When done right, lighting can brilliantly transform a space, setting the mood of a room and reflecting the personality of the entire home. But when done wrong, there is nothing else our eyes can set focus to.
There might not be any other component of interior design that mixes practicality and aesthetics as much as lighting does. Lighting might seem simple, but unfortunately, that is not the case.
Lighting is both a science and art–the reason why it can be so convoluted is due to this balance between design and utility. So we will be discussing the importance of lighting in interior design, and why you need to spend a little extra time with choosing how you about lighting your interior.
Table of Contents
- A. The role of lighting in and outside your home
- B. Quality vs. quantity
- C. Color and light
- D. Color temperature
- E. The psychological effects of lighting and color
- F. The three general types of lighting
- G. Interior Lighting options (fixtures)
- H. Outdoor Lighting Options
- I. Light bulbs
- J. Where to buy lights
- K. Create a lighting plan – Lighting Galleries
A. The role of lighting in and outside your home
In essence, the function of light is relatively straightforward: it illuminates a space, giving us the vision to carry out tasks and perform certain functions. Lighting is used as a means to let us see a room. However, the applications of light have a magical effect on any space.
You cannot fully experience the interior architecture of a home without adequate lighting, which with proper planning, you’re invited to take in the beauty and decor of the surrounding atmosphere. Down the floors, furniture, and any textures, a well-lit space can enhance every single detail about a room. Your home’s interior will be brought to life with the use of proper lighting.
Lighting helps us live our modern lives, and without it, we would be relying on the sun’s light and candles. Although natural sunlight has positive effects on our mental health, and candles can be a fantastic way to set the mood, those methods of lighting are limited and not very practical for meeting our everyday needs.
B. Quality vs. quantity
When it comes to lighting, often the quality outweighs quantity. For instance, many bedrooms tend to have bedside lamps, an overhead lamp, and possibly supplemental task lighting, such as a desk lamp. Although you could turn on every single light to get a well-lit bedroom, that would be over the top.
An overhead light should do the trick to diffuse enough light to illuminate the whole room. But when you’re winding down for bed, you most likely don’t want to have an abundant source of light. This is why we typically will turn on a bedside lamp to transform the space into a calming retreat. We use light in many different ways, and the types of lights reflect this.
C. Color and light
Color, as we know it, would not exist if there was no light. We see colors through the reflection of wavelengths (the light itself) that are emitted from the source of the light. Color is only perceivable when there is light, and the type and amount of lighting influence how we perceive the colors of a space. A color could appear to be a specific hue under one source of light, but in an environment with different lighting, that hue wouldn’t appear the same.
For example, under most circumstances, people would agree that a lemon is yellow. However, that is technically only true in broad daylight or artificial daylight. In poorly lit, darkened rooms, the lemon would no longer appear to be yellow, but rather shades of grey. The color would also shift slightly under different lighting conditions.
If the source of the light is is colored pure blue, the lemon could lean more towards a greenish-yellow color, and under pure red light, it would be a darkened orange-yellow color. While those are extreme cases of lighting, the type of lights you use can directly impact the colors of your walls and furniture.
D. Color temperature
The appearance (aka the color) of the light is called color temperature. A light bulb’s color temperature helps us understand how the light will look and interact with the environment. Color temperature ranges from warm-white to true daylight.
Despite its name, warm light is on the lower side of the temperature scale, whereas true daylight in on the higher side.The appearance of warm light leans toward amber, orange light. The ambiance this gives a room is an inviting and cozy tone.
In between warm light and true daylight is a cool-white. Cool-white is a good balance between the two ends of the spectrum, and it provides a vibrant and bright light.
True daylight, which is pure white light, is very stark and crisp. Natural lighting is considered true daylight, but artificial daylight is on the cooler side of the spectrum. This type of light will give off a blue-white light, hence why it is considered a “cold” light.
Experimenting with the lights can change how the colors appear in a room, but be careful, as this could cause undesirable effects. Understanding the relationship between light and color is very important for your lighting plan, because lighting decides the overall tone and feel of the room.
E. The psychological effects of lighting and color
As stated before, lighting is not only a functional aspect of interior design. While it is essential to understand how lighting will work within a space, you will need to know how the lighting can make a room feel. The perfect amount of light has a positive effect on our mood, whereas too little or too much can have a negative impact.
That being said, how do we get the “perfect” amount of light for space? The answer can be tricky, but it comes back to having a well-thought-out light plan. But in order to be designing a lighting plan for your home, there are a variety of factors you need to understand.
F. The three general types of lighting
There are three primary sources of light: general (ambient), task, and accent. Every type is necessary for different parts of your home, and they can even crossover between two models. For instance, an overhead pendant light could be considered both task or general, depending on its intended use. A well thought out lighting plan will utilize all three types of lighting in a space. Here’s a more in-depth look at each type of lighting and the role they play in your home.
1. General Lighting
General lighting, also known as ambient lighting, is the primary source of light for a room. Its purpose is to provide broad lighting for the entire space. But it also directly influences the overall ambiance and mood, hence why it is often referred to as ambient lighting. If a room has an abundance of natural lighting, that can often be the source of general lighting during the daytime. The fixtures used for general lighting can vary from recessed lights to beautiful chandeliers.
2. Task Lighting
Task lighting is exactly what its name suggests; it provides illumination for a specific task. Task lighting is more localized than other types of lighting, and it can come from a variety of sources. The function of task lighting is to brighten a certain work area, providing just enough contrasting light to enhance your productivity.
As we get older, our vision worsens, which is why task lighting is so effective in reducing the glare of lights and preventing eye strain. The types of workspaces that task lighting typically centers around are cooking, reading, crafts, studying, and other kinds of hobbies that are stationary.
Just like general lighting, task lighting can come from many light sources, such as recessed or track lights. But unlike general lighting, smaller lamps provide a perfect amount of task light, depending on their location. Table lamps, desk lamps, and under-counter lamps are all examples of task lighting. The importance is that these are shallower forms of light designed to help improve the productivity of the designated work area, to limit shadows and cut back on any glare.
3. Accent Lighting
Accent lighting is more design and decorative focused than the other two types of lighting. But that’s not to say design isn’t essential when picking out your task or general light fixtures. The primary function of accent lighting, unlike general lighting, is to create a focal point for the room. It adds a dimension to the environment, so it plays along with general lighting. Accent lighting is used to bring attention to unique architectural design, bring out the beauty of artwork of photographs, enhance the texture or color of the walls, or to show off the light fixture itself.
Accent lighting adds drama to the room it’s in. Its goal is to draw your eyes to the focal point it has created. A well-executed accent light will bring your attention to what is being lit, not how that object is being lit. Perfecting the angle of accent lights is pivotal to bringing attention to whatever you have chosen. It might take a bit of experimenting to do to get the desired look, but it is well worth the effort.
Make sure to pay careful attention to the type of light bulbs you’re using with accent lighting, especially if you’re trying to highlight a piece of art. LED light bulbs are typically your best bet because they don’t emit any damaging UV light or heat. Exposure to UV light and heat can damage precious photos and other pieces of art over time, and you surely don’t want a damaged piece of art being the center of attention!
G. Interior Lighting options (fixtures)
There are many options for light fixtures to choose from (as well as light switches but that’s another story). Some varieties tend to be utilized for a specific kind of light (such as general, accent, task). However, most light fixtures are relatively versatile and can be used in many different ways.
1. Architectural lighting
Architectural light fixtures are ones that are integrated into the building’s structure. Architectural lighting can be referred to as cove, valance, or soffit. The characteristics of architectural lighting tend to be located on a ledge or shelf, and the light is a self is typically bounced toward the ceiling or upper parts of the wall. It can also be within the structure, in wood, glass, or metal valances, which are then mounted above windows or high above the walls.
The soffit technique, however, relies on the light being placed near the ceiling, which allows the light to radiate downward, providing ambient light. Architectural light emits indirect lighting since many techniques involve bouncing light off the walls to minimize shadows. Architectural light is usually considered general lighting.
2. Ceiling lights
There are many lighting options for your ceiling – it’s an umbrella term for a lighting placement in various rooms.
Discover the 14 different ceiling light options here and see our extensive ceiling flush-mount lighting guide here.
3. Pendant lights
Pendant lights are hot for the kitchen and dining room. These particular fixtures can seriously enhance the aesthetics of your room. This type of light suspends from the ceiling. They come in all styles, sizes and lengths. They also come as single lights are in a group.
4. Recessed lighting
Recessed lighting is a type of light that lies in an opening in the ceiling. Typically, you should allow at least six inches of clearance for installation, and the area surrounding the fixture should be well insulated. The light emitted from recessed lighting is a relatively narrow band of light. But with multiple recessed lights installed in the ceiling, it can be an excellent choice for general lighting. A few installations of recessed lights can make for a fantastic form of task or accent lighting.
5. Track lighting
Track lighting is suspended from the ceiling and consists of several light heads that can change position and adjust the direction along the track. The primary use of track lighting is for accent lighting and task lighting, but depending on the strength of the bulbs, it can work perfectly as general lighting.
6. Under-cabinet lighting
Under-cabinet lighting is very straightforward– it’s installed underneath the cabinets. This is a prevalent form of task lighting for a kitchen since the areas underneath cabinets tend to be very dark. Kitchens are bustling work zones that require all of your vision–you don’t want to end up chopping off a finger!
7. Pendant lighting
Pendant lighting hangs from the ceiling, providing light directly below it. The most common location for pendant lighting is above a kitchen island or a dining room table. Pendant lights are very decorative, but they offer excellent task and ambient lighting. There are many types of pendant light fixtures out there, so you’ll surely find the right one that fits your interior design.
Like pendant lighting, chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling. However, unlike pendant lighting, the light that it emits is pointed upward and reflects off the ceiling. Pendant lighting and chandeliers are very similar in terms of their functions. But chandeliers offer a much more decorative flair to the overall room, and there’s clearly an abundance of beautiful chandelier designs out there. Chandeliers are an excellent example of general lighting.
9. Wall-mounted lighting
Wall-mounted lighting, many of which are called wall sconces, emit upward or downward light. The illumination is reasonably localized and on a smaller scale than ceiling fixtures, so it is excellent for task and accent lighting. But depending on the strength of the light, it can be used as general lighting, provided a more relaxing ambiance.
10. Floor, table, and desk lamps
These types of lamps require no installation, aside from plugging them into an outlet. The number of styles and sizes are staggering, and the best thing about them is that they are very portable. If you don’t like where it’s currently located, you can move it around with ease. Their versatility and accessibility make them very desirable, and they also provide a fantastic amount of task lighting. More prominent-sized floor lamps can also give off enough light to provide general lighting for the room.
11. Smart home lighting
Lastly, one final consideration is smart lighting for you home. This is a quickly evolving aspect of lighting technology for the home that includes smart lighting generally as well as smart light bulbs.
H. Outdoor Lighting Options
Just like inside your home, you have seemingly unlimited outdoor lighting options. So much so, that we have several dedicated guides to your outdoor lighting options. Check them out:
- 15 types of outdoor lights: This is our overview guide on your main outdoor lighting options.
- Outdoor hanging lights guide: One type of outdoor light is one that hangs or is suspended. We have a separate guide on the different types of outdoor string lights.
- Types of outdoor wall-mounted lights: You can install wall-mounted lights both inside and out. Because styles and options are different for outside, we put together a dedicated outdoor wall-mounted light guide.
- Patio and deck lighting guide: One area you definitely want to illuminate is your patio or deck. For this, our patio and deck lighting guide can help get the ball rolling.
- Outdoor kitchen lighting guide: If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor kitchen, this is yet another area outside that requires care and planning for appropriate lighting. We set out your options in the guide.
- Lastly, see 75 outdoor/backyard lighting ideas here.
I. Light bulbs
Just like the types of lighting and fixtures mentioned above, the kind of lightbulb plays a crucial role in your interior lighting design plan. While there are a variety of light bulbs used in interior design, here’s a description of the most common types of light bulbs available on the market today, and how they differ from one another.
1. Incandescent light bulbs
Incandescent bulbs are very inexpensive and are one of the most commonly used light bulbs. The glow is warm and inviting. Incandescent lights are a very flattering light choice since it compliments most skin tones. This makes them the right choice for a dimming light bulb, especially in the bathroom. Although they are one of the cheapest options on the market, they are not as energy-efficient, and typically last for only 700 hours of use.
2. Halogen light bulbs
A variation of incandescent lights, halogen light bulbs emit the closest replica of natural light, which is white light. Colors will pop and appear to be much sharper under halogen lights, so they’re great for a vibrantly colored room. These light bulbs are a bit more energy efficient compared to incandescent bulbs, but they are more expensive. Be careful when mounting these light bulbs, as they burn at much higher temperatures than other types of bulbs. Halogen light bulbs are beneficial for task lights, especially in under-cabinet lights and pendant lights.
3. Fluorescent light bulbs
If you’re looking for the flat and “colder” illumination of the light bulbs, then fluorescent is for you. Like halogen, fluorescent light tries to mimic natural lighting, but they work excellently for ambient lighting. However, because the light can often be too harsh, they are not ideal for use in many rooms aside from basements and attics. Fluorescent light bulbs are also typically used in commercial lighting for the immense ability to light large spaces. But that’s not to say you should stray away from fluorescent lights. There are many types available on the market that offer different and warmer colors, and they tend to last longer than incandescent lights.
4. LED light bulbs
A light-emitting diode (LED) is a technology used in lighting that is very durable and energy-efficient. Although they show great promise in being an economical choice and use less energy, they don’t offer diffused light such as the other types of light. Most LED lights will provide directional lighting, which makes them a fantastic opportunity for task lighting, but not general room lighting. There are, however, innovations in LED light, with models consisting of clusters of LED lights to provide broader illumination. These more modern types, however, can be pretty costly.
J. Where to buy lights
With literally millions of lighting options for your home, where do you start?
20 years ago you trundled down to your local home decor or improvement store and picked something you liked from their limited selection. Maybe you had a catalog with some options.
These days it’s a different ball game. Now you have access to millions of lighting options with a few clicks on the internet.
This is where we can help – we have an extensive guide listing and describing the main online lighting stores. Check them out:
K. Create a lighting plan – Lighting Galleries
It can be an extremely complex part of decorating to understand because there are many factors to follow when planning the best lighting for your home. This is why it is essential to thoughtfully outline a lighting plan that best fits each room of your home’s needs.
Understanding your home’s needs is key to creating a light plan. And by reading this in-depth guide to lighting, hopefully, you will have a stronger grasp as to how to start designing a well-lit, yet tastefully decorated room.
One good approach to creating a good lighting plan inside and outside of your house is to check out examples of different types of lighting and ideas for specific rooms and areas. Below we set out access to our many photo galleries that showcase unique lighting for each room of the home, different types of lighting and outside.
- 46 inspiring kitchen lighting ideas
- 11 types of living room lighting
- 27 types of dining room lighting
- 11 types of bathroom lighting
- 21 types of bedroom lighting
- 17 types of foyer and entryway lighting
- 23 types of closet lighting
- 14 types of interior staircase lighting options
- 9 garage lighting options
- Fun kids’ lighting options
Home Stratosphere is an award-winning home and garden online publication that’s a result of our talented researchers and writers who work directly with hundreds of professional interior designers, furniture designers, landscape designers and architects from around the world to create helpful, informative, entertaining and inspiring articles and design galleries.