As the clocks go back this weekend, and the prospect of dark mornings and evenings loom ahead, now is the perfect time to think about lighting. The general rule is to establish how you use each room in the house and then combine different types of lighting to create the right mood. Kitchens need bright, practical lights for cooking, but eating at the kitchen table suits something a bit more mellow and intimate, so you need to cater for both. But it doesn't have to be expensive. Despite their growing popularity in recent years, recessed downlights – which require an element of ceiling surgery to install – are not the only option. If, like many people, you don't have the option of starting again and rewiring your house from the ground up, there are still plenty of ways to create instant style on a budget.
As the most functional space in the house, the sitting room requires careful consideration. It can be used as a place to read, watch television and spend time with friends and family; it may even have a corner that is used as a home office. By fitting a dimmer switch to the main light and opting for two or three low-level table lamps, you can quickly transform the feel of the room. "Clever lighting can really dictate the mood of a room," says interiors stylist and author Emily Chalmers. "For relaxing spaces, invest in lighting of different heights, keeping the focus on the lower levels." If you need a reading light, make it site-specific and opt for articulated lamps where possible so light can be directed exactly where necessary. Free-standing table and floor lights will give you greater flexibility than fixed lights which you can't move around. Chalmers adds: "Play around a bit before you start making decisions. Invest in a simple bulb holder from your local DIY store, attach it to a long extension lead, and get a friend to hold it in different positions around a room to help you decide where you want to fix any lighting."
Best buy: Baxter adjustable-height floor lamp, £40 (was £50) from Habitat (www.habitat.co.uk). Nesso table lamp, £187.99 from SCP (www.scp.co.uk).
"Bedrooms are relatively easy to light," reassures lighting specialist and retailer Geoffrey Harris. "All you need is a pair of table or wall-mounted lights by the bed, and a wall or floor light on the other side of the room, to create ambient lighting." A dimmer switch is a fantastic investment in the main bedroom light as it means you can easily adjust the level of light to suit the time of day – whether you want brighter light in the morning or a more relaxed mood in the evening. If you have more time and money to invest, you can install a two-way switch, like you often find in hotels, where you turn the light on at the door, and off by the bed. But the main consideration in any bedroom is to be able to put your book down and turn off the light without getting up, so bedside lights are essential. Decorative lighting is something to think about here – it is mood-enhancing and basically just quite fun, whether you choose twinkling fibre optics or fairy lights in a glass vase.
Best buy: Bud table lamp with four-way touch dimmer, £32 (was £40) from Habitat (www.habitat.co.uk). Hector table light, £115 from Geoffrey Harris (www.geoffreyharris.co.uk).
While not everyone is fortunate enough to have a designated office in their home, a bit of artful lighting can go a long way to creating the illusion of a secluded spot. The classic Anglepoise desk light has endured for a reason – its design is one of pure functionality. By using directional articulated lighting you can, as Emily Chalmers notes, "light the desktop only and stop the whole room becoming a 'work' area". Whether your kitchen table doubles up as a desk, or you have earmarked a laptop-friendly armchair in the corner of your sitting room, a task light such as this is essential. Choose a floor-standing version if you want something less office-like – see also the Jielde-brand lights – and one which will make a smooth transition into a reading light at other times of the day. For a low-energy but technologically exciting option, you could consider the Kelvin LED desk lamp by Flos, which uses just 8W of power and has a 50,000-hour lifespan. It has a warm light that has been tricky to achieve with LEDs.
Best buy: Anglepoise lamp Type 1228, £150 from Heal's (www.heals.co.uk). Kelvin LED desk lamp by Flos, £265also from Heal's.
Kitchens and diners benefit from a combination of different lights. This room needs very practical lighting under cupboards, such as fluorescent strips, halogen spots or LEDs, in order to light the work surfaces, but it also requires something a bit more atmospheric. Three pendant lights in a row look great over a breakfast bar, or island unit, and a low pendant light over the kitchen table creates an inviting atmosphere. "If you eat or entertain in the kitchen, it's useful to be able to dim the working part of the kitchen while creating a friendly atmosphere in the area where you are eating," says Sally Storey, design director of John Cullen Lighting. "If possible, also introduce some soft lighting by the table such as wall lights or a floor lamp." If the task of fitting a new fixture seems too daunting, John Lewis is launching a great new lighting-installation service in selected stores in November. Pay for your goods and, for a small fee, book an electrician to come to your house to install your chosen light and switch into the existing circuits.
Best buy: Ice four-bar spotlight, £24.99 (was £40) from Homebase (www. homebase.co.uk). Void light in copper, £250 from Tom Dixon (www.tomdixon.net).
A more focused approach is required here as the bathroom has wet zones so you must ensure the IP (international protection) rating of the fitting is appropriate for the right zone of the bathroom. Consider the location and purpose of the lights and the size of the bathroom, as well as the amount of natural light in the room. "You need fixed lights here," Geoffrey Harris notes, "but it's nice to have a dimmer switch, so if you do want a bath late at night, you can dim them and you won't feel like you're in Wembley Stadium." A central ceiling light, or recessed spotlights, and a pair of wall lights by the mirror, work well in a smaller space. "The most flattering way to light the face is evenly from either side," Sally Storey says. "But also think about feature lighting to create atmosphere. Put recessed spots into alcoves, back-light an opaque bath panel, or use a floor washer as a night light."
Best buy: Cabaret bathroom wall bar, £85, or Siena bathroom wall light, £45, both from John Lewis (www.johnlewis.com). John Lewis also stocks a range of value products including the Kennedy bathroom light from £15.
So often the last place that gets any attention, but it's the first place anyone sees. You may not spend very long in it, but it is an area of high traffic, so overhead and fixed-wall lighting is best. If you have a hallway with high ceilings, a statement light, such as a chandelier-style pendant, can add a sense of drama. Otherwise, practicality is a concern, as you need this busy area to be well lit, and pendant lights need to be hung sufficiently high enough above people's heads.
Best buy: Maskros pendant lamp, £89 from Ikea PS range (www.ikea.co.uk).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies