Feature, IoT/Smart Lighting, Residential

10 things you MUST know before you light a home

Unlike commercial projects, residential lighting is highly personal and centred around the client's tastes and preferences, says Neil Knowles.

AS ANY experienced lighting designer will tell you, residential is the most challenging sector of all. Not least because you’re dealing with whimsical clients with low technical knowledge.

So follow these 10 tips from top designer Neil Knowles of Elektra Lighting to ensure you get home illumination right every time.



From top: Residential projects by Elektra Lighting. Above: Neil Knowles is the director and principal of the practice, an award-winning London independent lighting design consultancy. It specialises in private homes, hotels, retail, restaurants, bars and workplaces. www.elektralighting.co.uk

First off, it’s personal

This may be obvious but residential lighting is highly personal. On a commercial project, decisions are made and then implemented. On residential projects, decisions are made, discussed with partners, changed, changed back, made irrelevant by the decision to make this space a library not a bedroom, forgotten and then re-instated. If this is going to drive you crazy, stick to hotels.


Explaining is important

Assume a low technical knowledge – if the client knew what lux meant, they’d probably be trying to design the lighting themselves. You’ll need to explain everything, and show don’t tell – this is a sample of 2700K, this is a sample of 4000K.


Show pictures

We’ve got a photo library of all our old projects plus lots of stuff we’ve just seen and liked. It currently runs to 42,647 images. If we suggest a round cove in the ceiling, we just show them a picture of it. Much easier. Everyone knows what they are getting.


Don’t over do the controls

Really nobody needs seven mood settings and five channels in the downstairs toilet. Have one, get it right, leave it on that. Main areas that need control are shared family spaces: kitchen, living room. dining room and a drawing room if it’s that posh. And perhaps the master bedroom, But really nowhere else needs it unless you are putting DMX in the bedrooms. Please don’t put DMX in the bedrooms. Why would you do that? Also note that if you use Dali, when a driver fails you need to spend £500 getting it reprogrammed. Don’t do that either. See also: using that new experimental control system you saw at a trade show last week. No.


Get some accenting in!

Lighting in residential is often skewed towards decorative pieces, table lamps and chandeliers. These usually throw light out in all directions giving a high general light level but no accenting. To create interest and focal points, try to reduce reliance on these and add more directional focus such as small spots pointed at artwork and narrow beams to tables.


It doesn’t have to be too flexible

People always ask for lighting to be more flexible than they need. Sure they might re-arrange the room, but let’s face it, the dining room will always have a big table in the middle. So plan lighting for the arrangement you are given, and tell the client if they do a complete re-decoration with re-arrangement of furniture, there might need to be a new spot over the new table location. Otherwise you just light everything uniformly and evenly, leading to a completely tedious lighting system with a lack of focus or drama.


Light the walls not the floor

Bright floors don’t make a bright space. They make a dark and gloomy space, with over-lit floors. To make spaces feel light and airy, and to make small spaces feel bigger, light the walls. Wash the interesting textured stone finish, flood art with light. This way the visual horizon is bright and the room is bright.


Go tuneable, not RGB

Colour changing is becoming as cool as Facebook. Tuneable light is where it’s at now. Changing your living space from a colour temperature of 3000K to 2200K is what you need to do now, you cool young cats.


Use lots of small fittings

If you have one bright light in the centre, the house will feel like an office. Five small ones is better. 10 is better still. Lots of warm sources, filling the space with sparkle and interest and lovely points of warmth, as if the room was lit by a hundred candles. And there’s nothing like a room lit with 100 candles, as anyone who’s been on a Nantucket Whaler will tell you (maybe I ready Moby Dick at a too-impressionable age?)


Remember: it’s not about you

It’s not your house. Yes I personally agree with you that the minimal scheme with zero cut out downlights and a bold statement pendant is lovely. But it’s not our house is it? We don’t even live together. It’s the clients house, and he likes chintz. Chintzy table lamps, chintzy finishes and downlights with tassels. Your job is to find them.


  • Neil Knowles will be speaking at LuxLive 2018 at 3.45pm on Wednesday 14 November. He is one of the participants in the afternoon debate – Can design and lighting boost sales? – with Peter Fordham of Sainsbury’s; Matt Love of Tesco; James Poore of JPLD; Guido Fox of Oktalite and Susan Lake of Susan Lake Lighting Design. LuxLive 2018 takes place in ExCeL London on Wednesday 14 November and Thursday 15 November 2018. Entry is free if you pre-register HERE.