Apartment Lighting

Seen one apartment, seen them all, right!! …wrong.

When it comes to apartments often it feels like you have seen it all before. Generally in the design of their apartment projects, developers take a cookie cutter approach. A simple copy and paste strategy to save time and money, which can result in dull and displeasing living environments. 

Whereas a more livable apartment is more appealing to the developer, client and end user. To create this bright and enjoyable living environment, the difference is in the finer details of light. These details can first be identified in understanding the building envelope, which includes knowing how the apartment is constructed and what the apartment includes. 

So let’s start with how the space is constructed, typically standard apartment ceiling heights are just 2.4-2.8 meters. These minimal ceiling heights limit the type of lighting suitable for the apartment. Another major consideration is the depth of the ceiling cavity and the ability to penetrate the ceiling in areas other than where the downlights, exhausts or heaters are installed. Likewise, building fire regulations are a huge consideration that needs to be made as this can limit what lighting can be used and where holes can be made in the ceiling structure. Lastly, confirming if the apartment wiring has dimming capabilities and which dimming system it utilises is essential in specifying the right light for the right space within the apartment.

When it comes to what the apartment includes, consideration needs to be made into the various areas within the apartment. This includes bedrooms, kitchen and lounge areas. Which all have differing purposes and requirements to create a livable and saleable apartment, for both the end user and the developer. 

Starting with the bedroom, light is a secondary function to the room. The main function is to provide a space to sleep, but within smaller apartment living bedrooms need to provide flexibility of use and therefore adaptable lighting.  A typical apartment bedroom would include an oyster, downlights and a bedside table lamp. However, oysters and downlights flatten the environment and table lamps take up usable space. As an alternative, a directional pendant hung low over the bedside table looks contemporary and takes up no usable space. In addition, a mirror with side illuminating LED’s or ambient lighting behind the bedhead creates a more moody, intriguing space. Minimising the amount of downlights and adding ambient lighting creates a more livable, relaxing bedroom within the apartment. 

When it comes to the kitchen of an apartment, task lighting is often utilised as functional light source but also a contemporary look. Due to low ceiling heights within apartments, low profile linear task lighting is an effective option. These have the ability to act as a task light, can be dimmed for ambience and are unobtrusive when standing at a kitchen bench. Additionally, upward and downward illumination creates more volume within these spaces. 

Likewise, track lighting systems are an effective light source for kitchens as they have benefits in regards to minimal use of space and flexibility of use. There are multiple types of track configurations to suit your specific apartment space such as recessed track, surface mounted or suspended. Recessed track lighting systems create a clean surface along the ceiling, however this requires careful planning ahead of time to avoid hidden ceiling structures. Whereas surface mounted track lighting systems work well for lower ceiling heights, or suspended track systems can work for higher ceiling drops. Track lighting can also have multiple light dimming channels along the one length of track, which gives the user the ability to create mood and control the lighting levels for their specific task. One of the other great benefits in using a track system is that the fixtures contain the LED light driver in the unit, which means they don’t have to be hidden in the ceiling. 

Having light at different levels is important, particularly for short ceiling heights. Within apartment kitchens, overhead cabinets provide the opportunity for ambient LED strip or point lights to light the preparation area. When it comes to LED’s though, it is important to keep in mind the colour temperature that is comfortable and functional for each different area within an apartment space. For example, within a kitchen a warm white of 3000K feels comfortable, but can make food look more yellow.  Whereas a neutral white of 4000K gives better colour rendition and does not feel harsh or too cool. 

Lastly, when it comes to the lounge and living areas the lighting greatly affects the livability of these spaces. Within lounge areas, the location of the television is important in avoiding glare and being at a comfortable position to watch. The television is also a light source in itself and at night it will create a glare on the window. If possible, put the television in a cove or a cupboard, this can assist in eliminating direct light onto the surface of the screen. This also provides the ability to conceal the television when entertaining and take advantage of the window views.  Likewise, maximising the window location is essential in creating a flood of natural light. Daylight is a free resource that should be harnessed to its full potential, and is proven to create a more inviting, comfortable environment to live in. However, it is necessary to invest in proper window screening such as sheer or block-out blinds, which provide a sense of privacy as well as control over heat, glare and illumination levels at various times of the day. 

Throughout the living spaces within an apartment it is integral to give these spaces volume and ambience. In hallways this can be achieved through wall lights, which bounce light off the walls. In living spaces, a low floor lamp can also help create height by making the eye move from the floor to the ceiling. Having light at different levels within these spaces creates volume and ambience, making living spaces appear larger and more inviting. 

In summary, being able to work the light is such a critical factor in how you use and feel within an apartment space.  Without light we cannot see and with the wrong light we notice the imperfections within the space. But with the right light the space tells the story it was intended to tell.

Duncan Ward – Associate IES-BA
Director – Satelight design Pty Ltd