Layered Lighting for Comfort and Ambiance

Posted In Design - 11/16/2016

Lamps serve dual purpose – both form and function.  They help illuminate the space while adding a pop of color, texture or shimmer to your room.  When shopping, notice the form of the lamp - many lamps have a sculptural, vase-like art appeal, bases and shades can add texture or color.  But before you select a lamp, think about the type of light it will emit and the way it can create a mood in your room.

As you create your lighting design keep in mind that designers warn that over lighting a room results in harsh and uncomfortable atmosphere – the exact opposite of the warm and welcoming environment we want in our homes.  Most newer construction utilizes recessed lighting in living spaces.  These create an ambient, all over lighting for the room, but can result in a flat, clinical feel.  If your home has recessed lights, be sure to put them on a dimmer switch so that you can set the levels to achieve the atmosphere you want.

Designers recommend layering your lighting in these three levels:

  • Ambient lighting – This is broad reaching lighting that illuminates the entire room.  A series of recessed lights around the room are a very neutral way to create this effect.  A more dramatic solution would be a chandeliers centered in the room.  Chandeliers have become a popular way to light even casual living rooms. With such a large variety of styles to choose from, they can blend with other room furnishings or add a pop of personality to the room. Some larger floor lamps or torchiere lamps (which provide broad indirect light by projecting light upward toward the ceiling) especially when used in pairs can provide ambient light as well.
  • Task lighting – Task lighting is more concentrated lighting that is focused on one area of the room.  For instance a reading light beside a sofa or chair creates an inviting place to curl up with a great book. It can set the stage for a cozy conversation area.  Task lighting can be achieved with floor lamps and table lamps.  Think about how you use your room to determine which areas need task lighting.  Is there a specific place you sit to read, do puzzles, chat or do other tasks, these are the places to feature task lights.
  • Accent lighting – Accent lighting is mainly decorative and designed to bring attention to one specific item or area of the room.  For instance a fireplace, an architectural element, accent wall or work of art.  Often accent lighting is achieved with wall sconces, possibly mounted above a fireplace, or flanking either side of an art piece.  Recessed lighting can also function as accent lighting, and this is especially effective with architectural features such as recessed nooks.  Be selective with accent lighting, if too many accent lights are utilized they compete for attention and the effect is lost.

For ideal effect, rooms benefit from having all three of these types of lighting. Ambient light opens up the room, enabling easy, comfortable visibility of all furnishings and surfaces.

Without ambient light, the room would feel closed and cave-like.


By setting ambient light on a dimmer switch and toning down this general room light source while turning on task lighting, you can create inviting and cozy areas within the room for conversation, reading or doing specific tasks. Accent lighting is less functional, but offers visual detail and focus in the room. If any of the three were to be skipped, accent lighting would be the one you could do without.

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