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DIY Inspiration - Exploring Metallic Light Switch Designs

Article Topics:

  1. Rockers, Toggles and Dimmers

  2. 2-Way and Intermediate Switches

  3. Upgrading to Metallic Switches

  4. Notes on Installation

Brushed brass metal switch - Nexus Metal


Sometimes it’s the little things that really count. Take the humble light switch. It can seem like a trivial detail when we redecorate or renovate our homes. But overlook your light switches and you will miss a golden opportunity to turn a mere functional electrical detail into an appealing interior design feature, for relatively little effort and expense.

Metal switch - steel - screwless

In this article we'll take a deep dive into the home light switch, to understand the different types and applications, and how metal switches in popular metallic finishes can help transform the feel of your living spaces.

Dimmer switch - two gangs - brushed brass

We'll also talk about light switch ranges, and offer guidance on how to DIY-upgrade your white plastic light switches. But let's begin with an overview of switch types and what they have to offer.

Rockers, Toggles and Dimmers

The common types of light switch are: rocker switches, toggles and dimmer switches. You’ll probably be familiar with all three types, but here’s a more detailed look at each.

Vintage toggle switch - two gang

Rocker Switches

The rocker switch is the most popular stock switch type. It's probably safe to say that it is ubiquitous. It operates like a seesaw, to make or break the circuit to turn a light off and on, or indeed as a fused spur switch to isolate power for fixed appliances.

Rocker light switches on steel plate - brushed steel finish

As you may have guessed, the term 'rocker' comes from the mid-pivot action rocking back and forth in switch sockets.

Fused spur isolation switch - brushed steel finish

Toggle Switches

Toggle switches precede the rocker design. They work in a similar way, but toggles operate with a lever switch instead of a rocker switch, and they often have an earlier 20th century vibe. Although can be ultra-modern.

Contemporary brushed steel toggle and dimmer combo light switch

These days, the toggle switch has become a popular choice for more traditional interiors, or for those who want a classic or vintage detail in a contemporary space, especially in rustic or period finishes. More about metallic finishes in a moment.

Old styles toggles - vintage look

Dimmer Switches

Dimmers enable you to adjust the light level in a space using a rotary switch. They function with a push/pull action for on/off, and turn up and down to lower or raise the light level in a room, to create softer lighting or a cosier, more intimate mood.

Dimmer soft light delivery at dinner party

When choosing dimmers it's important to make sure your light source(s) is compatible. Here are a few things to consider:

Use Dimmers that are Suitable for LED and Florescent Lighting

If you're using LED or CFL (compact florescent) light sources, make sure your dimmers are suitable. Trailing edge, or lagging, dimmers are suitable for LED, CFLs and traditional light bulbs.

Note that you can use dimmable bulbs and LEDs with rocker or toggle switches, but you can't use non-dimmable bulbs and LEDs with dimmer switches.

Extending Lightbulb Life

Choose dimmers that are 'soft start'. The soft start feature helps prolong a light source's life, saving you money on replacements. As the name suggests, soft start brings a light source to full illumination over a second or so, rather than full power instantly.

Eliminate Lighting Flicker & Switch Buzz

Older dimmer switches are often designed for higher wattage bulbs. But light sources today are lower power to help save energy. A dimmer requires a minimum wattage to operate properly. If modern day bulbs and LEDs are below a dimmer's minimum load, then your light source may flicker and the dimmer switch could buzz. Some older dimmers have a filter to avoid this issue.

But if you are experiencing flicker and/or buzz, the best remedy is to upgrade to new dimmer switches that have a lower minimum wattage, and are compatible with LED, CFL and low wattage traditional bulbs.

Variety of CFL light bulb products

2-Way and Intermediate Switches

A 2-way light switch setup is where two switches work together to control one light. Think of staircases or hallways where you can turn the light on or off from either end. Ideal in the bedroom too, with the first on/off switch by the door and the second on/off switch by your bed.

Intermediate switches enable you to go beyond 2-way to 3-way switching across larger spaces in your home.

2-way light switch on landing - steel - white decor

Upgrading to Metallic Light Switches

When you upgrade, switch function is likely to remain the same in terms of the lights in a space that they control — the style and finish is up to you. The type of metal switch that you decide on for your upgrade will reflect the style of your space, be it kitchen, living room, dining room, hallway, bedroom or wherever.

Metallic light switch - Nexus Metal - brushed steel

The switch finish that you go for will also depend on your personal preference and creativity. Here are a few finish types to help inspire you in your upgrade.

For modern interiors, polished chrome, brushed steel and antique brass can work well. Or for a bespoke look, try matte black or black nickel.

Matte black light switches with a number of rocker switches

For a more traditional or vintage feel, use polished brass, pewter or even ceramic with colours and patterns on light switch back plates. Consider too traditional features, such as fluting or Georgian-style rope edging.

Georgian-style switch - rustic plate - switches sockets - premium price

Vintage or aged finishes are great in contemporary spaces that fuse modern and traditional, for a more industrial or eclectic vibe. And remember, your light switches don't have to harmonise with other hardware in the space. Using light switches (and sockets) as to contrast rather than blend can create unusual and appealing details in your overall interior design.

Notes on Installation

Light switch being installed

Although the installation process when upgrading your light switches is a straightforward DIY job, there are a few important things to consider.

The main thing to remember is safety. Switch off your home's electricity at the main switch on your consumer board, and if other people are around, put a clear note on it to not switch back on. Check out this B&Q guide, including video.

If you are not fully confident about replacing your new switches yourself, be sure to have an experienced DIYer help you, or get a qualified electrician in to do the installation for you. And if you want to introduce new 2-way or intermediate switching, you will definitely need the services of an electrician.

Brushed steel rocker light switch - two gang

Final Thoughts

As we've explored in this article, there are a variety of light switch options to choose from. They range from single rocker or toggle, to multi gang switches, to dimmers, and rocker/toggle and dimmer combinations.

The finish, or finishes, that you choose can be uniform or a mix, depending on your interior design style and your own creative flare, from traditional Georgian or Edwardian to maximalist, japandi or other popular interior design trends.

Hopefully you will be feeling inspired to upgrade your light switches, whether you're going from plastic to metal, or you want to be more adventurous and make your new light switches a feature detail of your home.

For more DIY inspiration visit Hiatt Hardware. Don't forget to sign-up for the newsletter to keep up to date, and be eligible for a discount on your purchases.

Different designed light bulbs