Have you ever been to a friend’s house whose home has that X factor? Something that made it seem really inviting even if their decor wasn’t notably upscale? That friend probably had great lighting.
Color, shape, and texture are the building blocks of interior design–but lighting dictates how everything comes together. So, what goes into a well-lit room? Design experts recommend having 5-7 different light sources in any space. These “layers” of light make it so that you can customize the mood, function, and comfort level of a room depending on how you’re using it.
There are three basic layers of lighting to consider: ambient, accent, and task lighting.
Read on to see how these layers of light work– we’ll show you exactly how things like location, bulb choice, and design combine to give you the perfect lightscape. Then the ball’s in your court! Working layer by layer, and with just a little bit of insider lighting know-how, it’s easy to give your home that X factor too– without having to replace a single decorative pillow.
Layer One: Ambient Lighting
The most basic level of lighting for any room is ambient lighting. Ambient lighting is the light that fills the room, casting an even glow from overhead. In most homes, this will come from a central flush mount (often the dreaded “boob” light), a ceiling fan and light combo, or can recessed lights.
Let’s dive into top considerations to creating great ambient lighting.
If you are using one large light as your ambient light source, keep it central with maximum light flow. It’s usually a good idea to use a glass covering instead of metal or wicker shades to avoid creating shadows.
If you want to create ambient light with a grid of recessed lights instead, spacing is critical. An easy trick to determine how far apart your recessed lights should be is to divide the height of the ceiling by 2. For example: For 8-foot ceilings, divide 8 by 2 (8÷2=4) – consider staggering your can lights about 4 feet apart for optimal lighting.
Pro Tip: This formula will get you started, but there’s a lot to consider if you’re installing a new grid of recessed lights in your home. The size and trim can vary greatly, which will have a big impact on light coverage– and you need to take the shape and layout of your room into account. If you want help getting your recessed lights spaced correctly, stop by our showroom and check in with one of our lighting specialists!
Each room of your home will have different bulb requirements. For your kitchen, bathroom, and office, lean into brighter, cool light. These bulbs will activate your brain for better concentration and focus. Look for bulbs that say “bright white” or “daylight” on the packaging.
On the other hand, bedrooms and living rooms are usually dimmer and warmer to encourage relaxation. These bulbs will say things like “soft white” or “warm white” on their box.
While there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, great ambient lighting will completely transform the way your room feels. Here are a few tips that will translate across most rooms and decor styles:
- Consider replacing the standard “boob” lights. While they’re great at lighting a space, the shape of these lights can sometimes feel boring or dated. Don’t be afraid to get creative– there are so many other options available!
- Play with paint colors: the color and tone of your walls have a big impact on how the ambient light reflects. Check your paint samples at different times of the day to see how they look with both daylight and your light fixtures.
- Think about going bigger! If a flush-mount fixture feels underwhelming, take a look at other options like ceiling fans or pendant lights. Chandeliers are also making a comeback– they’re not just for vintage vibes! You can play up crystal delicacy for a soft touch in a modern room or branch out with wood beads or other designs.
Pro tip: If you’re planning on replacing your ceiling fixture yourself, make sure your new light is properly supported. You might need to install a sturdier electrical box to support the extra weight of a larger fixture– just check the installation guide before you get started!
Layer Two: Task Lighting
The next layer of your lightscape is task lighting. Task lighting shines extra light on a space to make doing a specific task easier and/or safer. It’s especially helpful for tasks that involve working with small objects, like sewing, or that require concentration, like reading.
You need task lighting anywhere you are performing detailed work. Your home likely already has some task lights installed in common places, such as a bright wall sconce over the bathroom mirror where you get ready, and pendants or recessed lights above a kitchen counter.
Lamps are the real MVP of task lighting, because they can go anywhere you can run a cord. You’ll find them sitting on a desk, in the garage over a workbench, illuminating the music on a piano, next to a cozy reading nook, on the bedside table, and more.
Task lighting usually uses bright white light to get the best view and activate the attention centers of your brain. There are a few exceptions, however. If you’re lighting a reading nook or a bedroom you’ll want softer and/or warmer light to get that cozy comfort.
Even though task lighting is “task-oriented,” it doesn’t need to be 100% utilitarian. Here are a few ways to think about making your task lighting both beautiful and functional:
- When possible, work with odd numbers of light– it will feel more organic. For example, 3 or 5 pendant lights will look usually better over a kitchen counter than 4.
- Experiment with different materials for lampshades. A glass shade will maximize the glow, woven shades will give a light filtering effect that softens the light, and opaque shades will concentrate the light. You can completely transform the way a lamp or pendant lights your space with a simple shade swap!
- Don’t forget your bathroom vanity! Most vanities have a light above the mirror– but that’s not necessarily the best placement for getting ready. Face-level light on either side of your mirror is best for doing things like applying makeup.
Pro tip: Did you know that LED light is widely considered the best lighting for applying makeup? It’s the closest to natural daylight! Try a backlit mirror or LED strips at facelevel to see your makeup’s true colors.
Layer Three: Accent Lighting
Accent lighting is the fun layer– it leans much more into design than function. The purpose of accent lighting is to create a mood, or to highlight a specific feature in a room like an architectural detail or a piece of art.
Unlike ambient or task lighting, accent lighting doesn’t have a simple rule for best placement. Whether it’s hanging from the ceiling, sitting on a shelf, or standing on the floor, accent lighting can come from anywhere and shine on anything.
One way to determine where you need accent lighting is by thinking about your favorite evening activities. For example, where do you and your family cuddle for movie night or bedtime stories? Turn off your ambient lighting and see where you need a lamp, some sconces, or LED strips.
Pro tip: Plan on having 2-3 sources of accent light per room.
Accent lighting that’s highlighting a feature is typically small and bright. For accent lighting that’s creating a mood, look for dimmable options. Either way, you’ll need warm bulbs to achieve a cozy glow! Look for bulbs that say “soft white” for the gentlest light, with “warm white” as a close second.
Accent lighting opens the door for you to get creative! Check out some color-changing smart bulbs or LED strips that can really change the way your room feels with just the touch of a button!
Accent lighting is very specific to a person and their space, so there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules. Here are a few ideas to get your imagination flowing:
- Fill in the blank: if you’re missing a color or texture in your room, try bringing it in with an accent lamp. Warm up a modern space with a wooden or stone lamp, or balance your color palette with a new lampshade.
- Choose the unexpected: use sconces and pendants where you’d normally place a lamp. For example, if you have a couch tucked into a corner that could use more light, save floor space by hanging a pendant above the seat.
- Track lighting isn’t just about the lights– it can elevate your room by highlighting other decor and collections! Try placing them above your gallery wall to elevate your wall to an art museum experience.
Pro tip: Renting or want to avoid hiring an electrician? You can still use pendants and sconces! There are special varieties that use a plug– no hardwiring required.
Ready to Customize Your Lightscape?
Now that you have the guiding principles ready, the possibilities are endless! If you’re ready to get serious about your home’s lighting and design, the experts at Harbour Lighting can help you connect to a showroom near you. Contact us today!