Everything you need to know about ...Installing spotlighting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 12:00am

WHEN CREATING a sophisticated mood for your home, one of the first things to look at is the lighting. A single overhead light source just will not do, but with a bit of planning you can achieve a designer look in which multiple pools of light play gently on to surfaces, walls or objects.

Spotlighting - a designer's best friend - works wonders while being barely there. Tucked neatly into the ceiling, inside cabinets or even in the floor, it is a subtle yet effective way to highlight a specific area or illuminate a work space; and to wash down a wall from either the ceiling or the floor to accent the paint scheme's colour and texture.

Even if you live in an apartment with a concrete ceiling, it is possible to install spotlighting yourself. Although Peter Siu from Santa Fe Relocations' House Doctor service usually advises clients against it, saying it is time consuming, messy and expensive, it can still be done.

This involves drilling a hole in the concrete ceiling measuring about 8cm by 10cm for each spotlight required, and then digging a channel for the wiring, which must extend to the nearest power outlet. There's hours of work here, not to mention the noise and dust. If you do choose this route, check that your installation contractor has a vacuum attached to his drill, as it will mean much less cleaning up afterwards. Then, go out for the day.

A much better option is to install a false ceiling. Then you can place all kinds of spotlights wherever you want, with a minimum of fuss. It's quicker, easier and makes virtually no mess. A false ceiling requires about 10cm to 15cm of space, so your existing ceiling would need to be a minimum height of 2.5 metres. Since a normal ceiling in Hong Kong is about 2.5 metres to 3 metres, there should be plenty of room in the average home.

Begin by making a grid out of aluminium hanging from your existing ceiling. Next, cover it with pieces of easy-to-install plasterboard, which comes in sheets of about 1.4 metres by 2 metres at a cost of about $120 per piece. You can make the frame as deep or low as you like, sticking to the 10cm minimum.

Once the false ceiling is in place, it is easy to drill holes in the plasterboard wherever you want the lights. Wiring, too, is easily manoeuvred into place at the power source.

Ideally, spotlights should be 30cm to 36cm apart. Since simple spotlights do not throw off much light, you will need to use more of them, and generally of the 12-volt type. To get an idea of how many constitutes the desired effect, look up next time you are in a lift lobby. Often these areas are lit by spotlights.

Spotlights in cabinets are easy to install, and you can usually conceal the wiring behind the back or on top of the unit. In-floor spotlighting is a newer design trick. A wooden floor with space underneath is the easiest option, but just as for the ceiling, you can also create a false floor or else drill into the concrete. An outdoor variation of this kind of spotlight is sometimes used in patio landscaping for a special effect around a poolside.

Spotlighting can also add drama to a room by accentuating items such as artwork and collectibles. Experiment with different bulbs to see which brings out the pieces' colours and textures. For example, halogen bulbs are a pure white light, simulating sunlight almost perfectly to show the true colours of a painting or beautiful wood grains. Incandescent bulbs are a yellow or warmer tone, which many people prefer.

Hong Kong law requires electrical work to be done by qualified contractors. For your own protection, ask to see their licence first.

To view the range of spotlights available in a showroom situation, many people head for Ikea because they like the idea of one-stop shopping. Its range in spotlight design, colour and output is quite varied, priced from $100 to $500 per item. Local shops sell spotlights for about $100, and will often provide extras such as free light bulbs or installation. But ask about this first because they are unlikely to offer anything otherwise.

Siu estimates that to redo an average-sized living room with spotlighting would cost about $22,000 to $25,000, including parts and labour.