The 3 Layers of Home Lighting


Interior lighting design is one of the most important interior design basics, yet it’s often the most neglected by DIY decorators. No matter how carefully you’ve furnished, arranged, and accessorized, you do not have a well-decorated home until you’ve implemented some lighting design basics.

To light your home properly, add the three layers of home lighting – ambient, task, and accent.


Ambient Lighting – The First Layer of Home Lighting

Ambient lighting is also called general lighting, and it’s the most basic of the three types of lighting. It’s the natural light from your windows, and the lighting that substitutes for natural light. Among the fixtures that provide ambient lighting are:

Chandeliers and other ceiling fixtures

Light kits on ceiling fans

Track lighting

Recessed ceiling lights

Wall sconces providing enough light to do more than spotlight

Most people understand the need for ambient lighting, but too many stop there. Ambient lighting is just the base, upon which you must add the other two layers of lighting.


Task Lighting – The Second Layer of Home Lighting

Task lighting is just as it sounds. It’s the light you need to perform tasks — reading, studying, cooking, applying makeup, etc. Task lighting fixtures include:

Table lamps

Desk lamps

Swing arm lamps

Under counter lights

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Pendant lights

Directed track or recessed lights

Vanity lights

Adjustable floor lamps

Before you select task lighting, make of list of the activities you need to perform in each room.


Accent Lighting – The Third Layer of Home Lighting

Some people think of accent lighting as mood lighting, and it is, but it’s much more than that.

In addition to providing atmosphere and influencing mood, accent lighting is used to highlight architectural features and important objects, and to draw attention away from the things that aren’t as pleasing. Even though accent lighting can disguise decorating blunders, it’s the most forgotten of the three types of lighting.

Some examples of accent lighting are:

Can lights and up-lights

Picture lights


Directed track or recessed lights

Niche lighting

Chandeliers with dimmer switches

Wall sconces

Lighting inside glass or wire door cabinets

Light bridges on media furniture

Notice that chandeliers and wall sconces can double as accent lighting, especially when you install dimmer switches. Track and recessed lighting can function as any of the three layers of lighting, depending on how you direct them.

When you plan your accent lighting, ask yourself how you want each room to feel, and which elements you want to highlight or hide.

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