How to Update Dated Lighting in an Older Home

The right lights can have a major effect on a room or an interior. In fact there are few things that can date a home more quickly than old, daggy lighting. Hello boob lights and oyster lights! No matter how curated and stylish your décor, or how modern your renovation, if you still have an ugly nipple light in the centre of your ceiling, the eye is naturally going to go to it and it’s not going to work in your favour.

I remember years and years ago, when it was still fairly unusual practice to hire an interior designer, one of my friends was outfitting her 90s apartment with the aid of a prominent Perth design company, and they told her, “There’s no point in putting any of our pieces here without changing the lighting first.” (Which she then did).

There are definitely some awesome vintage MCM and retro lights in houses out there that I wouldn’t touch. But there are also a hefty stack of 70s, 80s and 90s houses with lighting that can really bring a place down, even if you modernise everything else.

Finally! New modern downlights in our living room – much better than those dated oysters (see below).

Our house was a perfect example. It was almost untouched since the 70s when we moved in. (And it wasn’t cool 70s, but bad 70s). Come 2019, we’d plastered over dark face brick, squared off arches, put in a new kitchen, pulled up shagpile carpet, removed yellow bottle glass windows, had vinyl planks laid over the 70s tile, cladded the once brown brick exterior, gutted the old bathrooms of their floral tile, put in a new laundry, changed the bar into a walk-in pantry, knocked off the 70s sunroom… basically everything EXCEPT replace all the dated lighting.

We replaced the light in the kitchen (which was probably the worst of the lot – a fluorescent tube!) but left the oyster lights in the living room, dining and open-style study. I have to admit, everything else looked good, but no matter how nice the rest of the room looked, you’d walk in and your eye would inevitably go to the flying saucers on the ceilings (and our low ceilings didn’t help matters).

We put off changing the lighting because I think I was scared of ‘doing it wrong’! I didn’t want to put in the wrong recessed lights or in the wrong places and regret it… we’d already made a lighting mistake, to be honest. When we did our first bathroom renovation (our ensuite way back when) we’d put in these recessed LEDs – three of them, which for one, was too many for that tiny room, and we couldn’t dim them, either. Those overwhelmingly bright lights were great if you wanted to look in the mirror and count all your pores; not so fun if you wanted some flattering lighting to do your makeup for a night out.

When the chance came for me to partner on a post with Gerard Lighting, I was stoked. One, I’d be able to get a little guidance for updating the rest of the lighting in our home, putting my mind at ease that the rest would be done well. And two, I thought I’d pick their expert’s brain for the blog too (to hopefully give some of you guys the confidence I didn’t have) to change your own home’s daggy lighting, if it’s something you’ve also always had on your to-do list!

So below are some really common questions about lighting I’ve asked one of their experts, Gerard Lighting Lighting Controls Segment Manager Ron Ghezzi – and make sure you check back in a couple of days to see our home’s lighting makeover – and your chance to win three Pierlite Bluetooth LEDs, valued at $200, to transform your own room. (This is what we have now – they have a smart phone dimmer and the ability to change them from warm to cool, they’re amazing!)


HOUSE NERD: Why is the big oyster light in the middle of the ceiling now quite dated and not often done?

RON: “Oyster lights were very popular and widely used during the era in which your 70s house was built. They’re versatile and an inexpensive solution, and they give a decent level of overall illumination.

“A challenge with oysters though is that, as with any single light source, you may experience shadowing when you do various tasks. For instance trying to complete homework or study when there is a light source above your head creates a shadow over your work. A much better and cleaner-looking solution is to install correctly spaced downlights in the room for ambient lighting, as well as some dedicated task and accent lighting.”

HOUSE NERD: So what do you mean by ambient, task and accent lighting?

RON: “Ambient lighting is considered the base level of lighting. Done well, it makes a room considerably more welcoming. It provides an area with overall illumination and a comfortable level of brightness to see and move about safely.

“Task lighting provides a direct source of light for a specific activity like reading, grooming, preparing food and cooking, doing homework and playing games. Ensuring adequate task lighting makes a work environment more pleasant, free of glare and shadows and bright enough to prevent eye strain.

“Accent lighting adds drama to a room or area by creating visual interest. It can be used to draw the eye to items such as artworks or displays, highlight architectural design elements and outdoor landscaping.”

HOUSE NERD: Are there any common lighting mistakes you see people make?

RON: “A really common mistake is dismissing the importance of layers. Bright overhead lighting is great in certain spaces but can cause issues with shadowing while at the kitchen bench or the bathroom sink. For your lighting to truly enhance your life, thought needs to be given to the ambient, task and feature lighting in a room.

“Another common mistake is forgetting about dimming options. The ability to dim the lighting in a space, or even to change the colour temperature from warm to cool can vastly increase the usability of your space.”

Layered lighting in this older home I featured here.

HOUSE NERD: What is the first step to replacing dated original lighting in an older home such as ours?

RON: “The first step is to consider the purpose of the room and the spaces you are trying to illuminate. For instance, a living area such as yours is used for relaxing and unwinding, but there is also a play space for the kids that needs to be well-illuminated.

Flexibility with your chosen lighting should be a key consideration. This includes thinking about dimming and brightness options to increase the versatility of the space.”

Updated lighting from Crompton Lighting in our laundry makeover.

HOUSE NERD: We want to update the oyster lights in our L-shaped lounge. What are some common rules for putting in lights in a living room?

  • Use multiple light sources – multiple downlights in the ceiling can make a space feel brighter and more comfortable than a single light, and allow you to do more in the living room.
  • Think about your control options. Dimming and home lighting control means your living room’s illumination can change as your needs change throughout the day.
  • Consider colour temperature – warm lighting can make your living room feel cosy, while cool lighting can make it feel bright and fresh. Better yet, install lighting that can change colour temperature depending on the desired mood or time of day.

HOUSE NERD: What are some tips for lighting a kitchen?

  • Focus on task lighting – over the cooking surface, at the sink, and over benches are key areas for task lighting.
  • Make your lighting as flexible as the room. For many families, mealtime, homework or even entertaining can happen at the kitchen bench. Ensure the kitchen lighting can be flexible for activities other than cooking.
  • Space out recessed lighting (e.g downlights) in all areas – not just the areas without task lighting – to provide an ambient lighting layer.
    Ambient and task lighting in this home tour I featured here.

HOUSE NERD: What are some guidelines for lighting a large open-plan living space?

  • Consider zones within your room. In open-plan spaces, particularly in family homes, you may want to curl up in front of the TV while the kids play with their toys or read books. Setting up groups of lights that can be controlled separately makes the space flexible.
  • Use a dimmer that can be controlled from anywhere. With the right dimmers in large open-plan spaces, it’s possible to have dimming and lighting control at multiple points and entries in the room. Going one step further, Bluetooth downlights mean you can control all of your home’s lighting without leaving the couch.
  • Use diffused lighting. As with all rooms in your home, an open plan living space should be a pleasant and comfortable space. Using diffused lighting can cut down the uncomfortable glare so often seen in rooms with exposed lighting.
  • Always use a licensed electrician – don’t install lights yourself.
    Modern LED lights and pendants help transform this once-dated 1970s Willetton home. Photo by Heather Robbins.

HOUSE NERD: Why is control helpful in lighting a home?

RON: “Dimmers and home lighting control have come a long way in recent years. Bluetooth technology allows people to control the lighting in their home from their smart device from anywhere. So, as you’re leaving the house it’s easy to flick all the lights off, or slowly dim the kid’s bedroom lights as they go to sleep while you’re watching TV. Dimmers and lighting control can also increase the flexibility of your spaces – for instance, kitchen lighting can be dimmed or changed from cool to warm when food preparation finishes and entertaining begins.”

HOUSE NERD: What lights do you recommend for energy efficiency?

RON: “LED lights stay brighter for longer than standard incandescent and halogen lights, and use around 80 percent less energy to produce the same amount of light.

“Because LED light is directional, it is a more efficient way to light a room. Additionally, LED lighting allows more options for smooth dimming and advanced home lighting control.”

Thanks so much to Gerard Lighting for partnering with me on this story. You can check out their website here or follow them on Facebook or Instagram @CromptonAU. Come back in a couple of days and check out our home’s lighting makeover – plus your chance to win a little lighting makeover for your own room. Maya x


Author: Maya Anderson

When Maya Anderson was thinking of a name for her homes and design blog, nothing seemed more fitting than House Nerd. Obsessed with everything to do with houses, renovating and interior design, Maya is a features journalist by training with a background in print and a focus on homes and real estate. She has been renovating her 1970s house since forever, loves dogs and can eat her body weight in dumplings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *