Education, Healthcare, Hospitality/Leisure, How to Light, Office, Retail

How to Light: Three ways to light a breakout area

The point about a breakout area is that you get away from your desk. This may be simply for a break or it could be for an informal meeting. As such, it needs to look different from the other spaces. This also applies to the lighting; a regimented array of luminaires giving uniform illumination just won’t cut it. If you are interested, there is a huge amount of research about breakout areas on the internet.

When researching these areas, I found most had a similar level of illumination to the surrounding spaces. One would assume that this is because you don’t want a relaxing area to be brighter than its surroundings. However, there is a lot of evidence showing that breakout areas should have windows or a faraway point of interest. The purpose is to exercise your eyes away from the near-field vision in offices where you mostly look at a screen or desktop.

The visual contrast is achieved by using a different style of furniture and lighting. It’s as much an architectural and interior design challenge as a lighting one.

Although this is a ‘workplace’, there aren’t any particular tasks and, hence, there isn’t much guidance in EN 12464. As mentioned, the breakout areas I have seen and researched tend to have a similar illumination level to their surroundings. Glare shouldn’t be a problem but remember that the seating in these areas tends to be quite low. This can give you a more direct view into the luminaire and hence more chance of seeing a bare lamp.

The actual break-out area is about 6 x 6m. The overall height of the ceiling is 4m, but our luminaires have been dropped down to about 2-2.5m to make the space more human in scale.

At home

At home

Using a free-standing domestic type of luminaire is a good way to set the area apart. Quite a few manufacturers make this style of fitting, so there’s a fair choice. I chose this one because it renders well in the calculation software. Of course, you do need wall or floor socket power outlets. Some of the lamp bases weigh over 50kg, so they can’t easily be moved.

Since they provide pools of light, you need to think about how many are required in relation to the furniture. It may be easier to move the tables than the luminaires.

The big advantage of these luminaires is that they clearly define the area from the corridors and offices.


Tech spec

Luminaires Freestanding

Optical control Simple ‘lampshade’

Arrangement Can be moved

Average horizontal illuminance on desk 150-250lx

Electrical load ~6W/m2

Pros Clearly different from an office

Cons Can be more expensive than the other options

Good value

Good value

Rafts of wooden slats are a good way of reducing the apparent height of the ceiling. They also give you a good opportunity to hide the luminaires and the building services. Some people prefer to completely recess the downlights whilst others prefer to make them protrude slightly. The latter is an advantage if you have adjustable or aimable spotlights because the slats won’t obstruct the beam.

We have used a square, flush mounted unit, medium beam spotlight. It is fitted with a ‘dark light’ reflector so the result is very low glare. If you use narrow beam spotlights, you can make the area look quite contrasty and dramatic. The corollary of this is that the space may not be so visually relaxing.

Slim, cylindrical pendants work well where there is only a small space between the slats.


Tech spec

Luminaires Recessed with square frame

Optical control Darklight with satin reflector

Arrangement 3 x 4

Average horizontal illuminance on desk 200-300lx

Electrical load ~5W/m2

Pros Unobtrusive

Cons Fixed positions

Break light

Break light

Again, a more homely feel but this time using pendants. These use LED PAR lamps so you get a choice of beam widths, albeit they are normally fairly narrow. Well-designed luminaires of this type have a central cylinder of frosted glass which glows.

The overall appearance of this scheme depends hugely on the style of lampshade. There is a huge range of commercial pendants in every style imaginable. The light source can be high tech but the shade could be anything from recycled plastic to vintage silk with tassles.

If you are unsure about the appearance, consult the architect or interior designer.


Tech spec

Luminaires Pendant with LED PAR lamp

Optical control The lamp itself

Arrangement 3 x 3

Average horizontal illuminance on desk 100-300lx

Electrical load ~5W/m2

Pros Huge choice of styles

Cons Some of these luminaires aren’t particularly efficient