Tag Archives: layering light

Layering with Light

Lighting a room is essentially a three-dimensional exercise. Objects and features are enhanced by emphasising their shape using lights and darks. Layering with light is a technique that focusses on an interior as a whole. It can add height or width to a room as well as highlighting the existing features that provide personality. After all, our eyes adore multiple details. It is also a practice that consolidates all the elements of a room design and coordinates the look of the space with all its furnishings. I thought we would construct a brief walkthrough to re-acquaint you with the principles or layering in words and pictures.

We refer to three layers: High Middle and Low

High or ceiling height light. Middle or human eye level whether people are walking or seated. Lastly low or floor level illumination. Essentially, we need to explore the ideal physical positioning of fixtures to create the best effect. Additionally we need to consider the variety of texture of light used; playing light using differing beam widths for highlights and using diffusers for washes. Naturally, with the advent of LED, conventional thinking has been overturned, as the benefits of miniaturisation and longevity (no need to change blown lamps) becomes apparent. The flexibility in painting a room with light has never been so practical.


A couple of guiding principles that will help in installing this all essential enhancement to a room design. Remember, it is not the light fixture itself that fixes the position of the layer but the reflected light from the light source. We can utilise the fixture itself, but it does need to generate a sufficient quantity of light to be effective as a layer. One single light source from a fixture can contribute to multiple of layers at the same time.

Here is an example from a very recent residential project, both designed and supplied by me and the team at Orange Lighting. The high ceiling space features a wonderful oak frame which needs to be celebrated. The intention is to emphasise the strong architecture of the beams as a priority with the light playing a supporting role – to enhance through layering.


Key Layers

High layer – up-lights positioned on the wooden beam provide a wonderfully concealed light on the ceiling. Effectively the light also bounces from the ceiling and top lights the oak trusses.

The high layer also receives partial light from the floor up lighters and the table lamps.

Middle Layer – the hanging pendants, table lamps and wall lights are the main drivers for the middle layer. However, it is important not to exclude the many lit surfaces such as cupboard doors and work surfaces that reflect light at this layer. Note the light washing the dresser from adjustable spotlights and the glass pendants.

Low Layer – the primary low layer lighting is from the ceiling downlights washing the floor with light as well as table top and island counter. To an extent the pendants also deliver low light onto the preparation surface as does the table lamp. We could have also added some plinth lights at this layer although these were considered inappropriate for this scheme.

Multi-Layer – the floor uplights provide a multi-level illumination especially on the underneath surfaces of the trusses with a dramatic three-dimensional effect.


The array of differing LED lights available for each layered lighting task can be bewildering. Our role is to help you find the most suitable among the uplights, downlights, tape, spots and lamps that are on offer, in order to enhance the look of your scheme. Colour temperature, lumen levels, beam angles and diffusion adds a layer of complexity too. Enquire about our cost effective lighting scheme design service or ask us to specify the correct fixture or fitting for the job.

To see all the pictures of the project in glorious high resolution – click here

VIDEO: 5 Tips on using reflected light

In this short video Andrew delivers 5 tips on using the most user friendly light of all – a light where the source is hidden. In 3 minutes we will brief you as to how to improve your schemes by gauging the light absorbancy of surfaces and using techniques to layer the illumination of a space.

1. Reflected light illuminates surfaces along it’s path – bouncing light off walls and ceilings and using these surfaces as reflectors.

2. Light will be absorbed by those surfaces – and by varying degrees. Typically 80% reflectance off a white ceiling, 50% for walls, 25% for a natural coloured floor. These are approximations of course but a guide to help judge the amount of light you need to try and start with.

3. Dark and light surfaces – will reflect light at different levels, dark absorbs more light than white surfaces.

4. Be careful to watch out for unwanted reflected light – for example reflected light from hidden strips of LED can produce unwanted illumination.

5. Layering light – use reflected light on surfaces as a tool to create layers of light. For example consider hiding a floor mounted directional light to uplight onto a ceiling and use the reflected light as the ‘source’.