Beatle Lindsay-Fynn

May 8, 2024

Founding Partner and Managing Director of Palladian, a London-based architecture and interior design practice, gives his opinion on maximising wellbeing in residential lighting.

Wellbeing has been a key driver right across design for a number of years and probably nowhere more so than in the workplace, where employers met the challenges of Covid-19 and post-pandemic hybrid working by evolving worker-first interiors, complete with breakouts, garden centre levels of planting, quiet rooms and ultra-flexible, mission-oriented environments. In the residential sphere, however, where we operate, wellbeing can often be taken for granted. It’s as if the home, representing ‘the authentic self’, is a pre-designated locus for refuge and relaxation and therefore self-evidently a place where we feel ‘well’.

We oppose this passive attitude for many reasons, but not least because home interiors are something of a wellbeing battleground right now. Many recent advances in home technology – particularly wireless and Bluetooth – generate electromagnetic frequencies, which are absolutely not conducive to wellbeing. Equally, many sustainable advances, including triple-glazed, energy-saving windows, are in danger of having a negative impact too, by cutting out the sun’s most energy-giving lightwaves, especially in the morning. Then, there’s the flickering problem with many low-energy sustainable lamps, especially cheap LEDs and fluorescents. Even if our eyes can’t see the flickers, our brains can, and the repeated pulsing can have a woeful impact on our nervous systems. Electronic drivers and dimming modules in the home need to be carefully monitored for the same reason. Having a house hard-wired with on/off switches or using a hard-wired control system – as long as properly evaluated – can be a better wellbeing solution, however much against the contemporary grain.

Ensuring our homes have enough light of both the right temperature and lux/intensity levels, while prioritising health, sustainability, and people’s technological needs, is a complex ambition, necessitating informed strategies and careful thinking to find a pathway through.

At the start of a residential renovation or new interior design project, lighting designers are usually briefed to design a scheme with specifications that meet a particular budget or aesthetic, while providing appropriate washes, colours, and levels of light and taking into consideration a home’s architectural or interiors layout. Clients without lighting designers are often simply trying to generate enough artificial light within a budget, with less consideration of other factors. In both instances, the wellbeing of a home’s occupants may be of lesser consideration – if considered at all. 

A home is many things, from a social space to a quiet space and a place for eating, working, and playing. Most importantly, home is where we sleep – a vital restorative action for our bodies, minds and souls. A wellbeing-first residential lighting scheme needs to take on board home-owners’ personality types, neurodiversity typology, any health issues and particular personal circumstances alongside the design brief, budget and current lighting product availability. The ideal end result is a series of personalised lighting solutions for each family or occupier’s requirements, in much the same way people currently seek out personalised healthcare, nutrition or exercise programmes.

Light will always be the single most important element within the built environment, fundamentally driving the rhythm of life. Lighting design needs to prepare our bodies for sleep and wake us in the morning, working directly with our circadian rhythm. Regulating our exposure to different light sources throughout the day is key to promoting our overall mental and physical health and performance.

Artificial light remains a great gift, particularly for those living in darker, North European climates, enabling increased functional and leisure time over the course of a day, but the season, the orientation of each building and even each room’s geometry all have to be considered, in line with the natural course of daylight, when assessing artificial lighting needs. You might organise your bedrooms to be facing east, for example, or your living spaces to face south and west, while, to provide the best level of daylighting, the visible light transmittance of glazing should be high, with windows kept open as much as possible to absorb full spectrum light. Solar heat gain should be considered and kept low over the summer too, however, making rooflights something of a pay-off between additional light ingress and solar gain implications.

Those with a higher budget can choose lighting control systems based on astronomical clocks, linked to light sources that change temperature in accordance with natural light, but the principles for lower budgets are the same. Residential lighting basically needs to incorporate thought-out layering, featuring different light source typologies, including white task lighting above head level to mimic the rising sun – though the latter should only be viable from a biophilic perspective for a short period. Lighting should then mirror the move to warm white and finally amber hues as the day goes on, via wall and floor lights, reflecting both the colour and the position of the sun.

We also need to be wary of lighting that looks yellow but is in fact white, as is often the case with LEDs, while overhead grids should be avoided, full-stop. It’s certainly worth spending money on the highest-possible quality LEDS, while anyone exposed to too much blue light via laptops, tablets and phones in the bedroom would do well either to change habits or counter the subsequent block to their melatonin levels, causing a reduction in sleep quality, by investing in special blue-light-blocking glasses.

Once the optics of how these elements are approached during the design stages are aligned with the occupier’s wellbeing, any contradictions with technology and sustainability are by no means insurmountable and can create an enjoyable journey whose outcomes profoundly impact a home’s inhabitants. Further technological advances should continue to be assessed from a wellbeing perspective, so that the key role lighting plays in protecting our wellbeing at home – exactly where we need it most – is always recognised, prioritised and enabled.