How to hire a lighting designer

Landscape and garden lighting
Professionally designed lighting works as a complement to architecture and interior design.

These days, regulations seriously limit the amount of Watts of lighting per square metre you’re able to build into new homes. Where it might’ve been an option in the past, simply getting an electrician to pepper your ceilings with 50W halogen downlights is no longer an option.

With the new regulations in place, and with new lighting technologies like LEDs and automated lighting systems becoming increasingly popular, carefully considered lighting design is more important than it's ever been.

This is especially the case if you’re serious about building a stunning, uniquely architected home. Professional lighting design is still a niche service in Australia, but professionally designed lighting can make a huge difference to how a home looks and feels.


What do lighting designers do?


Professional lighting designers are experts in illumination. A professional lighting designer helps to design functional, aesthetically pleasing lighting schemes that complement both the architecture and interior design of a building.

As well as making lighting that looks stunning, lighting designers are also experts on the building and design codes and standards of compliance that apply to lighting in Australia.


What should I look for in a lighting designer?

A good place to start is to look at qualifications. Most professional lighting designers have done tertiary studies in lighting design, and are members of the Illuminating Engineering society of Australia and New Zealand (IESANZ).

Because lighting design spans a few different areas of specialisation, it’s also important to find someone whose area of expertise fits with your needs, advises professional lighting designer Sue Stokes. “If the project is your own home, look for a residential lighting design expert as opposed to someone who specialises in commercial projects.”

Lighting designers who specialise in residential design will better understand the specifics of residential building standards and regulations.


Can electricians plan my lighting?

Electricians are sometimes tasked with ad-hoc lighting design simply because it’s often overlooked until it’s time to wire in light fittings - particularly in renovation jobs. Most electricians do have an understanding of the fundamentals, but that doesn’t mean they’re all experts by any stretch.

“Many electricians have an interest in lighting as it is the creative part of what they do and electricians do some study of lighting as part of their apprenticeship”, explains Sue. This doesn’t necessarily qualify them for the task, though.

“Just as I don't assume to have the skills to wire a house an electrician also isn't a lighting designer by default. The two areas require a different set of skills, training and experience.”

A grounding in electrical work can be a brilliant asset for lighting designers though. “I know of electricians who have become lighting designers after undertaking appropriate study and it can be a huge advantage to have this experience”, Sue explains.

“My husband is a qualified electrician and his practical knowledge is really helpful - particularly in renovations as there are often wiring limitations.”


When should I hire a lighting designer?

“As early as possible – definitely before you pour slabs!” says Sue. “The later in the building process, the more limitations there are on the options available and this can be expensive and/or just mean the result is not as good as it otherwise could have been.”

Depending on how you’re planning your home, this is likely to involve consultation between your architect, your interior designer and your lighting designer. “Great lighting is woven into the fabric of the architecture as much as possible and to do this involves lots of communication with the person who designed it”, says Sue.


What’s the best way to find a lighting designer?

While it’s possible to engage a lighting designer (or design firm) directly, it’s also often the case that lighting design services are offered by lighting suppliers who have their own in-house designers.

According to Sue, it’s also common for other members of the construction team (like automation integrators) to recommend people they’ve worked with. “A recommendation is always good place to start when it comes to hiring anyone for a building project. Ultimately it is the client's decision”, she explains.


What kind of brief does a lighting designer need?

The kinds of information a lighting designer needs to bring out the best in a home include details both about the overall ‘vision’ of the building (as relayed by architects and interior designers) and about the practical needs of those who’ll inhabit it.

“For residential projects I usually start with a floor plan with furniture layout. I meet with the client, architect and interior designer and find out as much detail as possible about the architecture, design elements of the space and the desired look and feel for the home”, Sue tells us.

“There are standards the amount of light for different tasks and regulations that govern the amount of power that can be consumed for lighting (i.e. BASIX and Section J requirements).”

The particular needs of those who are likely to live in the house are also a factor. “As we age we generally need more light to perform the same tasks and young families benefit from low level lighting that can be used as night lights.”