27 Apr 2016

Top tips for lighting up your self-build


When it comes to lighting your self-build, it is important to think about it early on in the process – never let it become an afterthought. Being able to start from scratch with a self-build is an exciting opportunity as you can really let the building stand out from the rest. Here, Rebecca Crawford, Senior Designer at John Cullen Lighting, offers her top tips for lighting up your self-build.


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A common occurrence within properties is that a grid of downlights are positioned in military formation with the thought that lots of downlights will create a brighter space. All too often, this actually makes it gloomier as the walls and ceilings remain dark whilst the floor is washed with a bland blanket of light.

Well-designed schemes

What makes a well-designed scheme stand out is its ability to highlight the most beautiful, and sometimes lesser noticed, details within a room. Start with the obvious; items such as artwork or curtains and blinds can be lit using downlights recessed into the ceiling. A key tip here is that the positioning is crucial to what you want to light – never position the downlight too close or too far from the wall as this will result in the light pooling too high or too low on the wall. Using a downlight with a wider beam width can ensure a soft wash of light onto the required space.

Reflecting light off of the vertical surfaces within a room is perhaps the simplest way of creating a larger and brighter space. This effect is particularly useful when lighting basement conversions, as all too often there is no natural daylight to brighten the space.

A worthy lighting scheme shouldn’t stop there, more layers should be added in order to create different moods and scenes within one space. Add a circuit of five amps sockets, so that all of your table and floor lamps can be dimmable as one. The warm ambient light created through shaded lamps is often unachievable elsewhere, and can be of great comfort throughout the Winter.

Accent and external lighting

Accent lighting is a simple and utterly effective way of focusing one's eye on the smaller details within the room. Highlighting fireplace jambs, doorframes and textures with small, low wattage LED uplights can completely transform a space and create a playful, yet elegantly lit space.

Whilst the lighting within the room is crucial, external lighting is equally important. If you are looking to use a lot of glass within the property to enhance natural daylight, pay close attention to the effect of this at night. Once it becomes dark, all of the glass will act as a mirror. Consider adding a bright level of light immediately outside and then beyond into the garden. This will instantly draw your eye outside and create the illusion of your interior extending into the beyond.

Whilst it is crucial to consider all of the above, using shadow is just as important. After all, in order to see the light you must have its natural counterpart.


Once you have established various layers of light, consider your circuiting. You should always try and distinguish the circuits by their desired effect. For example, ceiling recessed downlights for peripheral light to artwork, curtains and general wall washing on one circuit, accent downlights for light to a coffee table on a second, lamps and/or pendant lights on another, followed by accent lighting such as uplights to a fireplace on a final circuit.

Energy efficiency

In order to meet the relevant building regulations for your self-build, you do need to ensure that your lighting scheme is energy efficient. Quite often, the easiest source to look at to meet this criteria is LED. I still find that there is a fear of LEDs being too harsh or cold in colour temperature. However, they have come a long way since the days of the first blue and glarey LED downlights.

Fundamental factors to look out for when choosing LEDs is their high Colour Rendering Index – 90+ is a good figure to look out for. The colour temperature should be consistent throughout as you don’t want your eye drawn to the mismatched colours. Typically we opt for 2700K within all of our schemes as it produces a beautiful soft glow without being too cold or overly warm.

In control

Lastly, don’t forget to overlook how to control your lighting. Ensuring that you can dim all of the circuits is a key starting point as this can transform a bright working kitchen into an ambient supper time scene. Using rotary dimmers is enough for smaller rooms. However, should you have five or more circuits within one room, you might want to look at integrating some form of simple lighting control unit. This way, you are able to transform your space at the touch of a button with a variety of different scenes. Whole home control systems are another aspect to look at. Don’t feel like you need to use this just because you are building a new property. Quite often, simplicity is best within the home.

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