We've all been in rooms that just feel right. They have a tactile, comfortable vibe that will make you want to hang your feet and stay for a while. In addition to the practicality of light, ie we need it to see, the lighting arrangement in your home has a major impact on the personality of a room. You wouldn't want a bright overhead light shining down on an intimate dinner or a single lamp illuminating a room where you're trying to do a project. The main purpose of lighting design is to introduce different degrees of light into a space, which are called layers. If you only have direct light sources, it will make a room feel dark and gloomy. And if you light the room evenly with no contrast, the room will appear flat and uninviting. Lighting is all about creating interest and visual drama, and these layers of light are parts of the whole that create the ultimate atmosphere. Read on to be enlightened about lighting your home.

  1. Mood lighting
  2. Accent lamps
  3. Task lighting
  4. Natural light
  5. Outdoor lighting
  6. Holiday Decorative Lighting
  7. Security lighting
  8. Reflective Objects
  9. Mood lighting
  10. Designer Lighting


10. Mood lighting

The purpose of ambient light is to create a diffused, even level of light in a room, and the first place to start is when creating a lighting schedule. Ambient light can also refer to a lighting scheme as a whole, but for our purposes, we'll talk about ambient light sources. The source usually comes from lights on the ceiling, although sometimes table or floor lamps can do the trick. Overhead light sources can be a lone bright light, such as a ceiling or pendant light, or multiple lights, such as track lighting or recessed cans. These smaller lights all work together to create the main light source, but the difference is that they can be aimed at different areas of the room to get into every nook and cranny.


Most overhead lights use incandescent bulbs, which are inexpensive and come in a variety of wattages. Compact fluorescents have also entered the scene as “green” alternatives that cost a little more but last significantly longer than their incandescent bulbs. They also have the advantage of being recyclable, whereas regular incandescent bulbs are not. The downside is that fluorescent lights have a reputation for casting unattractive light, but manufacturers are constantly working to improve this. It doesn't matter which bulb you use, overhead lighting is practical, but it can be showy, so ambient light sources need to be supplemented with other types of lights to provide contrast. In the next section, we'll talk about accent lighting.


9. Accent Lights

Sconces are just one example of accent lights.

Sconces are just one example of accent lights.

Accent lights are directional lights whose main purpose is to provide visual separation in a room. They're secondary lights in a room, and as a rule of thumb, they should be three to five times brighter than the ambient light level . Wall-mounted fixtures, such as sconces, are a good example of accent lights, as are table and floor lamps. For example, a chandelier in your dining room would provide ambient light, and one or more wall sconces would be the accent lights. Another use of accent lighting is to showcase a feature in a room, such as a painting or a collection. You've probably seen this in art museums. The ambient light is usually dim, which evokes peace and quiet, and the accent lights highlight the paintings, keeping you focused on the art. You can do this in your home as well, and it doesn't have to be fine art. If you have a big, beautiful plant you want to highlight, you can put a spotlight on the floor behind it and let the light bounce off its leaves, creating shadows and drama. Typically, a spotlight or floodlight is used to accent an object, though tracklights also work in certain applications. Higher wattage incandescent bulbs are often used in table lamps and wall lights for accent lighting, and halogen lamps are primarily used in spotlights.


8. Task Lighting

It's imperative to have the proper lighting when you're trying to complete a task.

It's imperative to have the proper lighting when you're trying to complete a task.

Task lighting provides the primary light in a room, and is ideally six to 10 times brighter than the ambient light. It's used to increase illumination above ambient levels at workspaces, and carefully chosen task lighting can minimize the need for overhead lights, which is helpful in conserving energy. The term “task lighting” has noticeably popped up in the vernacular since home renovations have become all the rage. Task lighting for our ancestors often consisted of a bright lone bulb in a utilitarian desk lamp, but now the options are endless. It's a key element in the kitchen and office, where specific tasks requiring proper light are prevent. It's also useful in the living room for projects, or in the bedroom for reading, and helps to avoid eye strain. There are many different kinds of lights that perform the job of a task light. Under-cabinet down lights are helpful for kitchen tasks, because typically, your shadow gets in the way of the ambient light source. Desk lamps or floor lamps trained on a desk are useful in the office, and table lamps with high watt bulbs work well in the living room and bedroom. Halogen lights are ideal for task lighting because they're energy efficient and produce a clean, clear light that renders accurate colors. The downside is that they tend to burn hot, so computing for hours under a halogen bulb could produce a sweat bead or two.


7. Natural Light

When asked to describe their most coveted space, many homeowners are quick to toss out adjectives like light and airy. Natural light is highly desirable light in a home, simply because it makes everything look appealing. Lighting schemes relying on natural light are called daylighting, and builders and architects are getting more requests than ever before to implement it in new construction. Perhaps it's because we spend many of our busy hours sitting at a desk indoors, but we didn't evolve that way. Daylighting keeps us in touch with the outdoors and time of day, and studies have found that people who work in natural light are more productive [source: Mother Earth News]. There are other benefits to natural light as well, such as a savings on electricity if you don't have to turn on lights. But making the best use of natural light is more detailed than throwing open your curtains and embracing the sun's rays. Glare can be an issue if the sun shines directly, or even indirectly, into the room. Heat also needs to be managed, which is usually best accomplished with curtains or shades. Painting a room a light, reflective color can help amp up the natural light, and the best ceiling color to complement the light is the whitest white you can find.


6.Outdoor lighting

Landscape lighting will keep your yard safe -- and pretty to look at.

Landscape lighting will keep your yard safe — and pretty to look at.

People are incorporating a lot more outdoor living into their lives at home, and for this reason, outdoor lighting needs to be approached with the same principles as indoor lighting. Ambient, accent and task lighting all serve their purpose in an outdoor lighting plan.


Accent lights can be used to highlight particular features in your yard. Smaller trees are great showpieces in a spotlight, and larger trees can reflect light back into the yard. Flowerbeds benefit from ground lighting that adds drama and beauty to your yard scene. And if you get the itch to do a little gardening at night, ground lights can also provide good task lighting.


If you have a deck with built-in seating, downlights add the feeling of candlelight for an intimate scenario. You don't want to over-light, so a good rule of thumb is to come up with a lighting scheme that mimics moonlight. You can choose from a variety of solar lights which are charged by sunlight, or low-voltage lights that connect to the electricity in your house. Solar lights are typically less expensive, but they also don't give off as much light. Low-voltage lights are more expensive and require additional equipment, but they offer considerably more light.


5. Holiday Decorative Lighting

Holidays — and especially Christmas — really come alive through lighting. Whether you're trying to create a fun, festive atmosphere or a more intimate one, both can easily be accomplished through your selection of interior and exterior lighting. Colorful lights strung outside can incite instant cheer in those about to enter your home; follow up inside with festive lighting on your tree, plus splashy accent lighting. Accent lighting can be anything from string lights to lighted pine garland to strategically placed blinking deer. For a more subdued, stylish look, swap out the colorful strands for white lights, plus incorporate accents such as candles, lanterns and luminaries, both near the fireplace and on your outside steps. Finally, tuck in some items with metallic finishes near your lights or candles, which will cause a sparkling, shimmering aura.


4. Security Lighting

Bright, motion-controlled lights are a popular way to add some security to your home.

Bright, motion-controlled lights are a popular way to add some security to your home.


All of the lighting we've discussed so far has been aimed at ambiance, but lighting for security is an important consideration, too. This encompasses everything from scaring off potential thieves and destructive animals to illuminating areas and objects that may cause you or your guests to stumble.


Some people think security lighting is an easy thing — just slap up a bright, motion-controlled light near your home, and maybe toss in some lights along your walkway. But achieving good results takes a little more thought. Keep these points in mind when planning your security lighting:


  • To ward off thieves and assassins, it's better to install a shielded, medium-intensity light rather than a super-bright light. You may feel safer with a bright light, but it will inhibit you from seeing who's out there or what's going on. A dimmer one will allow you to jot down descriptions, license plate numbers, etc. for authorities, if necessary [source: Residential Landscape Lighting & Design].
  • Motion detectors are great at both security lighting and energy management, as they only go on when there's movement in the area. Position them high enough — ideally, under the eaves — so they can't be easily disabled or destroyed by intruders, and in a downward position so you don't illuminate your entire block. And remember animals and blowing objects can set them off, not just intruders.
  • Do a few checks before actually installing your security devices. Will a bright light hit you in the face when you open the front door, or blind your guests as they get out of their cars? Can you perhaps hide a not-so-pretty light in your landscape? If you're just trying to keep feral cats out of your backyard, do you really want lights around your whole house?


3. Reflective Objects

Many people overlook the use of reflective objects – such as mirrors, crystal and glass – when adding light to their homes. If placed properly, such objects can go a long way toward illuminating a room. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors, for example, can really illuminate dark rooms, plus make them appear larger. The smaller mirrors can be placed over mantels, or hung on the wall as statues, to throw back smaller amounts of light. For small sparkles, place mirrored votive candle holders on tables or in dark corners.


Many smaller crystals are great at catching the sun and playfully pouring it around a room. You can buy reflective crystals - often prisms - for just a few dollars, and place one or more in a window or two. They can be plain or any color you desire [source: The Telegraph].


And don't forget your fireplace. Firelight is magical just as it is, but you also purchase reflective fireplace glass that you sprinkle at the base of your fire. The glass pieces are chunkier than regular fire glass, allowing the flames to reflect more surface off of it, resulting in a mesmerizing, dancing light. Like crystals, they come in a variety of colors.


2. Mood lighting

The warm light from a fireplace can help make a room feel cozier.


The warm light from a fireplace can help make a room feel cozier.


Like paint, lighting can drastically change the feel of a room. And you probably don't want to provoke the same feelings in every room of your house. Do you want to create a cozy space? Add plenty of reading lamps to the room, and wall conces or torches, which will create a warm glow. A fireplace always evokes a reassuring feeling. To encourage an energetic atmosphere, you want to pair bright mood lighting with highly focused task lighting. Recessed strip lighting, for example, is great in combination desk-bookcase units popular for home offices. And multi-bulb fixtures brighten an entire room, making it easy to see detail, whether in a cake you're decorating or a miniature railroad you're assembling. Do you need a romantic hideaway? Nix overhead lights instead of several small lamps with warm or dark tones. If you add chimneys, place them lower on your wall than usual; this will make the ceiling look lower and the room cozier. And don't forget those all-important dimmer switches.


1. Designer Lighting

As with mood lighting, the use of designer lighting can change the feel of a room. But while mood lighting changes the feel of a room — from energetic to romantic, for example — designer lighting changes the personality or style of a room. A good example is the newly popular "man cave," a room for the man of the house that is usually filled with sports and drinking memorabilia, a huge TV and perhaps a foosball table, pool table or dartboard. Add to the personality of this room with designer lighting such as sports lights and, if the room contains a bar, a neon sign. Baby on the way? Prepare the nursery by installing colorful gumdrop pendant light over the changing table and maybe a bunny table lamp. For the night light? Maybe a smiling moon.


But design lighting doesn't have to be so specific. If you have a modern home with sleek, contemporary lines, look for the same in your lighting to carry through the same style. For example, install a saucer bell light over the kitchen table, or a curved monorail lighting system above your island. Luminaires with geometric shapes and natural materials are what you are looking for. Not surprisingly, it's the opposite for those who favor a traditionally styled home. Look for pieces such as ornate chandeliers, fixtures with painted, bronze, or brushed pewter finishes, and general elegance.