Using a Lighting Designer for your Home

Build It speaks to Melanie Shaw about the importance of planning your lighting scheme from the very start of your self-build or renovation project
by Build It
30th November 2015

Build It: What should I consider when engaging a lighting design expert?

Melanie Shaw: The lighting design specialist you go to should be able to visualise a space and illuminate it to add an extra dimension. Their design will be rooted in the architecture and the interior layout, so it should also complement and enhance your space.

Light fittings and bulb types have become increasingly varied and complex. So your expert must have up-to-date knowledge in order to choose the right fixture, types of installations and cabling and control systems. They must also take care to adhere to industry regulations and should have good market knowledge.

The professional you choose should appreciate that finding good value is an essential skill in developing a practical scheme – and this is not the same as finding the cheapest product. Lastly, a good designer needs to be able to communicate and empathise with their client and translate what is often difficult to articulate. All in all you will need someone who can understand you and will be able to bring your vision to life.

What will a lighting specialist do?

Melanie: Different firms will take different approaches. However, a good lighting expert should be able to create fabulous designs, backed up by a comprehensive set of cabling plans and product specifications. They will also ensure the site team understands the brief, and that any issues that arise are addressed during the installation process.

How can a lighting expert help on a self-build?

Melanie: When working on a new build house people will often spend days agonising over the style with the architect, as well as mulling over window styles and the kitchen design – but they’re often not sure where to start when it comes to lighting.

People don’t realise how crucial it is to have a well-lit property until the project is finished. It comes as a shame when they see that they’ve got it completely wrong. This is where a specialist can help because they can use lighting in uplifting, soothing, dramatic and practical ways – how many other elements in a house can do all that for you? Creative experts will ultimately develop the right ‘look’ for your home.

When should I procure an expert’s services?

Melanie: A critical point in the self-build project timeline is at the start of the first fix phase. You need to allow yourself a couple of months to have the lighting design, cabling and installation plans, (and other key decisions) completed ahead of this stage.

On larger projects we often get involved before planning permission is granted. This is because we have found that it is useful to discuss things like cabling routes, control system hub requirements and overall concepts at a very early stage.

Where will I find an expert for my project? 

Melanie: Experts dedicated solely to residential lighting design can be difficult to find as industry professionals often focus on the commercial sector. The International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) and Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (PLDA) are great membership bodies, but they also concentrate on commercial. There are light fitting retailers and control systems dealers, but they won’t do the same thing. Therefore, the best way to find an expert is to do your research online, but you will need to carefully vet the companies you find. Always make sure you ask for photos of completed projects and for testimonials.

How much does a lighting design cost?

Melanie: Costs will vary hugely depending on the size and complexity of your build, how many changes you make during the course of the project, the fittings and whether a lighting control system is used. Different firms also charge in different ways. For us, design fees are by far the smallest proportion of the cost.

We would strongly advise buying the best quality fittings that you can afford. With LEDs for instance, you really do get what you pay for. Carefully selected top quality fittings will give you pleasure (and great results for years). It may be possible to find companies offering ‘free design’, but there’s really no such thing.

If someone is not charging fees then it’s likely that either there’s a very large mark up on the fittings (or installation if they also do this), or that there’s very little bespoke design involved.

Remember that imaginative and integrated lighting design is lovingly crafted with huge attention to detail.

Melanie Shaw launched Brilliant Lighting 10 years ago with her husband Iain. Their projects range from stately homes such as Castle Howard to contemporary new builds. Based in North Yorkshire, Brilliant Lighting works across the UK and abroad.

Main photo: A lighting scheme by Brilliant Lighting

Comments are closed.

You may be interested in

Our sponsors