The basics of interior lighting

25 October 2019 / Interior Lighting, News

Author: Katharina Hering

Light is fundamental to the way we perceive indoor spaces. We may not always notice it consciously, but in addition to the furniture, the layout and the materials used in the room, lighting design is a key factor in determining its atmosphere and feel.

Interior lighting is as diverse as its spaces and the people living and working in them, and different interiors will have different lighting requirements. Factors affecting interior lighting design will include the layout of the space, the function of the room and, of course, the tastes and preferences of the client. When it comes to interior lighting, designers will always consider practical issues such as the amount and direction of natural light falling into the space, but emotional factors and style are just as important.

Private spaces and public spaces

As with exterior lighting, public and private spaces have very different interior lighting requirements. Public spaces such as museums and art galleries, restaurants and retail outlets often require more light, as users are likely to be unfamiliar with the space. They are also governed by lighting regulations. In public spaces, even indoors, light can improve the perception of security as well as providing safe passage.

Tate Britain interior lighting
Turner Whistler Monet Exhibition at Tate Britain

Function and atmosphere

Lighting design follows function. Most interior spaces require specific lighting solutions, and lighting needs to be designed to support the activities in the space. For example, a work desk in an office will be lit differently to a dining room table and to a bedside table.

Loft restaurant interior lighting
The St Albans Loft Restaurant

But interior lighting is not just about functional illumination; it’s also about creating the right mood and atmosphere. A successful lighting design scheme will create an atmosphere in an interior space which supports its identity and character. Consideration needs to be given to the materials of the space as well. What are their colours and textures? Different materials reflect light in a different way. A lighting designer’s job is to find this fine balance between shadow and light to create harmonious and interesting spaces.

Using lighting layers

The most effective interior lighting combines different lighting effects and layers. Just as interior designers use different textures and colours to create a particular mood or style, a mixture of different layers of light is the best way to create the right ambience. The layering of light also makes it easy to transform a space over time, from day to evening lighting, for example, or from work to party mode.

It’s important to take account of natural light when combining the light layers. This is an important part of the interior space. Its intensity relies on the location of the space as well as the time of day, season and position of windows.

One Spinningfields interior lighting
One Spinningfields

Many different types of lighting can be layered to create a signature look and feel, including:

  • Task lighting. This is highly practical. It provides higher illumination levels to specific areas, which enables people to fulfil a particular activity. Examples include lighting for the kitchen counter, or a desk lamp.
  • Ambient lighting. Ambient or general light is used to brighten vertical and horizontal spaces in a soft, broad manner. Its aim is to provide background lighting for orientation and safety.
  • Accent lighting. This is used to highlight key features in a space, such as a fireplace or architectural ornament, and make them stand out from the background. This creates visual stimulation and points of interest for the eye. The contrast ratio to the background light is at least 1:3. These highlights need to be well-considered and used sparingly to avoid over lighting or visual clutter.
  • Decorative lighting. A decorative light creates focal points throughout the space. It does not necessarily add to the illumination levels in the room, but it has a great effect on the atmosphere and perceived value and style of the interior. This does not mean that the other layers of light can’t also have a decorative effect.


How will your interior lighting be controlled? This is a decision that is as important as the lighting design itself. It all comes down to the right control strategy, whether it be clever circuiting or individually addressed fittings via DALI or Bluetooth. Scene sets with a combination of different lights and layers can create an ever-changing atmosphere.


The style, colour and size of a fitting is as important as the light colour, colour rendering and beam angles. Every aspect of the luminaire needs to suit the room’s purpose. Using a lighting family with a consistent look throughout a building can harmonise spaces, even if the individual décor and decorative light elements in different rooms are unique.

Consider the following criteria when choosing the right luminaire:

  • Light colour.  Should it be warm or cool?
  • Colour rendering. Does the light show the colour in the room realistically?
  • Dimming. Can the light be dimmed, and how is this controlled?
  • Beam angle and the appearance of the light beam. Are you looking for a spotlight effect, or a flood light?
  • IP rating. Ingress Protection rating tells you how well the light fitting is protected from things like moisture and dust. It’s especially important for wet areas like bathrooms.
  • Glare. Glare is important to avoid in any environment, from the workplace to the home. It can cause distraction, discomfort and even headaches. Direct glare is emitted directly from the source, where reflected glare is reflected by shiny or bright surfaces.
  • Lifetime. How long can the luminaire be expected to last?
  • Style.  Think about the size and colour of the fitting, and how it will be affixed. Is it recessed or semi-recessed?
  • Energy efficiency. This is important for environmental reasons, and will also have an impact on your lighting bills.
  • Maintenance. How will it be installed? Is it difficult to clean? Can lamps be replaced easily?
  • Cost and operating cost. It’s important to consider not just the initial outlay for the fitting, but how much it will cost to operate and maintain over the years.

LAPD’s interior lighting design work spans across retail, residential, hospitality, commercial sectors and more. View our latest projects and contact us for assistance with your next interior lighting project.

Katharina Hering

Kat joined LAPD late in 2014 and has worked tirelessly, bringing all of her creativity and past experiences to create incredible lit environments that wow clients and visitors alike.