The Fundamentals of Lighting in Interior Design

Ambient lighting, Interior design, Light, Light fixture, Task lighting

In interior Design, you wouldn’t think light has as much to do, as it does. While interior design does focus on the color of the walls, the color of the furniture and the basic design of a room, lighting is what brings it all together. Without proper lighting that fits the overall theme of your room, you can make or break a room’s theme. Interior designers find ways to use light to heighten a room’s overall theme, pull elements together and create a mood.

Main lighting types

When using lighting in interior design, there are three main types of lighting: ambient or general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. These three types work together to help bring the overall mood of a room.

Ambient lighting is the lighting that is actually used so you can see—and it can be dim or bright, yellowish or white, done by a single lamp or dozens, it doesn’t matter.

Task lighting is extra lighting used in a specific place where tasks need to be done, such as a workbench or over a desk, so you can see more clearly.

Accent lighting is lights used in a decorative manner, in order to highlight a plant, painting or to create specific shadows on the walls. While most rooms definitely need the first two, interior designers find ways to place accent lighting so it will help bring everything together.

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Ambient lighting
By Casey Fleser under CC BY 2.0


Ambient lighting

When looking at general lighting for your room, you first need to find a comfortable level of brightness. Rooms like a kitchen or a bathroom need to be brighter for safety reasons but places liking a dining or living room can function with dimmer light. This type of lighting, when working it into your room’s design, needs to fit the theme while still being functional. For instance, if you need a brighter light, you might want higher wattage bulbs but you need to find ways to work that into the room’s theme. If the room would have looked better with bold modern light fixtures but dimmer light, light dimmers and specific switches can help adjust the volume of light for safety reasons. When looking at a good general lighting plan, it is best to start out with a single source and then build from there.


Task lighting
By Robert under CC BY-SA 2.0


Task lighting 

Task lighting needs to be functional, easily accessible, and to do its job well. First you should locate where you need lighting the most, and find ways to provide it without sacrificing the room’s overall theme. You can accomplish this with desk lamps, lighting in recesses, etc, whatever works. The light tends to be brighter overall than general lighting and it needs to be free of glare and large shadows. Find a brightness and a place that works best for you and keep things that might sacrifice the quality of the light away from that corner of the room.

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Accent lighting
By Alfred Lui under CC BY-SA 2.0

Accent lighting

Accent lighting should be the third thing you think about when lighting a room after general and task lighting. This lighting should be used in artistic ways to highlight specific aspects of the room. If you have a painting that you think would benefit from extra light, small lamps or wall spotlights could help highlight that wonderful piece and bring it more attention. Accent lighting can also highlight plants or specific features around the room. You can work with shadows with this type of light, such as placing a lamp behind a plant to achieve a shadow across the wall. Light isn’t just one dimensional, as shadows can be decorative and add something to your room as well. Experiment with all three types of light when redecorating, to help bring it together like the pros.