Expert advice: how to create atmospheric lighting

Anna Burles of design agency Run for the Hills shares how to enhance ambience at home

Room, Interior design, Furniture, Lighting, Table, Building, Chair, Antique, Light fixture, Art,
Run for the Hills

Design house Run for the Hills creates lighting schemes for a diverse array of projects, from residential to commercial, including Kricket restaurant and Tivoli Cinema. Creative director, Anna Burles, shares her tips...

Anna burles from run for the hills
Anna Burles


Creating mood isn’t as simple as adding a dimmer. No amount of dimmers will fix an abundance of spotlights illuminating nothing but the floor, and a lamp with the wrong bulb won’t help either.

Make sure that you have at least four or five different lamps, including floor and table lamps or picture lights, to help create mood.

Try to replicate the ‘fireside’ effect with low-level pools of light. There’s a primeval sensibility in us to relax with light sources around and below our eyeline, which harks back to the days when we were cave dwellers, staying close to the warmth of flames.

Tivoli cinema
Tivoli Cinema
Run for the Hills

The key is not to over-light, you need to have just enough to create atmosphere, but not so much that the eye doesn’t quite know where to look, or what to focus on.

To update lighting for the winter months, candles are the obvious choice. You can also add one or two extra table and floor lamps, or even just swap an existing lampshade for something with a textured finish – a simple and cost-effective way to create instant hygge.

I generally hate spots and downlights, but sometimes one or two can highlight a gorgeous piece of furniture, an accessory, sculpture or piece of art – providing an amazing focal point in a room. You can replicate a spotlight’s function with retractable and articulated lights that you can twist to illuminate an item on the wall or floor.It’s all about considering what you are trying to pick out and then coming up with a soft, atmospheric solution.

london house by run for the hills
Residential project in London showing a mixture of lighting
Run for the Hills

Decorative lights are important in kitchens and bathrooms.Spotlights might be a necessary part of the scheme for functional purposes, but make sure the colour temperatures match (all warm white, not cold blue) and that they can be dimmed. But they should just be the ‘back-up’. Ensure there is a lighting circuit that knocks them out and controls more aesthetically pleasing wall lights, floor lamps or a pendant above the dining table. And there are lots of really lovely decorative IP65 rated bathroom lights these days, which will add some style and soul to your bathroom lighting.

Keep entrance areas quite moody and dark so that you get a relaxing sense of welcome and arrival in the first space that you enter in the home, rather than it being a bit of a bright onslaught. runforthehills.com

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2019

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