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Lighting should be planned based on the activities to be performed in the area.

Comfortable lighting can make or break a living space. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Comfortable lighting can make or break a living space.


Lighting plays an important role in both the style and function of a home. Ambient, task and accent lighting are the three main types of indoor lighting. Homeowners can use natural light, artificial lights or a combination of both to light the interior of a home. When making lighting choices, homeowners need to carefully consider the functions and activities that will take place in each room and plan lighting accordingly.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting refers to the background light of a room and can come from a natural source, such as sunlight through a window or skylight, or an artificial source, such as a light fixture or lamp. According to the Home Institute, ambient lighting comes from fixtures mounted on the ceilings or walls that shine light downward. These fixtures may be centrally located on the ceiling of the room or from wall-mounted light fixtures, such as sconces, that are placed throughout a room.

When choosing ambient lighting, homeowners should first determine what activities will take place in the room. For example, a room for arts and crafts needs more ambient light than a guest room that is used primarily for sleeping. Kitchens and bathrooms are rooms that both need a good deal of ambient lighting.

To determine how much ambient lighting is needed in a room, homeowners should multiply the width of the room by the length of the room. Then, multiply that number by 1.5 to calculate the total wattage necessary to light the room. Once the wattage is determined, homeowners can decide what type of light fixtures and how many they will need for proper lighting. Installing a dimmer on ambient light sources gives the option of brightening or darkening a room as needed.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is used to supplement ambient lighting when additional illumination is needed. Task lighting is directed at a specific area to provide sufficient visibility when doing activities such as reading, cooking and putting on make-up. According to HGTV, properly placed task lighting should be glare-free to prevent the eyes from tiring.

In the kitchen, task lighting includes lights mounted underneath the cabinetry, positioned track lights and recessed ceiling lights, which provide better visibility for reading recipes, preparing food and cleaning up. Lamp lighting in a home office, especially with a flexible base, allows the light source to be directed where it is needed. In living rooms and bedrooms, lamps or recessed light fixtures provide task lighting to homeowners.

When determining placement of task lighting, it should not cause shadows. For example, when lighting an area to be used for reading, lights should not be placed behind the reader's head or it will cause a shadow to fall on the reading material. In a home office, the beam of the task light should fall on the work area and not on the computer screen.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting, also referred to as mood or object lighting, is used to highlight a specific feature or place in the home. Homeowners may use accent lighting to showcase artwork, furniture or a design feature of the home, such as a fireplace, built-in bookcase or niche. Halogen spotlights, positioned track lights, down lights, lamps and up lights are used to create accent lighting. If using lamps to create accent lighting, homeowners should use an opaque shade to direct the light.

Homeowners should consider the object or place they are focusing on when choosing accent lighting. A glass object, for example, looks best when lit from behind or below. Wall-mounted artwork is showcased nicely when illuminated by a spotlight mounted from the ceiling. A colored light bulb or a strand of twinkle lights provides a dramatic flair when used for accent lighting.

Natural Lighting

In addition to artificial light sources, homeowners can also use natural light sources in home decorating. Sunlight is the biggest source of natural light and there are several ways to increase the amount of natural light in a room. For example, hanging a mirror opposite the window reflects more light into the room. Changing out window coverings and removing or trimming tree branches or shrubs that block windows help to maximize natural light. Adding a skylight is another way that homeowners can use natural light to illuminate a room.

Candles and firelight are two other sources of natural light that homeowners can use in home decorating. Both can be used to create a warm inviting room. While not practical to use candles or fireplaces for everyday lighting needs, using them for special occasions can create an intimate atmosphere.

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