Residential Lighting Design – An Architect’s Guide

Both natural and artificial lighting can help to elevate a residential space. Whilst the orientation of a building, size and location of windows controls the natural daylight and quality of a space, artificial light can add warmth on dark days and transform spaces at night.

Within this post we will look at the different types of artificial lighting within a domestic setting, types of light fixtures, LEDs, light temperature, Lumens, lux, fittings and bulbs. 

We have put together a pack of standard lighting and electrical symbols to be dropped into your next residential lighting projects and simplify the lighting design process.

[Scroll to the end of the page to download this handy PDF guide and our lighting symbols]

05 Pendant Light

The best way to know when there’s good lighting is when you don’t notice it.

Vilmos Zsigmond

Lighting hardware and design has evolved greatly over the last 50 years. Lighting can help transform spaces and to understand a room and user’s lighting needs, we need to first understand the basics of artificial lighting.

01 Detail Library SL37 Electrical Lighting symbols

Types of lighting

Ambient Lighting

This is general background lighting, traditionally in the form of a light fitting in the centre of a room.

02 Ambient Lighting Detail Library
04 Accent Lighting Detail Library

Task Lighting

This is lighting required for completing a task and tends to be more concentrated and brighter than ambient light. This can be anything from a lamp at a desk, to stronger lighting in a kitchen.

Accent Lighting

These are traditionally seen as lamps in certain areas of the house but which can now be light fittings above a dining table or kitchen island and even feature lights in a corridor or staircase.

04 Accent Lighting Detail Library
05 Pendant Light

Types of light fixtures

Pendant Lights

These are lights that hang down from a ceiling. Traditionally pendant lights are the most common in homes and can be great when used with a feature pendant light fitting, with higher ceilings or over kitchens and dining tables to create a feature space.

Surface Lights

These are fixtures which are visible and are usually flush against a ceiling or wall. They can be commonly found in corridors as well as general all around usage. They are usually easier to replace than recessed light fittings.

06 Surface mounted dowlight
06 Surface mounted dowlight
08 Wall light Lindby Colja

Recessed Lights

These lights usually have the main light fitting hidden within the ceiling or wall. They are used in the same way as surface lights and help to bring spots of lights to an area. When specifying these types of lights it is important that the correct fire rated light is chosen for the project and location or a suitable fire hood is installed to stop a fire spreading through the ceiling void. 

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Track lights

This is when multiple bulbs are on one track. These lights come in many forms including pendant lights or surface mounted and usually allow for the direction of lights to be controlled or changed.

Strip lights

With the invention of LED strip lights, these are now commonplace in houses. They are especially recessed within wardrobes, kitchen cabinets and other joinery to provide task light although they can also be installed within recessed ceiling systems to provide ambient lighting.

06 Surface mounted dowlight
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These are usually in the form of one bulb in a place where extra lighting is needed such as a desk, bedside table for reading or where ambient lighting is needed within a space of bright lighting such as a living room or dining room.

14 Lamps



Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are common lighting elements. They are around 80% more effective than incandescent bulbs, they last longer and are more efficient converting electricity to light, meaning they don’t heat up like an incandescent bulb does. A key thing to bear in mind when using LEDs is that these can sometimes be integrated into the light fitting, so if the light stops working, the whole fitting may need to be changed. However, there are many LED light fittings that allow for the lighting element to be changed without changing the whole light fitting. Other key aspects which are discussed further in the successive sections are the lighting temperature and controls.

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Light Temperature

Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) is the measure of the light’s colour appearance and is measured in Kelvin (K). Lower numbers mean the light appears yellowish, and higher numbers mean the light is bluer or whiter.

This is especially important with LEDs as they can come in a huge range of temperatures whereas incandescent bulbs tend to be around 2700K, halogen around 3000K and fluorescent bulbs around 3500K.

Colour temperature tends to be split into 3 categories:

Warm – 2700 – 3500K

This light is great at making a space feel cosy, such as bedrooms and living rooms.

Neutral – 3500 – 4500K

This is a whiter light and great for areas such as kitchens and bathrooms or in areas where tasks are performed such as at a desk, reading or workstation. 

Cool – 5000K +

This light will be a bright white or even blue. It is not common for these types of lights to be used in a residential setting and are more associated with offices or factories.

05 Mineral Wool Insualtion ROCKSILK RAINSCREEN SLAB - 455MM Knauf insulation Partial fill blockwork and render wall

Lumen and Lux

With older incandescent bulbs, the wattage would indicate the brightness of the bulb, the more wattage the more light. Whilst the premise is similar with LED bulbs, the wattages are lower and therefore most bulbs and built in light fittings will have a lumen (lm) number which indicates how bright the light will be. 

05 Mineral Wool Insualtion ROCKSILK RAINSCREEN SLAB - 455MM Knauf insulation Partial fill blockwork and render wall

As an example, a 1100lm bulb in a small room may be very bright and the only light required. However, the same bulb does not have the same lighting effect in a large room. We therefore use a different unit of measurement, Lux. Lux is a unit of measuring the luminous flux per unit area: 1 Lux is equal to the light given off by 1 lumen over 1 square metre.

To calculate how many lumen you need in a room, you will need to know approximately how much Lux is required for the space. Below is a table setting out rough allowances.

05 Mineral Wool Insualtion ROCKSILK RAINSCREEN SLAB - 455MM Knauf insulation Partial fill blockwork and render wall

For example if you have a bedroom that is 4m x 3m. The total area is 12m2

This is then multiplied by the Lux, 100, giving 1200 lumens for ambient lighting.

This can be provided in the form of one pendant light in the centre of the room, but can also be split up into more light fittings which add up to 1200lm. 

For task lighting, the area required to be lit up is a lot smaller. You can therefore multiply the lux by the area of a desk or around 1m2. In a bedroom, you would therefore need a light of 200-300lm for each reading position. This would amount to roughly a reading light on each side of the bed or at a desk. 

Many lighting suppliers can assist with these calculations and recommend types of fittings for each space.

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05 Mineral Wool Insualtion ROCKSILK RAINSCREEN SLAB - 455MM Knauf insulation Partial fill blockwork and render wall

LED bulb fitting and shape

Another important factor to bear in mind is the fitting and shape of the bulb. Whilst this was very key with incandescent and fluorescent light fittings, many LED fittings will also have removable bulbs which will only work with a certain fitting and shape. 

The most common types of fittings are the bayonet cap (prefix B), Edison screw cap (prefix E) and the prefix GU (used in halogen spots and the more modern LED versions). The number following the prefix usually indicated the size. 

The shape of the bulb is also important, especially in lamps where the fitting is designed for a certain bulb shape. The bulb can come in anything from large and small globe shapes, to candle shapes, spirals or sticks.

The colour of the glass can also have a huge effect, especially when the bulb is visible in the light fitting. A frosted or opal light hides the filament or LED within, creating a glow. A transparent glass bulb allows for the filament or LED to be visible. This will create a sharper light and has even been used for feature lights such as edison lights, where a complicated filament or LED structure is on show and visible with very low voltage light.

LED light fitting and lenses

Some LED light fittings come with an integrated bulb within the fitting which cannot be removed and replaced. As some LEDs can last up to 20 years, it is assumed that at the end of it’s lifespan, a new fitting is installed rather than a change of bulb. When specifying these types of lights, it is important for the fitting to have a guarantee so they can be exchanged if there are any faulty LEDs within a certain time range. 

These types of fittings are also more likely to have interesting lenses to diffuse or focus light. 

The light fitting can vary light emission greatly even if the lumens, lux and light temperature are all the same. Some LED’s especially light strips come with removable casings which help to diffuse the strong LED lights but allow for the replacing of these bulbs if they stop working. 


Artificial light can help transform a place with the right understanding of types of light fixtures, LEDS, lumens, lux, lighting temperature, bulbs, lenses and fittings. 

We have put together a pack of standard electrical and lighting symbols to drop into plans and simplify the lighting design process. 

Download the Guide

28 Residential Light Design Guide

Download the Electrical and Lighting Symbols

Make your lighting design quicker and easier with our full set of lighting and electrical symbols.

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Written by Aida Rodriguez-Vega, architect and researcher. At the Detail Library, Aida keeps busy by carrying out technical research and drawing new details for the ever-growing library.

Links and Image Credits

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