Pendants. Suspended from the ceiling, a pendant light directs its light down, typically over a table or kitchen island. A pendant can enhance the decorative style of a room. Pendants can provide ambient or task lighting.
Targeted to a particular area of a room, task lighting is intended to illuminate a specific function. Areas of a home that require task lighting include kitchen counters where food will be prepared; living room seating areas where reading will take place; and home office desk surfaces where paperwork will be done. In a kitchen, under-cabinet lighting provides task lighting for a countertop; in a living room, a table lamp is often used for task lighting to accommodate reading.
Task lighting is just that; lighting that’s used to perform daily activities such as reading, cooking, shaving, putting on makeup, etc. Effective task lighting enhances visual clarity and keeps the eyes from getting tired, so it needs to be glare-free.
Design by Alia Meyer.
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Undercabinet. Mounted under kitchen cabinets, this type of lighting can be linear or a single puck-shaped fixture. Undercabinet lighting is extremely popular as task lighting in a kitchen.
Also called general lighting, ambient lighting provides overall illumination for a room, and is intended to create a uniform light level throughout a space, independent of any special lighting that may be needed in targeted areas of a room. In most home settings, when a person steps into a room and flips on a switch, ambient lighting illuminates the space. Ambient lighting takes many forms, including: ceiling-mounted or recessed fixtures that direct light downwards; wall sconces or floor-lamp torchieres that wash the walls with light; cove, soffit and valance lighting that bounces light off ceilings and walls.
Learn about ambient, accent and task lighting and how to use each in your home
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Lighting itself can be a work of art. A neon sculpture would be purely decorative and an example of aesthetic lighting. A spotlight illuminating a statue on a pedestal or portrait on the wall is also artistic.
This type of lighting also needs to be used along with other lighting types. Design by Andreas Charalambous.
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Whether you choose a valance or pendant, there’s a fixture for every need in your home
Find out what types of fixtures work best throughout your home
Mustard yellow chairs lined at the kitchen island add dining space to the connected dining room. A dining room light fixture, kitchen pendants and recessed lighting combine for a bright finish. The gray and white backsplash extends the height of the wall for an accent to the room.
Ambient is a hidden source of light that washes a room with a glow. It flattens an interior and creates very little shadow. A wall sconce is an example of ambient lighting, as are paper lanterns. Use of a dimmer can also provide ambient light.
Design by Troy Beasley.
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Chandeliers. Suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers direct their light upward, typically over a table. They can enhance the decorative style of a room. Chandeliers provide ambient lighting.
Ceiling. This type of fixture is mounted directly to the ceiling and has a glass or plastic shade concealing the light bulb. Ceiling fixtures have been common in homes for nearly a hundred years, often providing all the ambient light in a room.
Track. Mounted or suspended from the ceiling, track lighting consists of a linear housing containing several heads that can be positioned anywhere along a track; the direction of the heads is adjustable also. Track lighting is often used for task or accent lighting.
Wall Sconces. Surface-mounted to the wall, sconces can direct light upwards or downwards, and their covers or shades can add a stylistic touch to a room. Wall sconces provide ambient or task lighting.
Architectural. The three most common forms of architectural lighting are cove, soffit and valance; all three are integrated into the room’s structure. Cove lighting is located in a ledge, shelf or recess high up on a wall, and the light is bounced toward the ceiling or upper wall. Soffit lighting is located in a soffit or cornice near the ceiling, and the light radiates downward, washing the wall with light. Valance lighting is located in a wood, metal or glass valance (horizontal shield) mounted above a window or high on the wall, and the light bounces both upward and downward. The technique of bouncing light off walls and ceilings is known as indirect lighting, which is favored by many lighting professionals because indirect lighting minimizes shadows and glare. Architectural lighting is most often used as ambient lighting.
Directional lighting or lighting that adds interest or highlights a certain object or unusual architectural feature in a room. A bulb and some kind of shield to direct the light are all that’s needed for this type of lighting.
Halogen spotlights and table lamps with opaque shades are good ways to achieve accent lighting. Design by Lori Dennis.
When planning the layers of light in a room, it usually makes sense to consider the ambient lighting first, then consider task and accent lighting. “I like to move from general to specific when planning the lighting for a room,” says lighting designer Markus Earley of Providence, R.I. With rooms that are heavily task-oriented, however, such as home offices, some designers focus on task lighting first. And in a hallway that doubles as a photo or art gallery, accent lighting might be the first consideration.
Also called highlighting, accent lighting draws attention to a particular object, such as artwork, sculpture, plants or bookcases. Accent lighting is often used outdoors, to highlight a beautiful tree, plant or water feature, or to draw the eye to a particular area of the landscape. Recessed or track lighting is often used for accent lighting, with adjustable fittings that allow light to be focused precisely even on a small object.
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Recessed. Installed above the ceiling, this type of lighting has an opening that is flush with the ceiling. A recessed light requires at least 6 inches of clearance above the ceiling, and insulation is essential to ensure that condensation does not drip into the fixture. Recessed lighting sends a relatively narrow band of light in one direction; it can be used to provide ambient, task or accent lighting.
Desk, Floor & Table Lamps. Made in a wide range of sizes and styles, lamps are extremely versatile and portable sources of light in a room. Most lamps direct light downward, with the exception of a torchiere, which is a floor lamp that directs its light upward. Lamps are often used as task lights, particularly for reading, but can also provide ambient light.
The single most important concept in creating a good lighting plan for the home is to use an array of different types of lighting. “My best advice whatever you’re doing, whatever you want to achieve, is to create three layers of lighting—ambient, task and accent,” says Patricia Rizzo of the Lighting Research Center. Too many people make the mistake of expecting one type of lighting to do it all. Each type meets a particular need.
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Sunlight, candlelight and firelight; this is light that moves and is sometimes referred to as kinetic. The quality of natural light, sunlight in particular, depends on many things time of day, weather, what season it is.
Fall has a different light than summer, for instance. The setting sun gives a different kind of light than midday sun. Design by Tracy Morris.
Many options exist for providing light in a home, from integrated architectural solutions that require contractors and tradesmen, to decorative lamps that need only be placed on a table and plugged in to the nearest outlet. Although some types of fixtures are more commonly associated with a particular layer of lightingambient, task or accentmost fixtures are versatile enough to be used in a number of ways.
“It’s so important to think about how you really use a space, and what you do in specific rooms,” says interior designer Bruce Fox, partner at Wells & Fox, which has offices in Chicago and Boston. “Only then you can start to identify where you need task lighting and accent lighting.”