Real-life reno: A smuggler's guide to lighting

23:18, Aug 06 2014
THE BACKBONES: Adam's much-prized Turkish chandelier (similar to the two pictured but with yellow glass instead of mosaics) and three large portlights form the base of his lighting master-plan.

The lighting plans for our house began on a bus at a checkpoint along the Turkish/Bulgaria border.  It's the summer of 2007 and Rebekah and I were budget backpacking around Eastern Europe.

To save a night's accommodation, we'd taken an overnight coach trip and to save from losing a night's sleep I (Rebekah had more sense) had taken sleeping pills that had been in my pack since a Delhi doctor prescribed them 18 months before to help me deal with the discomfort of having a worm living in my foot (it's a long story).

If it sounds dodgy, that's because it was.  That medication was way stronger than I imagined and I was out to it when customs officials bordered the coach and started to rifle through our things.

I remember coming out of a dark dream to find a large man standing over me holding a large hunting knife and shaking me.

He'd found a 'suspect' package.

I was so scared I confessed on the spot.


"I've got a couple of kgs of baklava and a few long rolls of Turkish delight," I said wimpily.

But unlike New Zealand and Australia border patrol beagles, he was not hunting stray bananas (or a large amount of delicious pastry).

In Turkey, the export of antiques is strictly forbidden and he wanted to investigate the large box under my feet containing a glass chandelier I'd bought Rebekah.

That's what the knife was for. With a few slashes he bi-passed the mass of packing tape and soon gave us the all clear to proceed with the box, the baklava and all.

The chandelier may not have been worth saving for the borderman, but with a bronze dome top and chains, and a dozen glass cups, it was still beautiful. 

And after 'smuggling' it across the border and lugging it through half-a-dozen countries it has large sentimental value to us and is destined to be the centerpiece of our lighting scheme, hanging over the stairwell (nb: as this was bought a long time ago, I'm not including it in the budget.)

A little bit closer to home and just a few months back at the local Sunday car-boot market, I picked up an old fishing trawler light for $20. It's a heavy brass-based double bell light that will fit in well with our near-nautical location above the port. 

The brass has seen better days so I've traded a bottle of gin for a mate to polish it up at his engineering workshop, and the electric sockets need to be replaced, but once restored we'll have a unique feature light for under $100.

I have also stashed three large glass port lights that I (impulse) bought online from Ico Traders in Christchurch during a 50 per cent off sale.  I got them for $62.50 each and I think they will look good hanging above the kitchen or dining table (I still have to source a ceiling rose, chain and cord).

And then there are the down lights.  Two weekends ago I was on my weekly visit to the local hardware store and found Phillips LED downlights for $20 each. Bargain. And with a three-year guarantee, how can I lose, right?

It wasn't until after I bought 40 of them and got home that I started to think seriously about how I was going to pull it all together.

I'm no lighting expert, but I know enough to understand that the lighting is an important part of the feel of the home and if you want to have a warm, inviting space you need to put serious thought into your lighting.

Kevin McCloud, of Grand Designs fame, sums this up well in his book 43 Principles of Home: "Light doesn't just help us understand architecture: it brings it to life."

He goes on to recommend using a car inspection lamp and a shiny wok lid to experiment with reflecting light. "This is an unrivalled way of designing your own lighting scheme."

But if like me, you don't have a spare wok lid, you can always consult the professionals.  Most specialist lighting stores offer a free lighting design/consultancy service (some will even meet you on site) with no obligation to buy.

I visited Lighting Direct Nelson where store manager Scott and head planner Roger drew on over 16 years industry experience to explain the fundamentals of good lighting, and put together a plan for me that included a schedule of fittings, switches and motion sensors.

"Growing up, we had a 100w bulb in the middle of the ceiling and that was it. But we use our homes differently today and the first step to creating a quality lighting plan is to understand people's philosophies and how they live in their space, and then we devise a lighting scheme that complements that," Scott said.

"You need to think about ambient, task and accent lighting - good houses will have a combination of all three.

"Ambient is the general lighting. Task lighting is for specific areas like the vanity, kitchen, or sewing room. And accent lighting is all about creating atmosphere - that's where the art comes in."

There are a plethora of options for task and ambient lighting and your lighting specialist will help you decide you best options.

But when it comes to ambient lighting, the LED down light is the only option we really considered.

"LED is currently the optimum light for most modern houses.  They last for up to 50,000 hours and will save you money in the long run as there is no maintenance, no replacement bulbs, they are extremely energy efficient and with most recessed LEDs you can lay your insulation blanket straight over the top,"  Roger said.

"LED is also a nice light and you can use it to deliver light in variety of ways and create different moods with different angles."

But not all LEDs are created equal - the quality of the chip and driver can vary greatly between makers and price ranges, and Roger says you should ensure that the Colour Rendering Index (CRI) rating is at least 80 or higher.

Roger says you also need to consider the 'colour' of the light - with warm light (3000k) suitable for ambient lighting and cool white (4000k) better suited to task lighting.

How many you need will depend on the size of your room as well as the lumens (light output) and the angle of the beam/spread coming out of the fitting, but you can expect to need about 2-4 for a standard sized bedroom. 

And as for where to place them, that's where it gets complicated.  I've decided not to muck around with it too much and will use something similar to the lighting plan Scott has provided.

As a general rule of thumb, they say people should look to spend about 1-1.5% of their GV on lighting.  For us that works out to be between $4-6000.

So far we've spent about $1100 (not including the chandelier and allowing $100 for the refurb of the trawler light) and I'm hoping to get out of it for well under the $4G mark.

But when it comes to lighting on a budget, I'll leave the last word to Roger.

"Most of the time you spend in your house will be at night and the way you light it will set the mood and atmosphere and affect the livability of the space.

'"When it comes to lighting on a tight budget, spend most of your money on the ambient and task lighting and add a few accents where you can afford it.

"But regardless of your budget, get your lighting design done by an expert. This doesn't lock you into anything, but it will help you start to see the possibilities and will ultimately add value to your lifestyle and your home."


Total spent to date:  $10391.85

Total remaining:  $99564.15

Adam Hicks is a former journalist who helps run family businesses retailing wallpaper and fabrics with The Inside ( and offering made to measure curtains with Window Trends. (