How to Light Your Home Right
Give your rooms the right feel and function with a mix of task, ambient and accent lighting
Shawn Gauthier November 18, 2011
I'm a freelance writer and design enthusiast who believes the best design is collected, not decorated, and that homes should always be as comfortable and functional as they are chic. In addition to writing for Houzz, I work as the Head Copywriter for Layla Grayce and Zinc Door.
I'm a freelance writer and design enthusiast who believes the best design is collected,... More
Instead of feeling dreary in the dark days of winter, feel bright and cheery in a home with the correct lighting. These days, the options for lighting seem endless, which can make the pursuit feel overwhelming. However, if you break it down into the three general types of lighting — ambient, task and accent — the options become more identifiable, and you’ll feel more confident when deciding how to light your interiors. Even if you can’t mess with the electrical construction of your home, the addition of a table lamp here or there often can make all the difference. For a little visual clarification, see how other Houzzers have mastered their lighting.
Because so many different activities happen in the kitchen, from gathering casually to preparing meals, this space is one of the most important areas to light properly. In this kitchen, note how ambient light is supplied through recessed lighting in the ceiling, while additional task lighting is installed above the island and beneath the cabinets for chopping or reading a cookbook. The addition of task lights greatly increases the functionality of the kitchen; ambient light alone is generally rarely enough.
Don’t forget to supplement the dining table with its own task lighting: your family and your guests don’t want to squint at their plates. Install lighting with dimmers so you can set the mood depending on the occasion.
Create the illusion of visual height by adding lighting to the top layer of cabinetry in your kitchen. It will make your space feel larger by guiding your eye upward and cutting out dark shadows that may otherwise concentrate near the ceiling.
Consider lighting open shelving. This is another place where shadows exist, and removing them with extra lighting instantly brightens your space. Plus, from a functional standpoint, when your shelves are stocked with items such as dishware you use everyday, it’s much easier when you can clearly see their contents.
The best way to determine the right lighting for a room is to think about all that will happen there. Most likely, a living or family room will be used for lounging or entertaining. Ambient lights provide the soft glow perfect for conversation with guests, but be sure to also flank your sofa with lamps for ample light when reading. Have a beautiful piece of artwork on the wall? Showcase it with accent lighting.
If you’ve got fluorescent overhead lights you don't want to replace right now, yet they make your living room look like a chemistry lab, simply forget they exist and use standing lamps for ambient lighting instead. Balance several across the roo and add smaller reading lamps for task lighting for couches or chairs.
You may think the only activity happening in the dining room is a sit-down dinner, therefore task lighting above the table will be enough. However, even if you’re entertaining without a formal dinner, guests may need to pass through the space during a gathering. Therefore, ambient lighting, such as sconces around the walls, is important.
Be sure your bed is flanked with task lighting. Put them on separate controls in case your partner wants to turn in before you’ve finished your chapter.
Since bedrooms are more of a private space and not the most conventional locations for a cocktail party, you can avoid using customary ambient lighting. In this case, accent lighting highlights the artwork on the wall, while task lighting provides reading light beneath the cabinets, giving the room a cozy, private glow.
For all those tweezers, shavers and makeup appliers out there, overhead lighting in the bathroom is just not enough. Avoid the unflattering shadows they create by installing lights on the side of your mirror.
Is there anything better than a relaxing soak with your favorite read after a long day? Not really, so make sure your tub is ready to accommodate you by accessorizing it with the appropriate task lighting. You don’t want to miss any words from your cherished gossip magazine.
Remember, lamps can be snuck in nearly anywhere with an outlet. If you feel your bathroom vanity could use a little extra glow, accessorize it with a table lamp. Keep it on during parties so guests can easily locate the bathroom.
Your entryway is likely the first impression visitors experience of your home, so be sure it’s appropriately lit. If you have high ceilings, like this home, recessed lighting won’t be enough since the bulbs are nearly a story away. Include an additional light fixture like a chandelier or pendant lights to further brighten the area.
Nobody likes making their way down a dark hallway, so be sure yours is well equipped with ambient light. If you have artwork on the walls, include accent lighting in the mix as well.
Avoid a disastrous trip down the stairs by outfitting your staircase with task lighting, in addition to ambient light. Put the two on separate controllers. If you find yourself needing to go downstairs in the middle of the night, you can guide yourself with the glow of the task lighting.
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