The Insider: How to get lighting right

Nosing at other people's homes from the top of the bus after dark, I always marvel at so many rooms robbed of atmosphere by dependence on stark central ceiling lights. A lamp or two is a start – but what else can you do with lighting to transform a space?

Three's the magic number

Create three layers of light – base (main lighting source), middle (lamps/mood lighting) and high (task; say for cooking/reading) advises interiors expert Cassandra Ellis. She also swears by dimmer switches.

On the wire

"Forget burying cables into ceilings to move an overhead light," says Stanley Wilson, founder of "Use a coloured fabric cable and simply loop over a hook in the new position." Find antique hooks and textile wiring on his site.

How do you feel?

"If in doubt," says Lucy Martin in The Lighting Bible (Apple Press, £12.99), "think about how you want people to feel in a room." A living-room lamp, for example, can make you feel cosy, while bright kitchen lighting stimulates.

It's dark out

"Outside, differentiate," says Peter Bowles of Davey Lighting. "Use spots to highlight architectural detail or trees, bracket lights for eating areas, and lines of recessed step lights on lawns and decking to create the illusion of space."

To the max

"Where natural light is scarce," says Emily Chalmers in Modern Vintage Style (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99), "a wall of mirrors – mis-matching shapes and eras – harnesses what you have."

Light your fire

A clever friend draped a live bulb over the back of a glass bowl in her fireplace, then piled (dead) clear bulbs on top so the light glowed through. Simple but striking.

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