When a person or a thing is being subject to close scrutiny it is common to say they are being placed “under the spotlight”. The spotlight, it would seem, is the device that will reveal any shortcomings, misdemeanours or general wickedness emanating from the subject of its attention below.
As spotlight, or a searchlight as it is called in some circumstances, is a piece of apparatus essentially comprising a bright light which can be swivelled around on its axis to focus sharply upon its subject. Its uses are plenty, but it is particularly widely used in the military, and also in the theatre.
In military campaigns the most obvious deployment of a spotlight would be to locate an enemy in the distance under conditions of darkness, especially perhaps during an air raid. However they have also been used as a weapon with which to dazzle the enemy in preparation for an attack, as well as to create “artificial moonlight” in order to facilitate a nocturnal assault.
Their use in war has not been beneficial on every occasion. Towards the end of the Second World War the advancing Soviet army directed searchlights at German forces across the Neisse River in an attempt to temporarily blind them, only for the fog to diffuse the light and to make silhouettes of the attackers, making them easier to spot. The Soviets suffered heavy losses as a direct consequence of this.
Spotlights at the theatre and in the home
In the theatre spotlights are widely used to create a pool of light on the stage. Their use was once particularly common for movie premieres, as a kind of visual fanfare proudly announcing the start of some special event.
Back in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and especially in the inter-war years, big political rallies were very popular and sometimes they attracted many thousands of people. When these were held at indoor venues spotlights were often used to good effect, both to highlight the speaker but also on occasions to draw attention to disruptors, making it easier for them to be identified and ejected.
Spotlights do also of course find popular usage in domestic lighting. Of particular value is the fact that their light source can frequently be redirected. Often they are to be found as a “strip”, with multiple units pointing simultaneously in different directions for maximum exposure.
When used for the purpose of home lighting the spotlight can be stark in the sense of lacking the ornate or decorative character of other light forms, but its effectiveness is actually targeted directly onto the subject.
Now that winter is slowly passing, the days are getting longer and we have more daylight hours to look forward to. Spring often has the effect of highlighting things in our home that may need freshening or replacing for the year ahead, after the long ‘battening down’ effect of the dark and cold winter.
Many of us also get the urge to redecorate and freshen our home decor palettes and furniture. Often it can seem as though a lot needs doing – but there are ways to create a fresh look and atmosphere in your home without spending a fortune; something of interest to most in these cash-strapped times!
Look at colours and shades
Spring demands a fresher and lighter colour palette. After the deep and comforting rich shades of Winter, most of us look for pastels, neutrals, whites and natural woods – brighter shades that reflect the increase of natural light outside and the re-emergence of spring flowers. Easy ways to freshen the home include painting walls a zingy new shade, re-wallpapering, putting up some lighter coloured curtains in a sheer or thinner fabric that’s more in keeping with the warmer days to come and packing away the warm, heavy and comforting winter items such as heavy throws, velvet cushions, thick curtains, bedspreads and the like.
Lighting is also a surprisingly easy way to make a room feel very different. By simply moving around a lighting arrangement, the room’s atmosphere and arrangement can change dramatically. Look to get the balance of lighting right – an ambient soft light, such as that created by a pendant in the centre of a room, combined with accent lighting such as funky wall lights and then task based lighting such as reading lamps to highlight key activities.
There are a great range of lights available on the market nowadays and many of them start at very reasonable prices. You can even just change lampshades on many models rather than replacing the entire fixture – a really simple way to create a new colour scheme.
Look at fashions and trends too – you’ll be surprised at the new items on the market. Pendants in funky colours and finishes are very popular at the moment and look great if you have a young family home or a funky urban home. Traditional types of lights are always popular with country-themed or classic English houses and there’s a vast range of quirky, experimental, classic, ‘lights as art’ and children’s lights available too. Always go for brighter bulbs over darker ones – unless of course you do like the muted and slightly dimmed feel in your rooms. A better approach can be to use a dimmer switch to create the atmosphere you may want when watching television or eating dinner and then provide brighter task focused lighting when reading or carrying out activities in the home.
Low energy lighting is also a great way of making the most of your lights and ensuring that you can run them cheaply too!
We tend these days to take home lighting somewhat for granted. When entering a room we flick a switch and expect the light thing to simply happen. On those occasions when it does not we will generally cuss a little before seeking out either a replacement bulb or the fuse box.
In actual fact home lighting goes back rather longer than may at first be obvious to us. We are all broadly familiar with gas lamps and their use in days gone by, but just often do we find ourselves contemplating the earliest cave paintings and pondering the logistics of them being applied so far away from the entrance to the cave, which would have been the only source of natural daylight?
At some point, in some place in time, somebody discovered the art of igniting a stick. Thereafter it occurred to somebody else (probably) that to ignite a bundle of sticks bound together gave a more lasting light, burning not only more slowly but also more brightly.
We also know that fireflies were sometimes captured and taken home to help provide a natural, though one must imagine irritatingly mobile, source of illumination.
Eat or heat?
It is believed that the first actual lamp came into being in around 70,000 BC. A hollow shell, large stone or other such object would be filled with moss or other plant growth of a similar consistency which would be soaked in animal fat and ignited. During periods of famine, however, the animal fat would often be a valuable and possibly life-saving source of nutrition, presenting our ancestors with something of a dilemma. As the burning was also used for warmth we can see that the “eat or heat” debate has its origins somewhat before the present-day economic crisis.
At some point in time wicks were added in order to allow some control over the rate of burning, and around the seventh century BC the Greeks began to use terracotta lamps in place of hand-held torches. The modern word “lamp” indeed derives from the Greeklampas.
The oil lamp in the form with which most of us would be familiar emerged during the eighteenth century. The source of fuel was encased in metal and the design of the lamp allowed a good deal of control over the intensity of the light and of the fuel burning process. During the latter part of the century petroleum gas replaced beeswax and olive, fish, nut, sesame and whale oils as the fuel of choice.
In the modern household home lighting is of course provided electronically and still, however the opposite may sometimes seem to be the case, rather cheaply. The ease of use and the efficiency of the system permit us some latitude to reflect upon the aesthetic qualities of our lighting rather than just its practical application.
Image courtesy of Flickr.
Light is a basic function, it helps us to see our way around in the dark. Man has long recognised the need to illuminate his world when the sun can no longer be depended upon to weave its magic. That is why we have used lighting, of a fashion, since at least as far back as the cave dwellers (howelse did they see to do their cave paintings?).
As far as fulfilling its basic function is concerned the electric light is a fairly simple invention, at least from the point of view of the user. A flick of a switch, and it comes on. One doesn’t stare at the light, so aesthetically it is essentially neutral.
This is how it seems people once thought in any case. And yet the practice of placing decorative lampshades around the bare bulb would seem to suggest that even our recent forebears wanted their home lighting to be pleasing upon the eye.
Lampshades are still an option, of course, but today there are others for the benefit of those who consider it important to try to reconcile style with function. Many household lighting designs, in fact, are quite deliberately cast in such a way as to inject some interest and flair into the simple act of lighting up a room.
Let us take a look at a few of them.
Take this white glass wall light for instance, a classic example if there ever was one of an item of home lighting with an added sense of purpose. Designed to direct light both upwards and downwards, this piece has a built in diffuser at both top and bottom that creates a light pattern which is both interesting and unique.
Looks like a naked light bulb, but it is a lamp
Or this quirky table lamp, lighting that effectively mimics the appearance of the traditional light bulb whilst in fact providing a deceptively solid modern piece. This design in particular adds novelty and charm to any room, complementing the ambience as opposed to being a mere spectator.
No discussion about modern home lighting would be complete however without paying special tribute to the beautiful coloured glass ceiling pendant. These are the lights that lend character to any room and that tell us as visitors a little about the person whose home it is. Install it in isolation or as part of a group, it will brighten up your room and your home either way.
Lighting is often an afterthought for many people when they are planning the interior of their homes, but lighting is one of the aspects of interior design that can fulfil a room’s potential. The wrong lighting can make a room look too harsh, fill it with distracting shadows or cast an unpleasant hue over a colour scheme. It needs to be adaptable, as a room may have multiple functions and will require different lighting for different activities. A room may be used for reading, writing, close up work or for relaxing, in which case background lights are required. It is also one of the easiest aspects of interior design to update and transform a room’s atmosphere.
If a room is being decorated from scratch, think about the lighting early on. This way you can install sockets in strategic places to avoid unsightly and dangerous wires trailing across the floor. The amount of natural light available should also be considered. If a room is to be used during the day but does not get a lot of natural light, you will need to consider lights that recreate natural light as closely as possible and those that light up the entire room, not just sections of it.
A single bulb is never going to give you the versatility you need to create different atmospheres in a room. Directional lights are good option for moving light to where you need it and for highlighting features such as mirrors or paintings or interesting architecture such as coving. A combination of ceiling lights, wall lights, up lighters and table lamps will let you create different effects for different moods and tasks. All the lights in a room should be controlled separately to avoid overkill and ideally have a dimmer switch, so that you can tinker with the brightness according to your needs.
A room’s décor will also influence the type of lights that will fit best. An old fashioned or period room will look better with lamps, whereas a modern room will look best with wall lights, up lights, down lights and floor lights. The bathroom is a room that requires good light for applying makeup, shaving etc. but also needs to have soft light for a relaxing atmosphere. Indirect lighting is a good way to add interest to a room. Lighting underneath a bath or running a track of LED lights along a bookshelf look good and LED lights will not produce any heat.
A large living room with a lot of seating will benefit from each chair or sofa having its own lamp. A long arm swivel lamp is a good option. Lamps, of course, need lampshades and these need to look good amongst the rest of the room’s decoration. Think of them as accessories to the main features of the room. When it comes to staircases, especially those that have awkward corners, directional floor lights are a good choice for subtle but effective lighting. Overhead spotlights from the ceiling can create shadows on the