unprecedented authority of every interior and exterior light in a home. “I like to think of projects from the ground up. Integrating new technologies can enhance a space,” McGukin said. Lighting control systems can complement the interior design of a home by eliminating wall clutter and making it easy to create a customized lighting design. These systems can revolutionize the way light is managed in a home, even providing improved security and energy savings.
Both natural and manmade lighting help create an illusion of more space. For a darker room, find ways to bring in more full-spectrum, natural light. If the room does not have sufficient lighting, it will feel cramped. This is worsened by close-proximity furniture arrangements such as tightly squeezed coffee tables, end tables, sofas and chairs.
If natural lighting is not available, corner lamps, wall sconces and lights suspended from the center of the ceiling help brighten a room and make the space feel larger. “Ceiling height plays a huge role in picking overhead light fixtures,” McGukin said. “From large chandeliers to beautiful wall-mounted sconces, creating layers is key. Smart lighting design will add so much warmth to a room.”
Lighting can have a tremendous impact on interior design. How lighting affects moods should be a primary consideration, but creating the perfect ambiance takes time and effort. The right mix of colors and temperatures, fixture sizes and designs, and lighting layers can help create a unique, pleasing space.
Want to find inspiration for your next design project? Follow @drewmcgukin on Instagram.