Lighting Design 101

How a room is lit will effect its overall mood and function. Lighting design will add to romantic ambiance, drama, utility or fun to any space; depending on how it is applied.

Natural light, provided by the sun is always the first consideration, but in this article, the topic is focused on supplemental lighting known as ambient, task and accent lighting. These 3 light sources, combined with a basic knowledge of bulbs, will ensure the perfect lighting design finish for any room decorating project.

Ambient Lighting

This is the basic light of a room installed in most homes as a fixture in the center of a room’s ceiling. This could be chandelier, dome lighting or any other form of overhead lighting. It provides convenient light for the immediate expulsion of darkness.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is as the name indicates, is designed to focus a beam of light on or in a specific place to make working in the space highly illuminated. A simple bell school desk lamp is a perfect example with its flex arm and focusing shade resulting in a sharply directed light. Task lighting is placed where reading, food preparations, or a complex task like puzzle building or model making is being worked on.

Accent Light

Accent light is the light positioned to draw attention to a focal point such as an architectural feature or wall art. Contractors often install accents in the lighting design scheme by installing a directional can light in front of a fireplace mantel or under cabinets in a kitchen. Designed to bring out features, rather than being large illumination or focused functionality, these lights can define the aesthetics of space.

The first principle of Lighting Design 101 is to incorporate all 3 types of light throughout a home. The primary guideline is simple; too much light and the room becomes washed out and character is lost, too little, and features and basic room comfort becomes uninviting and dingy.

Without bulbs, lighting design is impossible. The combination of the right bulb in the right fixture and a proper layering of light is also of important to great lighting design.

Identify where the main activity of the room will be. Place the ambient light there. Once again, a chandeiier over a dining room table is a common lighting design application. Next, determine if there are certain features in the room that will add visual interest in targeted areas.

The final step is to consider adding a task light to the lighting design layering. Many rooms will be perfect using 2 of the 3 lighting design options, while others will best be served by incorporating all 3.

One excellent way to manipulate light is to install lighting panels. These have become a must for higher end homes since, once installed, panels will control ambient, task and accent lighting throughout the house using a central switching system; including remote control.

For the more frugal home design project, easy to install dimming switches can accomplish wonderful effects, turning ambient light into task or accents while also saving energy and increasing bulb life.

Lighting Design and Light Bulbs

Different bulbs produce different lighting effects. The combination of light and bulb will produce the best results.

Incandescent Bulbs

These are what are now considered by some, antiquated light bulbs, providing light by heating a metal wire until it glows. These are the standard rounded bulbs with the screw in base (see picture below). They are affordable and gives off a light that compliments skin tones. They work well as ambient, task or accent light combinations and are easily controlled with dimmers or 3-way switches.

Halogen Bulbs

Ikea loves these bulbs. These are best used in task or accent lighting fixtures. It provides a cleaner quality of light since it is a chemical reactive based light source, but it does require higher temperatures to provide this brighter, purer light (see picture below).

Fluorescent Bulbs

Pseudo daylight is the main feature of this type of bulb. Large, windowless spaces that need strong steady light, use fluorescents. Originally, applications were installed in industrial and offices spaces. Today, they are available in various sizes and shapes and can be used in all 3 lighting design applications. They do require a specific fixture connection and may need a custom home upgrade.

Fun Bulbs

Fun bulbs are perfect for decorating accents where an artistic light experience is desired over the more functional applications. These fun lights include:

  • Black light
  • Neon light
  • Rope light
  • Fiber Optic

To recap. Creating perfect lighting design requires a basic understanding of the 3 most common types of light; ambient, accent, and task. Next, it’s determining the layers of light needed for each room with the final step being installing the right bulb within the decorative fixture that best expresses your interior design style.

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