Light Up Your Life – For Better Working and Wellbeing at Home

Keep Creativity Going –

At Taylor Howes we believe you should never compromise on your lighting when designing your interiors.

Nobody could agree with this more than Susan Lake, Design Director at Susan Lake Lighting Design. Susan gives some tips and tricks below about how we can use lighting for better working and wellbeing at home.

For those of us who now find ourselves social distancing and working at home during these unprecedented times, there are some quite simple things we can do to change the way our homes work for us and the ways that we can work within our homes. The use of light is one of the key ways in which we can improve the ambience of the spaces in which we are living and working, and improve our sense of wellbeing while we are at home.

I run an architectural lighting design practice that specialises in using lighting as an intangible tool to create different atmospheres in spaces. And, as one of many people now at home juggling running a business with one hand and managing a young family with the other, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my tips on ways you can use light to transform your home for multifunctional uses.

This is probably not the ideal time to suggest you embark on a major refurbishment project although, if you work from home regularly, or think you may be working from home rather more frequently after the coronavirus outbreak has passed, now might be the perfect time to start thinking about changing the lighting set-up in your home office or workspace. There are still any number of things you can do to improve the way light impacts on your home and your home-working life without requiring major work. So, what I would like to do is not only suggest some lighting-design ideas you might consider as ways to improve the use of light in your home, but also look at ways you may be able to make better use of the light sources available to you right now.

Natural light in the workplace

To begin with, let us look at how we can use light to improve our workspace to make the environment more relaxed and help increase our productivity. When I start planning a lighting scheme for a commercial or residential office, there are a number of different aspects that I take into account, and most of the basic ideas are relatively easy to transpose into your home-working environment in one form or another.

When we talk about a lighting scheme, it is not all about what comes on at the flick of a switch. One of the most important factors to take into account when lighting a workspace is natural daylight. I always try to maximise the amount of daylight and optimise the position of people working in the space to the source of daylight.

Having said that, natural daylight is not without its drawbacks. Because it is natural, it is not under our control. Light levels change with the weather, the time of day, and throughout the year. It is well known that artists’ studios tend, in the northern hemisphere, to be north facing so they get a constant source of soft daylight free from direct sunlight. But with office spaces, we have to work with what is there, which means that we usually have to make some adjustments to compensate.

The size and position of the windows are important factors in determining where desks are positioned and which way they face, so that light does not fall directly on to computer screens. This is just as important in your workspace at home. And, if you do nothing else, arranging your desk and your computer so that light from the window does not cause reflections on the screen will make life a lot more comfortable. To find the best position for your desk, especially your screen, a good rule of thumb is to place your desk where the screen will be either backed off to the window or at right angles to it. Doing this has a double benefit because, not only does it keep reflections off your screen, it may also allow you a view out of the window and a connection with the world outside.

So, now we have our desk and our screen in the best position, what about direct sunlight? Working in a space with a sunny aspect, can be a mixed blessing. If you have repositioned your desk so you are facing towards a window, you might now find the sun shining directly at you during certain times of the day, and that can be as disturbing as the reflections on your screen you have gone to some lengths to avoid. In the world of professional lighting design we employ a number of different window treatments to reduce the impact of direct sunlight on people working in the space for which we are creating a lighting scheme. One of the more sophisticated of these is known as “daylight harvesting” which involves motorised window louvres controlled by an external sensor which automatically adjusts the angle of the louvres to maximise natural daylight and minimise direct sunlight and will automatically dim the artificial lighting to compensate for the correct amount of daylight in the working environment. But we do not need to go to these lengths to achieve a similar effect in our home-working space. One simple and cost-effective solution is a semi-translucent blind in the window affected by direct sunlight. These blinds do not significantly reduce the ambient light level in the room or workspace, but they diffuse direct sunlight and fill the space with soft light devoid of any glare or hard shadows.

I have talked a lot about daylight in the workplace and for a very good reason. Daylight is important to our sense of wellbeing and I will return to that theme in a moment. But first, let us look at the other essential element of a lighting scheme for the workplace, which is artificial light.

Artificial light in the workplace

Once I have established the sources of natural light in an office space and how that affects the layout and orientation of the desks, the next step in planning my lighting scheme, is to plot the artificial lighting. Artificial light in the workplace serves two different, but equally essential purposes. Firstly, it augments the natural light, filling shadows and ensuring that each desk in the space receives exactly the right amount of light, in exactly the right way for comfortable working. And, of course, it has to replace the natural light completely after dark. But secondly, artificial light plays a vital role in creating a relaxing ambience and a sense of dimension within the workspace, and this is generally achieved by discreetly illuminating walls, ceilings, architectural features.

In the context of a professional lighting scheme, I aim for different layers of lighting in the space, and I find that the optimum lighting effect for a working environment is best achieved by a combination of upward and downward indirect light. The use of up-lighting both illuminates the ceiling and spreads soft light throughout the space. Whilst, downlighting can be used to light on to surfaces such as desktops. In addition, we also include task desk top lights for localised focused lighting.

To illuminate the perimeter of the space, I often design linear LED which I like to conceal within coving or architectural features or integrate into shelving or other joinery items to wash the walls with light. And the concealed linear LED may also be supplemented by subtly positioned up or down lights.

And this professional approach to office lighting is something anyone can take and adapt to improve the ambience of their home-working environment. In time you may want to consider designing lighting to enhance your workspace as part of a refurbishment project, but there is a great deal you can do with decorative lights in the meantime. At the very least, you should have some local task desk lighting to allow you to focus light on to your desk when you need it. And if you do not already have suitable lights at home that you can utilise, a range of desk lights, floor-standing up lights and linear LED. Simple changes can make an immediate impact and, if you feel creative, you can have a lot of fun experimenting with concealed linear LED, and you may be surprised at the stunning effects you can achieve.

Light as a way to enhance wellbeing

Up to now we have looked at purely practical tips for using light to make our home-working space more comfortable and a place in which it is easier and more enjoyable to do our work and, hopefully, increase our productivity. But the concept of using light to create spaces at home in which we feel comfortable, leads back to the point I raised when we were considering the importance of daylight, which is the way it can affect our sense of wellbeing.

Everyone’s body is subject to what are called circadian rhythms, which are natural, internal processes that repeat roughly every 24 hours and regulate things like our sleep-wake cycle, our body-temperature cycle, our hormone cycles etc. Daylight plays a vital role in helping to regulate these rhythms, and if anything occurs to disturb them it can adversely affect our sense of wellbeing. A typical example, of course, is jet-lag, but if we are not exposed to enough daylight and out of our normal routine by working from home for example, this too can have a detrimental effect on us.

Our sleep-wake cycle, or body clock, is regulated by the changing colour temperature and intensity of the light throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. When we are exposed to the changing colours of daylight, our brain sends signals to synchronise the physiological process within our body. And if we are not exposed to enough daylight our body clock can get out of sync with the time of day.

When I was suggesting practical tips, it was easiest to talk about a room with windows, but I know very well that not all of us have that luxury, whether we are working in a commercial office or at home. So, if you find yourself having to work in a space with limited daylight, all is not lost. I cannot give you a room with a view, but I can pass on some of the ways lighting professionals compensate for a lack of natural daylight in a workspace and help to regulate people’s circadian rhythms.

When designing a lighting scheme for a space that is lacking daylight, I have found that the most successful way to overcome this problem and create a sense of artificial daylight that helps to maintain the natural circadian rhythms of people working there, is to install a system using what we call “daylight-mimicking” LED lights. This is a quite sophisticated, professional system but its effect is outstanding. By means of a programmable control unit, the colour temperature of the lights adjusts automatically, not only over the course of the day but also over the seasons of the year, constantly mimicking, as the name suggests, the natural daylight outside. Another, slightly less sophisticated but still professional system involves “tuneable white” LEDs, which allow the light to be “tuned” manually to match the brightness and colour temperature of daylight, from warm white first thing in the morning, to cool white at midday, and warm white again at the end of the day.

Incorporating either of these types of lighting, has been shown to increase energy levels and improve alertness and mental wellbeing. But you do not have to go to the lengths of installing professional systems like these to bring many of the same benefits into your home-working life, because there are simpler and cheaper solutions. If you are working from home in a space with limited natural daylight, I recommend that you fit “dim to warm” LED lamps in your existing decorative light fittings. These lamps can be used on most decorative lights or as retrofitted MR16 downlights, and have the unique property of changing colour temperature from cool white at full brightness to a warm white as they are dimmed, which means that you can adjust them to suit your mood and the time of day.

Beyond your workspace

If you feel inspired to try out some of the tips I have offered to improve your home-working environment, you do not have to stop there. You can easily carry any of the ideas for workplace lighting throughout your home. And while you are spending more time at home than usual, you may have time both to get creative with lighting and enjoy the benefits.

So, think about introducing various functionalities into your lighting so that you can create different moods within your home. For instance, go for a bright, fresh feel during the day to feel alert. This is especially important if you are both working from home and participating in online exercise classes. But if you are also practicing meditation relaxation at home you may appreciate the ability to create warm, relaxing, ambient lighting.

Then, at the end of the day, a warm and cosy feel in the evening is ideal to help you relax. And this change of mood can be easily achieved by introducing low-level, decorative lighting and by using dimmer switches to reduce the brightness of the high-level lighting or by turning it off altogether.

Lighting is a nontangible element that can change the feel of a space instantly and the more creative you are with your lighting, the greater the difference you can make to your home and your life. So whether you just want to experiment with moving the lights you already have to create new effects or you feel like being bold and introducing some new elements like linear LED, you may never find a better time to literally light up your life and bring some worthwhile changes to your work, your home and your wellbeing.

To find out more about Susan Lake Lighting Design click here

This article was guest written by Susan Lake, Design Director at Susan Lake Lighting.