Interior Lighting Design Basics: The 3 Layers of Home Lighting

antique crystal chandelier providing ambient lighting
Adding a chandelier, like this one in decorator Wayne Shielly's bedroom, is a great way to add ambient lighting to your room. Photo &copy Wayne Shielly
  • 01 of 04

    How to Light Your Home

    Interior lighting design is one of the most important interior design basics, yet it's often the most neglected by DIY decorators. No matter how carefully you've furnished, arranged, and accessorized, you do not have a well-decorated home until you've implemented some lighting design basics.

    To light your home properly, add the three layers of home lighting -- ambient, task, and accent.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Ambient Lighting - The First Layer of Home Lighting

    antique crystal chandelier providing ambient lighting
    Adding a chandelier, like this one in decorator Wayne Shielly's bedroom, is a great way to add ambient lighting to your room. Photo &copy Wayne Shielly

    Ambient lighting is also called general lighting, and it's the most basic of the three types of lighting. It's the natural light from your windows, and the lighting that substitutes for natural light. Among the fixtures that provide ambient lighting are:

    • Chandeliers and other ceiling fixtures
    • Light kits on ceiling fans
    • Track lighting
    • Recessed ceiling lights
    • Torchieres
    • Wall sconces providing enough light to do more than spotlight

    Most people understand the need for ambient lighting, but too many...MORE stop there. Ambient lighting is just the base, upon which you must add the other two layers of lighting.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Task Lighting - The Second Layer of Home Lighting

    a mounted swing arm lamp in reading corner provides task lighting
    Mounting a swing arm lamp in a reading corner, like this one in decorator Wayne Shielly's bedroom, is one way to add task lighting to your room. Photo &copy Wayne Shielly

    Task lighting is just as it sounds. It's the light you need to perform tasks -- reading, studying, cooking, applying makeup, etc. Task lighting fixtures include:

    • Table lamps
    • Desk lamps
    • Swing arm lamps
    • Under counter lights
    • Pendant lights
    • Directed track or recessed lights
    • Vanity lights
    • Adjustable floor lamps

    Before you select task lighting, make of list of the activities you need to perform in each room.

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  • 04 of 04

    Accent Lighting - The Third Layer of Home Lighting

    picture light over a painting provides accent lighting
    Spotlighting a favorite painting with a picture light, like this one in decorator Wayne Shielly's study, is an effective way to add accent lighting to your room. Photo &copy Wayne Shielly

    Some people think of accent lighting as mood lighting, and it is, but it's much more than that.

    In addition to providing atmosphere and influencing mood, accent lighting is used to highlight architectural features and important objects, and to draw attention away from the things that aren't as pleasing. Even though accent lighting can disguise decorating blunders, it's the most forgotten of the three types of lighting.

    Some examples of accent lighting are:

    • Can lights and uplights
    • Picture...MORE lights
    • Candlelight
    • Directed track or recessed lights
    • Niche lighting
    • Chandeliers with dimmer switches
    • Wall sconces
    • Lighting inside glass or wire door cabinets
    • Light bridges on media furniture

    Notice that chandeliers and wall sconces can double as accent lighting, especially when you install dimmer switches. Track and recessed lighting can function as any of the three layers of lighting, depending on how you direct them.

    When you plan your accent lighting, ask yourself how you want each room to feel, and which elements you want to highlight or hide.