Don’t Feel Well? It Could Be The Lighting…
The condition known as sick building syndrome, whereby your home or place of work can significantly impact your health, is reasonably well known these days. What is less well documented though is the extent to which lighting design plays a significant role in affecting your general well being.
Poor lighting, which is not as simple as just overly bright or dim light, covers a range of issues that can result in emotional stress. This in turn manifests itself in symptoms such as chronic fatigue, headaches, depression and irritability which then conspire to weaken the immune system, leaving sufferers exposed to further ailments.
Often times people are vaguely aware that they don’t feel comfortable in particular rooms or houses even, but they can’t quite put their finger on what the problem might be. That’s because most people have little idea that where interior design details are concerned, lighting design is king. Forget decor and soft furnishings; the type, brightness, spread and color of light fittings all trigger a subconscious yet very real emotional response, which can of course be either positive or negative.
It is also quite a complicated subject (as things that revolve around individual and highly subjective reactions usually are) and accordingly more of a black art than a science most times. But some generalizations are relatively safe, for example on the whole bright light acts as a stimulant while subdued lighting helps to relax us.
But it’s important to match the effect to the desired mood. If you want to work or let off steam then soft lighting is just going to get you annoyed as it will likely hamper what you’re trying to do. Equally, if you intended a quiet night in then being surrounded by a blaze of light is not going to help.
So it’s obvious then that there is no objective definition of “good” or “bad” lighting; it depends on whether the lighting is appropriate to the task at hand. This often means that you can need more than one type of lighting in a room to support different activities. A classic example is kitchen lighting which has to satisfy competing requirements from food preparation areas, dining areas and frequently also making a design statement.
The solution though is hardly rocket science; if you need more than one type of lighting then install more than one type. So in a kitchen for example you will often find separate switches to control the task lighting, ambient (background) light, feature lighting and even the ability to illuminate or dim specific zones. Installing dimmer switches also helps immensely as you can finely balance the different levels to achieve a custom setting.
But get it wrong though and you will spend your days plagued by mysterious nagging headaches, suffering from constant eyestrain and apparently random bouts of irritability. And both bright and dim light can produce similar effects – straining to see at all and squinting at uncovered light bulbs will both cause fatigue (which is why interrogation cells often boast two-tone lighting: dismal gloom and lone naked light bulb).
Oddly though, a uniform and adequate level of light can also prove to be less than satisfactory. Certainly it will enable you to see what you’re doing without any effort, but it’s monotonous and boring and eventually the relentless lack of variety also gets people down. So many people veer the other way and dot many smaller feature lamps around the room. The effect is certainly less bland, but often what happens is that the lighting then has too much contrast and we’re back to eyestrain again.
The trick is to (as with kitchen lights already mentioned above) blend different light types together. Using slightly underpowered ambient light to create a background level ensures that the accent lighting isn’t then set on a dark canvas and likely to create harsh contrasts. Overpowered ambient light on the other hand simply washes out everything else and is thus self defeating.
You will see exactly this type of lighting design used in, for example, the lobbies of smart hotels, where there is a very understated but nevertheless definite ambient light level and the rest of the lighting is there for show; but without the correct level of background light it would all start to jump out at you (not good for keeping your customers).
Finally, let’s not forget that these days we now have access to lighting effects that were simply not available even ten years ago. LED light bulbs for example not only dramatically cut the cost of running lighting (especially in large commercial environments) but can introduce light whose quality is more akin to natural daylight.
Now while too much of this can be unwelcome, especially when trying to create a relaxing evening space, it is once again very useful as a complement to more traditional warmer colors and helps inject additional interest into the lighting scheme. That said, using LED lighting in your home has it’s own foibles and quirks to contend with and LED lighting design is a whole topic unto itself (click that last link to find out more).