Residential Lighting Design Guide: Lighting in Layers

Accent lighting using picture lights

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of interior design and yet it is frequently overlooked. Quite rightly, much time, effort and money is spent on putting together the right collection of furniture, fixture and fittings for a room, with the appropriate colours, styles and textures. However, if you only install one or two pendant lights, you may end up losing the overall effect you were trying to achieve. Get it right and everyone in the room will feel comfortable and look good, too.

Lighting in layers by Jizaro

When it comes to decorating or redecorating a room, lighting in layers is extremely important for avoiding a flat, two-dimensional effect. Interior designers use three layers of lighting for a space: ambient lighting forms the base layer, accent lighting is used for the second layer and task lighting creates the top layer. These three layers form the basis for a lighting design plan. They help to create atmosphere, mood, contrast and, therefore, drama, while providing enough light (without glare) to move safely and comfortably through a room.

Ambient or General Lighting
This is the uniform wash of light that sets the mood for a room. Ambient light includes daylight/moonlight, down lights that provide uniform lighting and some decorative lights such as pendants and chandeliers.

Ambient, accent and task lighting

In this image, ambient lighting is provided by daylight in one direction, the lighting in the coffered ceiling and the chandelier overhead. The artwork above the drawers is highlighted with accent lighting and the table lamps provide task lighting beside the sofa and the chair. The crystal in all the lighting co-ordinates the look and allows the light to bounce around the room, making it look comfortable, light and airy.

Accent Lighting
This layer of lighting usually illuminates a space vertically and creates drama in a room by highlighting the contrast between brightness and light – as in the image below. It allows you to highlight the architectural features and artwork in a space. The lighting fixtures for accent lighting tend to be inconspicuous so as to emphasize the feature rather than the light source.

Accent lighting in a hallway


Accent lighting using picture lights

Picture lights are a good example of accent lighting. They are placed above a painting at an angle that sheds enough light to cover the full width of a painting so that it can be seen clearly.

Accent lighting, such as along one side or at the end of a hallway, can also be used to accentuate flow and movement through a space.

Accent lighting in a hallway

Accent lighting in a hallway

Task Lighting
This is lighting that helps you to perform a specific job in a particular area of a room without glare and shadows. When considering the design for any room, you should include how you’re going to use it. Will you have a place for reading, working, preparing food or putting on make-up? These areas will need pockets of light to allow you to do the job in hand.

Down lights, desk lamps, table lamps, floor lamps, wall lights, vanity lighting in bathrooms, and chandeliers or pendants make up some of the usual sources for task lighting.

Ambient and task lighting

Here, daylight and the overhead lighting fixture provide the ambient lighting. The table lamps provide task lighting and a soft glow for the sitting area. The black lampshades add a little drama to the room by contrasting with the light-coloured sofas.

Depending on the type of lighting fixtures you use, you might find that some forms of lighting can be used for two layers. This means that you won’t need a separate lighting fixture for each layer. A pendant in a small living room with a low ceiling, for instance, may provide general lighting and task lighting at the same time. And don’t forget that dimmer switches will give you extra control over the intensity of light and mood throughout the day or night.

If you have any questions about lighting for your home, leave us a comment here or contact us via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest.

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