Making Light Of It

Understanding the Art of Lighting Design

Most of us take lighting for granted. The lighting we live with and have accepted without question usually doesn’t contribute much to our living space. A few changes can improve the situation by adding drama, excitement, and great functionality. The immediate result? A better quality of life. Although lighting is an artistic endeavor, you don’t have to be an artist to make improvements to your space. As a homeowner, it is essential that you understand the basic principles of lighting, so you can take your spaces to the next level. 

There are four functions we require of our lighting: to provide decorative, accent, task, and ambient solutions. There is not a single light fixture that can provide all of these solutions for our spaces. Following is a brief description of the four different lighting elements and how to use them in a meaningful way. If any of the four lighting types are missing, or too dominant, the room will feel awkward and out of balance. The deliberate and delicate art of layering the light is what creates successful spaces.

Decorative light  is the jewelry in your space. Its job is to add sparkle and look great. Decorative light fixtures are simply there for the show. Chandeliers, many wall sconces, and table lamps all function as decorative lights.

Decorative lighting is the easiest to achieve and the one that many people focus on. Maybe this is because it’s the first type that someone notices upon entering your space. Pick a chandelier you like, whether it be contemporary, transitional, or traditional. Just make sure you put it on a dimmer. Ask your salesperson or designer which dimmers will be compatible. This type of fixture is not suited for providing the additional three types of lighting.

Accent Light  is the direct light used to focus on objects and highlight them. It is often used to provide a spotlight on sculpture, artwork, plants, or interesting interior details. This type of lighting is usually accomplished with track light or recessed adjustable fixtures. Accent light cannot be used for the only source of illumination in a room because it will take over a room and leave everything else in the dark including you and your guests.

Accent lighting is probably the most fun to play with. It adds the strength and drama to your space. The goal is to provide the required results without featuring the source. The lit object is the star of the show, not the light fixture. 

Task Light is the lighting required for performing work-related activities, such as reading, food preparation, laundry, and artwork. This type of lighting should be placed close to your task.

Task lighting is literally the work horse in the space. It needs to be highly functional without creating shadows or glare on whatever you are lighting. As a bonus, putting task lighting on dimmers allows it to double as accent lighting when entertaining. Task lights are items like under-cabinet kitchen lighting and localized reading floor lamps.

Ambient Light  is the soft glow that fills your room with light and softens the shadows on people’s faces. This is probably the most important type of the four because it creates the overall perception of the room and allows for easy circulation without bumping into furniture.

Read MoreLarry Wilson~ASID, IIDA
Licensed Interior Designer

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