Lighting a dark room – 10 top tips from experts

Lighting a dark room successfully can be demanding. But a scheme that provides good overall illumination as well as task and mood lighting is a must if it’s going to be a space which is comfortable for all the activities that take place there, and one in which light levels can be adjusted to suit the mood.

There are a number of reasons why the room might be naturally dark. Small windows – perhaps in a cottage – a north-facing position, shading by trees, foliage, or other external features, or a basement location can all make it more gloomy than you’d like.

Whatever the issue, though, clever lighting ideas are required and here the experts provide their advice for brightening and lighting a dark room.

1. MAKE USE OF LED STRIPS

LED strips can be a valuable resource when lighting a dark room. ‘If you have any joinery or cabinetry in the room, then be sure to include LED strip lighting in the designs to bring in another light source,’ says Shalini Misra, interior designer and founder, Shalini Misra.

‘Fitting LED strips to the underside of shelving or into any joinery will bring more light into the space whilst highlighting any items on display. Similarly, fitting LED lights to the top of the cupboard will provide a warming glow and help make the room feel taller and larger. The same goes for any open shelving, with LEDs highlighting any decorative items whilst bringing a warming glow to the space.

‘You should even consider fitting LED strip lighting to curtain recesses or tuck them behind cornices to create a soft diffusion of light.’

2. ILLUMINATE A LOW CEILING

A room that’s dark might also have a low ceiling – and this can often be the case for basements. To tackle the issue, take inspiration from the guest bedroom of this Belgravia mews maisonette, which is naturally dark as well as not being a tall space.

‘We didn’t want to lower the ceiling even more with a pendant, so my solution was to recess lighting into a void in the ceiling, resulting in a soft wash of light,’ explains Irene Gunter, founder of Gunter & Co.

‘We combined the recessed lighting with Linden lamps by Kelly Wearstler. The lamps don’t just look beautiful (particularly considering we customized the shades), but they also emit a warm, ambient light that is great for winding down in the evening. For reading, also consider installing directional wall lights, which are a great light source when reading fine print, but less effective at creating atmosphere.’

3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROOM’S ROLE

How you approach lighting a dark room should be informed by what the space is used for. ‘The same rule can apply to every space in the home, but for a more considered result, the rule should be broken and re-applied in a contextual way,’ says Joanne Quinn, senior interior designer at LuxDeco.

‘Begin by considering a dark bathroom ideas. In here, candles in hurricane lanterns, paired with a thoughtfully positioned wall light or two, one close by to a mirror where illumination is needed would be more suited to the environment than a ceiling full of spotlights.

‘In a bedroom, when night falls and there’s little light to be found, bedside lamps provide a lower level of light close to the height of the bed – the key piece of furniture to highlight. Another lamp by a dressing area, be it another table lamp or a standing floor lamp, promises another source that combines task-style lighting and ambient lighting.

As for the kitchen? ‘Brighter beams of light are called for,’ says Joanne. ‘Try not to disregard the constant need for atmospheric light too, however.’

4. EMPLOY THE MAGIC OF MIRRORS

Decorating with mirrors will enhance the daylight that does reach a dark room. ‘Mirrors make any room lighter, brighter and more dramatic, so add fixed mirrors on long walls, which will double the illusion of space,’ says Juliette Thomas, founder and director, Juliettes Interiors. ‘Floor-standing mirrors can be moved around to create different moods within the room – and bigger is always better. A small mirror in a large space will look skimpy, upsetting the balance of the whole room. However, wall mirrors should never be wider than the piece of furniture below.’

But you should also use mirrors to boost artificial illumination when lighting a dark room. ‘A key trick is utilizing mirrors by lights, whether you position them behind lamps or on the wall to fall in line with your ceiling pendant,’ says Emma Deterding, founder and creative director, Kelling Designs. ‘Placing mirrors behind lamps will help to increase the depth of a room, whilst doubling the amount of light available by reflecting light from the lamp back into the space.’

5. BE CLEVER WITH DOWNLIGHTS

If the corners of a room are gloomy during daylight hours, try this strategy from interior designer Penny Morrison in order to provide background illumination for the entire space.

‘In a dark room I put small downlights in the corners of the room on dimmer switches which can be used to gently enhance the illusion of daylight on a really dark day,’ she says.

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