Lighting design principles

A few design principles are important to help you enhance your interior and create a pleasant space for living, in particular the balance of diffuse and focused lighting, the choices of intensity and lighting temperature.
Room with mood lighting
The importance of mood lighting

This sheet provides some methods widely used by lighting professionals, to design a successful “ensemble”.

1-The lighting criteria

Our lighting environment should not be uniform: human attention is attracted to the light, and our gaze instinctively turns to the best lit areas of our surroundings. A successful lighting should therefore highlight the parts which one wishes to emphasise, such as for instance the places to which you want to attract attention, and the areas of interest to which people should gather: a dining room table, the coffee table of a living room, a library etc.

We are also very sensitive to the type of light that surrounds us. Our mood is influenced by its colour and intensity:

  • A cold, direct lighting suggests work, energy, activity;
  • A warm, attenuated light inspires relaxation, intimacy, comfort.

Some activities are usually associated to a specific light intensity. A working table should enjoy bright lighting, while watching TV will call for a light-toned atmosphere. As a consequence, the characteristics and layout of fixtures that equip each room of a house must be selected according to 3 criteria:

  • The desired ambient light intensity;
  • The light colour (bright or soft);
  • The distribution of lighting to highlight the decoration of each room.

To simplify the thinking, it helps to distinguish:

  • The diffuse lighting, which bathes the entire room;
  • The direct lighting that one chooses to concentrate on areas of interest.

2-Diffuse lighting

Diffuse lighting provides the entire room with an overall luminosity. This component has two main characteristics: its intensity and its colour.

The intensity of the illumination of a surface is measured in lux. The higher the number, the better lit the surface appears (read our technical page for more explanations). The table below shows some examples of intensity measured in daily life.

Situation Lighting (lux)
Moonlight, clear night 0.25
Candle lit Restaurant 20
Normally lit living room 100
Very bright Office 400
Sunny Day in the shade 10 000
Sunny day surface in full sun 100 000

The following table shows the intensity and colours usually chosen professionals when choosing the lighting for a house:

Light intensity Room & Atmosphere desired Color
25-50 Lux Lounge, dining room, adult room, subdued ambience, romantic Hot
100-150 Lux Lounge, dining room, kitchen, adult room, office. Restful and convivial atmosphere Hot
200-250 Lux Working atmosphere (office, library), children rooms (nursery, playroom) White
350-500 Lux “Technical” atmosphere: areas of high activity (office, workshop) and circulation (hallways, entrance) White

3-Directed Lighting

The directed lighting highlights certain areas of interest in the room: in a living room, these points of interest can be materialised by certain decorative objects placed or hung on the wall, by certain furniture (table, desk, coffee table). In a dining room or kitchen, these areas are usually the table and work tops. Sometimes the points of interest are only architectural, for example an apparent framing or a decorative interior staircase. Lighting specialists generally estimate that an area of interest should be 3 to 5 times more illuminated than the rest of the room. The values (in lux) shown  above should therefore be multiplied by 3 to 5. Of course, a more intense directed lighting of the areas of interest should be compensated by a lower level of diffuse lighting – in practice, 200 lux or less. The directed lighting is obtained with luminaires capable of concentrating the light produced – for example equipped with a reflector (for instance spotlights), or desk lamps that concentrate the light downwards.


In summary, the following two design principles should be followed:

  • A relaxing atmosphere is better appreciated if it is bathed by a diffuse illumination of 50 to 150 lux with preferably a warm tone which can be easily obtained by using luminaires with filters, or luminaires equipped with dimmers, or bulbs of the right colour. Areas of interest should be illuminated 3 to 5 times more – typically 150 to 500 lux – using directional luminaires such as spot bulbs with reflectors, wall or table lamps, and often with a whiter light.
  • An active atmosphere should have a lighting between 150 and 500 lux, and a colder light tone – obtained for example with light-shaded luminaires and bulbs with a warm white tone of 3500° K minimum (for more information, see our guide on the technical terms).

We will see in the more detailed pages of our guide, that the current trends are to provide some tuning for intensity, temperature and even colour, to change these atmospheres on demand or automatically.

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You can find further guidance in the following page:

You can also find below our advice to choose and install the various types of lighting you can find in our catalogue:

And to finish, if you want to start looking for a lamp, our product category catalogue, with all our lighting ranges. Or you can browse our illustrated catalogue of luxury brands.