The Weird and Wonderful Possibilities of Wall Lights
Last year I took on my biggest interior design project yet: a four-story, grade-two listed Georgian townhouse situated in a picture-perfect Bloomsbury square. Quite frankly, it was the dream project—and my very first full-scale residential renovation. I couldn’t wait to get my grubby mits on it.
We began work almost immediately by removing the remains of the previous owners, stripping it back to its bare, gorgeous Georgian bones. Then, one day not long after we had started the works I received a scary-looking letter from an unnamed London council demanding we cease all works and that they would be paying us a visit the following week.
I don't mind telling you that I was bricking it—and as it turns out, with very good reason. As I opened the door, preparing to turn on the charm offensive, the planning officer flashed his card and said: “Mr. Gallacher, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will and can be used against you in a court of law.” You know the rest; we’ve all seen Happy Valley.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be arrested on my maiden reno. Just my luck. Fortunately, as it turned out it was just a (somewhat dramatic) formality and more of a slap on the wrist. What they were really there for was to tell us what we couldn’t do. Which, unsurprisingly for a grade two listed house in a conservation area, was quite a lot.
I begin with this long and slightly convoluted intro because, within the long list of things we weren’t allowed to do or change, the one that concerned me the most was not being allowed to install ceiling lights or pendants. I have to confess I found this far more shocking than the idea of being arrested—which, secretly, I probably would have quite enjoyed.
But then, when I actually started thinking about it: How often does anyone ever actually use their overhead lights? I know I don’t. Most of mine don't even have light bulbs in—they’re primarily there as hanging objets de dusty. And to be brutally honest, I think bright overhead lighting is quite possibly the most unflattering, least sexy light there is. (Especially the spotlight kind—now that really should be illegal.)
And what the house lacked in ceiling lights, it made up for in wall lights, with sconces in almost every room. Luckily for me, I love wall lighting. We all know that ceiling lights can provide an important decorative focal point, and when the light is diffused in the right way, they can illuminate a room spectacularly. But not only do the sconces bring a sense of life to walls, but they quite literally make a room feel like it’s glowing from the inside—and by moving them around, there are infinite possibilities for how to illuminate the room.
Let’s face it, though: Most people’s homes are not grade two listed Georgian townhouses with a Fanny by Gaslight style lighting plan, and us humble renters can hardly go chasing cables into our walls. But that needn’t mean going without. Why not have your flex (or cable) on the outside? All you need to do is stick a plug on the end and place your sconce of choice wherever you want—and even better, you can then take it with you next time your landlord decides to double your rent. Why not make a real feature out of the flex? Viola Lanari (who makes extremely beautiful wall sconces, by the way) and Madeline Thornalley a.k.a. Hurtence, recently collaborated on a lamp and used a fabulous and slightly ridiculous fluffy black flex. Why not, I say?
A good starting point when considering your lighting is to really think about what you want out of it. Do they serve a practical purpose, like illuminating an artwork? (I always think that’s a particularly nice—and purposeful—use of wall lighting.) Or are they simply there to create a mood? In which case, you might want to consider installing multiple switches—or, if you really must, a dimmer. Being able to fully control the lighting in a space makes all the difference, and if you have a mixture of uplights and downlights it works especially well. This is where it may cross over slightly into the murky academic world of architectural lighting—but essentially, up lighting creates a mood, while down lighting is generally for more practical uses. It might sound a little ’80s hotel lobby, but when used together? They create magic.
Remember also that if you’re using a dimmer, you need dimmable bulbs—go for the warmer ones, but not too yellow. And while we’re on the subject of bulbs, anyone who knows me knows I can’t bear an exposed lightbulb. There are a few exceptions, however. I recently visited friends in NY and they had fitted simple $5 porcelain bulb holders and used those clever mirror-faced bulbs, so the light spreads across the wall and doesn’t blind you. It’s a great inexpensive option if you have a lot of wall lights and want something uniform that works in every room.
If you do want to shell out on something a little more special, on the other hand, we used Jamb wall lanterns in the hallways of this project. They’re expensive, and the lead times are long, but they’re well worth the wait. I’ve always found that lanterns tend to work best in hallways and connecting spaces, and if you don’t want to splash out on a Jamb pair, you can always find relatively cheap candle holder styles at flea markets. Why not get one wired up by an electrician and put in one of those fun flickering faux-candle bulbs? Very camp. Whatever you decide to do, though, stay safe—and try not to get arrested.
Originally Appeared on Vogue
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