... let there be light. Switch on: you can work a small revolution
NO MORE stumbling over sofas to reach the corner lamp or sitting under searchlight brightness for those who have been inducted into the world of good lighting. At the press of a button they can switch their living-rooms from pre-dinner brightness to after-dinner intimacy and this, they say, is a revolution in living.

Lighting experts are far more common in the commercial world than in the domestic market, but this could be about to change.

David Robinson, who has just done up his Kensington house which has been in the family for years, says it is one of the best investments he has made. "I was particularly anxious that we did nothing to spoil the house, only enhance it. Now people say how beautiful it is. Rooms that felt closed in have been opened up with lights in every corner and they feel far larger. We have done away with central hanging lights and put in wall lights and halogen lights, but nothing visually intrusive."

A lightwell has a carefully placed lamp that comes on automatically as daylight fades. "It gives the impression of the day being extended and it seems to give you extra energy in the winter." The effect of blending outside and inside light is magnified by the use of lanterns on the wall of the house above a bay with a glass floor.

"It creates a wonderful glow," says Mr Robinson. "Altogether, with devices like the programmed lighting in the sitting-room and the new arrangement in the kitchen, it has revolutionised our lives. I wouldn't have had a clue if I had tried to do it on my own."

Since many people start thinking about lighting only once their rooms are finished, their options are often limited to dimmers and lamps. Electrical work is messy and expensive and the time to think about chasing wires into walls is not after the expensive wallpaper has been put up. A lighting overhaul is not cheap. Specialists usually charge by the hour, but the fittings and work will push costs into several thousands of pounds.

Anthony Lassman, recently turned developer, says that thoughtless lighting can often blight a place while a well-conceived system can produce stunning results. In his current project, a mews house - always notoriously dark - in Bourdon Street, Mayfair, London, he has placed windows and lamps in such a way as to have constant light. As daylight disappears, so outside lights come on, extending the view from the rooms.

The bathroom, once virtually a shed, and the main bedroom, get extra light through a combination of floor-length windows, a glazed roof and both uplighters and downlighters set in an outside decked area.

"The essence of a home is getting the lighting right, and most of the time we get it wrong," says Mr Lassman. "For it to work, you have to be clear about where the furniture is going. Nor is it any good treating a warehouse conversion and a lovely old house in the same way."

Georgina Fordham, who like David Robinson had her house relit by Sally Storey of John Cullen Lighting, says that thinking about the lighting makes you focus on where you want to sit and which paintings you might want to illuminate. "If I had only a certain amount of money in the kitty I would rather spend it on lights than on expensive curtains or wallpaper. Even simple things like having dimmers in every room, especially the children's, make a huge difference. And it's amazing how the right lighting can make a dinner party go really well."

Ms Storey is not surprised by people's reaction to intelligent lighting. "So often we get it wrong. There is a lot of cheap lighting around which gives a bad effect. A low-voltage downlighter with recessed lamps and directed towards the wall looks wonderful. The secret is to think in layers of light."

She finds that many people who want to do interior decorating themselves get stuck on the lighting. "If you convert a loft, it is difficult to know the different effects you can get from building lights into the eaves, or picking out interesting shapes with concealed lights."

The opportunity for designers to experiment with lighting rarely comes with a private commission - apparently the British are scared of radical lighting schemes. But in the revamped Earl's Terrace, in Kensington, Helen Green of the designers Lifestyles Interiors has used mirrors in the void beneath a roof light to create a magical effect at night. "The trick was to cut a hole in one of the mirrors for an uplighter," she says.

"It is crucial to get the lighting planned early on, because you might well want different circuits in a room, so all your lamps come on separately from the main lights at the touch of a switch. One of the systems we have used which throws a clear-cut image of light on to paintings is concealed in the ceiling."

Picking up professional tips may not run to arranging for your lighting to dim as the film starts, as it does in Earl's Terrace, but sellers could do worse than use a simple device one developer tried out. He subtly floodlit a show house and within weeks found the number of inquiries had risen enormously.

Bourdon Street mews house is for sale for pounds 975,000 for a 105-year lease through Foxtons and FPD Savills. John Cullen Lighting: 0171-371 5400. Hourly consultation costs pounds 45-pounds 95 per hour. Lifestyles Interiors: 0171-349 8020.

Penny Jackson

Five Cost-Saving Tips From Osram

u Living-room - layer lights for medley of effects

u Dining-room - an ordinary light bulb in soft colours for warmth

u Bathroom - wall lights either side of the mirror

u Bedroom - soft-colour candle bulbs

u Children's room - energy-saving bulbs that are not hot to the touch