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The art and science of illumination

Using a lighting consultant means you can control the mood of each room in your house with a minimal use of fittings.

The further from the equator we live the more important light becomes, both natural and artificial. In the southern hemisphere, a north facing block can dramatically decrease energy costs – providing ample daylight throughout the 9 to 5. Though it is when the sun goes down that the science of illumination finds its real home.

Ultimately, when you consider the lighting of your house the question should be – what do you want to see? It is a question that inspires more than just an aesthetic reaction to the form or materials of a chosen light fitting – it refers to the spaces, tasks and objects that are illuminated.

Ask yourself – how do you want to welcome guests, and how do you want their dinner to look? Simple questions but without the right light it can go so wrong. Then there is reading, writing and… sitting at a computer doing arithma-tricks.

Using pendant lights instead of downlighting ushers people through the space in a warmer way. Photograph by Dean Bradley.

The recent Melbourne home by Achieve Design showcases an attractive lighting solution in the home's main thoroughfare, with careful consideration to the choice and type of lighting – enhancing the architecture and the way the overall space feels. It encapsulates the importance of finding the right balance between performance, function and aesthetics. Using pendants in the internal ceiling void draws people through to the main living space but it also makes the home feel warmer and less like an office.

To that effect, every minute of the day needs to be considered when it comes to light but it is also important to consider that there are two types of lighting designers. The first design light fittings and the second consult on the performance and function within a space. And therein lies the science.

It is a rapidly shifting industry, that of lighting, and one that can have huge effects on everything from your productivity to your mood. Like any other aspect of a home, engaging the right people can save you time, money and headaches (literally) in the long term when it comes to light – so what is the return on investing in a consultant?

Prescribing permanent light fittings for various areas of the home is part of a lighting consultant's role. Photograph by Dean Bradley.

Understanding this, Achieve Design brought in Mint Lighting Design to consult as part of the concept design stage. Based on the architectural drawings, together they developed a lighting plan that was holistic in its approach, using feature lighting by a local Melbourne designer, Ilanel, as a statement piece with additional fittings selected to highlight the functions of the more personal areas of the home. The process is about understanding the right type of light required, finding the appropriate fitting, then defining the position for maximum effect and efficiency because, realistically, once permanent light fittings are in place you don’t want to have to move them.

Like Achieve’s Melbourne home, a five-storey Woollahra home by Bureau SRH used custom lighting to accentuate the staircase and lead guests vertically through the space. A single LED tube light was custom designed by Shannon McGrath and Marcus Piper to fit the 8m ceiling and circular stairwell, though the challenge wasn’t so much in the design but the right colour temperature and Colour Rendering Index. (See our piece on the specifics of lighting here.)

Custom lighting is always an option but still it takes technical expertise. Photograph Shannon McGrath.

With an extensive art collection flowing through the floors, and exquisite details in the homes joinery, the right choice of LED was crucial. Using a lighting designer to advise on this meant that the family's investment in their home, stairwell and joinery is literally seen in the best light, as is their diverse collection of art. And there is the value of a using a lighting consultant from the outset – they bring specialist knowledge more commonly used in retail, 5-star hotels and hospitality environments. It gives you the opportunity to create a feeling of luxury in every room of the house that will cost you less than your next resort holiday.

Airlines, Apple and supermarket chains know this, it is about creating the right environment. Walking into an Apple store – it is broad daylight where everything looks pixel perfect and their phones and tablets let you control the colour temperature of the screen based on the time of day.

Similarly, the lighting on long-haul flights is controlled – recalibrating your body-clock to your destination. And supermarkets, well there is a reason apples look so good, it’s the light.

Bringing this science home, even televisions are becoming more light-sensitive. The new Samsung QLED has an ambient mode which matches what is shown on the screen to your wall. Incorporating motion and lighting sensors, it can adjust the vision to the environment in the same way modern speakers can adjust the audio based on an acoustic feedback loop.

Dropping from an 8m ceiling this custom light fitting was the central focus of the five levels of this Sydney home. Photograph Shannon McGrath.

Combining light, vision and sound might seem a bit futuristic but thanks to some exciting new technology, LED light fittings now incorporate speakers, security systems and an array of other possibilities via wireless technology – making a home look and sound great at any time of the day.

Far north of the equator, light is crucial – particularly in Winter – and most of us think that lights are just that, lights, but in fact they control how our homes feel, how they look and function. Having said that, lights need to look as good when they are off as when they are on.

It is that balance of form and function that makes lighting consultants so valuable. Be it getting the right brightness for a home office or the perfect colour to show off the details in your interiors and furnishings – it all comes down to the art and science of illumination.


1. While residential lighting consultants are not regulated like the commercial sector, it is best that they hold a qualification through the Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia and New Zealand.

2. Lighting consultants work with you and your architect or interior designer to create a lighting plan that reflects what you want to see in your home, initially as a sketch on your plans in the consultation stage.

3. These plans and specifications detail the fittings and placement of each light and are overlayed onto the final architectural drawings delivered to council, the builder and electrician – keeping everyone on the same page.

4. Typically, a lighting consultant will cost far less than the kitchen bench and their fees are generally fixed, including an initial consultation, then specifications and delivery of plans. They will also manage the purchasing of the fittings and make a final site visit to ensure everything is in the right place.

5. Importantly this investment will save you time, hassles and money in the long and short term – from complications during construction through to using less light fittings meaning lower energy bills.


For further advice on lighting contact Mint Lighting Design