Washing the Walls with Light

Washing the Walls with Light

As designers, most of us learn the importance of lighting walls by accident. Very quickly we realise that the way light ‘paints’ a wall is a crucial factor in creating a desired appearance.  In fact, designing a room with the intention of using walls as a reflective surface is key to a professional result. In this post we discover that walls are themselves a great tool for distributing light in a space.
As you can imagine – washing a wall with light is a great way of enhancing the colour of the wall and the soft furnishings nearby. However I would argue that there is a further opportunity to embrace reflected light that is bounced off the wall into the centre of the space. Light sources naturally describe unique shapes on adjacent walls too. By using due consideration, these light patterns can add additional texture to a finished interior.

There are some key applications that benefit from illuminated walls. In offices – the illumination ofimage 1 walls is very important to reduce the glare factor from windows. The illumination of walls reduces the perceived contrast between the streaming daylight and the relative dimness of the interior and adds to the overall illumination of a space. Washing walls in a corridor effectively pushes the walls away – increasing a feeling of space. General wall washing incorporates the illumination of pictures which is especially useful if the hanging ‘artwork’ element has not been decided upon before the installation of the lighting!

When walls are of a colour that is reflective, as opposed to a light absorbent darker colour; the surface will act as a natural reflector. Reflected light is wonderful as it distributes light into a space. Even better, when the source of the light is completely hidden, the light produces virtually no glare.

Lighting a wall is typically effected by using a spotlight, a ceiling fixture or a downlight. A spot and downlight create a similar effect with scalloping (an intense pool of light cast by a near light source on the wall). A diffused light from a ceiling light e.g. an LED panel, (depending on its proximity) will give an even wash although resulting in a very generalised illumination. It is useful to remember that when a light hits a surface, it will reveal a shape of light according to how the light left the fixture. Hence a round fitting’s light will show the curve of the fitting in a ‘scallop’ shape on the wall. If you use an un-diffused light such as an LED downlight with a clear glass (with an unadulterated LED chip on view as many do) – it will give a very clear, sharper edged delineation. Choosing a frosted or prismatic lens will soften the edges.

So there are occasions when you should use an intentional wash of light in an interior project but how is this best produced?

image 2Downlight with snoot approx 600mm from the wall light is directed down and across to the wall. Create a row with spacings according to the beam angle chosen and how light will fall on the wall.
Image 3Recessed downlight in the ceiling angled at 45 degrees out of sight from the viewer. This fires the light more directly onto the surface – positioning of the fitting is critical
Image 4If the light is leaving a slot, a linear shaped fixture – then the light is evenly washed over the wall, omitting scalloping. See top images lit with this fitting.
image 5Hidden LED source. Purpose made extrusions angling a hidden linear LED source will evenly wash light down. It will be top heavy with the majority of the light being at the top but nevertheless a wash of light is achieved – like a waterfall of light spilling from the ceiling down the wall – fabulous.
So be bold and wash those walls in your next interior project. You will find that it will add an extra dimension to the room design whatever the look you wish to achieve.

Remember we have plenty of ideas and practical advice on the best use of lighting. Call us and we will be happy to help!

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