In 25 years + of lighting design I have done 2 things regularly … one is placing thousands of downlights in projects, the other is prepared and eaten almost as many meals … I like to cook, so I will share my recipes with you for designing beautiful rooms with ceiling recessed downlights, (oh and my favourite tip for hummus).
Just like cooking, start by following a set of rules before you experiment with your own ideas. In this article there is one big design tip that will guarantee to make your design work, it is the “45 degree rule”!
A recessed downlight can be either fixed or adjustable, personally I like adjustable lights it gives me a bit of “wriggle room” (this means space to adjust the light slightly in the final installation in case of glare or to direct to the middle of a table etc..). Fixed downlights however will be slightly better for the budget and can be smaller in size, which makes them stand out less in a ceiling.
Firstly, what is your goal, your ambition for the space? Is it general illumination (an even light everywhere), is it to wash the light on a wall, or perhaps a surface like a kitchen worktop? For a general illumination people plan a “grid” or lights made up of even rows of downlights, this is an engineering approach and may be useful for an office or a shop, it also is very relevant in a residential design (though I stress not as the first approach) but symmetry is important and helps lights to blend into a ceiling. There is no getting away from downlighting for the efficiency and practicality so simply plan well.
There is a general rule of spacing rows of lights that is the same whether you choose a “grid” of lights or some more subtle overall design, so lets start here. Lets take a standard room, a square room.
This is my big tip
(and hundreds of electricians get this wrong every day..)
The first light should be 45 degrees to the corner, this means the first and the last light in a row must match and wherever you view them in the room there is symmetry. Aesthetics, room balance, good design, Feng Shui…whatever you believe…this is the big difference to any design. It has massive influences to the rest of the lights, trust me.
Here our room is 5mtrs X 5mtrs. This means if we decide to use 4 lights the spacing would work easily at 1mtr each.
(We will discuss exactly how many lights there should be in a new article…it depends on height of the room, what you want and beam angles.)
Now the 45 degree rule means the offset from the wall will have to be 1mtr and now we have the start of a grid of lights (and you could carry on and fill the room with equal spacing).
From a design perspective I will now find the top part of the room lit unsatisfactory. The lighting effect is giving a scallop of light and thus dark above (depends again on the beam width), but the wall is now dark with shadow and this is not acceptable to me.
A more pleasing design.
For a more superior effect on the room, take the 5Mtrs and divide it into 4 (four lights) result: 1.25Mtrs.
The trick now is to divide this by 2 to give you the spacing for the first and last light at 0.625Mtr (625cm)
Now add the remaining lights at 1.25mtrs and the effect is much more pleasing, and we maintain the 45 degree rule whilst increasing the light on the wall.
To complete the design I would perhaps do the same to the opposite wall to balance the space and then perhaps put a feature to the centre, now you have a more pleasing design.
If you now wish to use a directional light on the row against the wall with perhaps a 15 degree tilt you begin to create professional results, what we call “wall wash” effects.
1) Wall to wall width in metres (our room, 5mtrs)
2) Divide it into the number of lights you want to use (we used 4 lights = 1.25mtr) divide the notional spacing by 2 . Thus 1.25/ 2 = 0.625mtr
3) This gives you the first and last light at 45 degrees from the corner, spaced at 0.625Mtr from each end wall and the offset of the row from the wall.
4) Now the middle lights are added at 1.25Mtr spacing each.
Some basic principles are the solid foundation of a unique design in lighting or cooking then you can add your own “twist” to the recipe, like my Moroccan style hummus. Whilst I peel the chickpeas (I don’t go as far as roasting my own sesame seeds for the tahini) but at the end I add chili infused olive oil and chopped apricots. We all follow the same basics but with our own twist.