Lighting Design Basics

Our designers are passionate about helping clients create unique lighting designs that fit their unique homes. As different as each home can be, some basic design principles apply in order to create mood, atmosphere, and style, and to provide adequate lighting for each space’s specific purpose. We’ve compiled this guide as an introduction to some of the basic principles of lighting design.

We hope that this guide helps you get the most out of your home lighting. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d also be happy to discuss your project in detail at a lighting consultation.

General Lighting Needs

Of course we need lighting to see in the dark. But how much light do you need and what kind of light fixture is best? When considering lighting for your home, begin by thinking about the lighting needs you have in each room. Below are descriptions of a few common lighting needs to get you started.

Lighting to Create Mood & Atmosphere

One room can have any number of different atmospheres due to lighting, from a lively party to a relaxing evening at home. Even the smallest changes in color or brightness can alter the atmosphere of a room. The right lighting design can make small rooms feel spacious and large rooms feel intimate. Leave the stark, bright overhead lights at work and come home to excellent color rendering and custom mood lighting.

Ketra Lighting Tunable Color. Photo Credit: Magda Biernat

Stretch Pendant in Satin Red by Vermont Modern by Hubbardton Forge

Lighting to Enhance Room Décor

From a light fixture that doubles as a sculptural piece of art to lighting that highlights a painting on the wall, lighting serves as more than just illumination. This type of lighting tells a story and sparks conversation, adding drama or character to your space. Light can be used to draw the eye and showcase the aspects of your home of which you are most proud.

Lighting for Visual Activities

Reading, working or studying, cooking, sewing and other hobbies, and grooming and cleaning are all common household activities that require specialized light. Some activities require more light than others depending on the level of detail involved. Additionally, varieties in color temperature can create light that keeps you more alert and focused. If you have a home office, a room where you typically knit or scrapbook, or if you like to wear makeup, you may need more light than you are currently getting.

Henry Floor Lamp by Hubbardton Forge in Bronze with Soft Gold Accents

Mini Mikado in Cherry by LZF

Lighting to Ensure Safety & Security

Sufficient lighting can prevent accidents and enhance personal security, both indoors and out. Adding exterior lighting next to the entrances to your home can help you identify any visitors before opening the door, and flood lights in your driveway and backyard can give you peace of mind at night. Inside, it is just as important to have adequate lighting to prevent household accidents, especially when using potentially dangerous tools.

Layered Lighting Designs

In the same way that you can’t make an outfit entirely out of shirts, you can’t adequately light a room with only one type of lighting. To meet the lighting needs in each room, Lighting Designers recommend a layered lighting design. Rather than relying on a single type of light or a single light fixture, a layered lighting design incorporates different types of lighting to fulfill different lighting needs and create a balanced living space.

The types of lighting used in layered lighting design are as follows:

Layer #1: Ambient

Ambient lighting provides overall illumination for atmosphere, safety, security, and the performance of simple activities. Ambient lighting also brightens the background of a space in which you need to perform a well-lit task. This lessens the contrast between one bright light and the rest of the room, and decreases eye strain.

Entra Recessed by Tech Element

Layer #2: Task

Task lighting is a localized light source designed to fully illuminate an area where you are performing a visual activity, i.e., reading, grooming, or working with hazardous tools. The necessary intensity varies depending on the person and on the complexity of the task.

Stix Plus for Vanity by Sonneman

Layer #3: Accent

Accent lighting makes a room pop by highlighting certain aspects or features of a room using local or directional lighting. From a piece of art to an impressive mantle, anything that you want to showcase in your home can stand out with an accent light.

Accent Lighting

Layer #4: Decorative

Decorative lighting doubles as art, and comes with a personality of its own to enhance a room’s décor. This type of lighting is perfect for a statement piece in a foyer or over a dining room table. Decoration doesn’t have to be the end of a beautiful light’s purpose, because most manufacturers offer functional lighting that can also complement décor.

12 Gem Ring Chandelier by Hammerton Studio in Oil-Rubbed Bronze with Bronze Glass

Considerations for Choosing the Right Fixture

The amount of light you need varies depending on a number of factors, some of which only a lighting designer can catch based on the parameters of your home. To speak with one of our lighting designers, please contact us or schedule a lighting consultation.

In the interim, here are some basic rules of thumb and helpful hints when it comes to lighting your home:

Ceiling Height

Whether you have high, low, or sloped ceilings changes the way the space needs to be lit. As a rule of thumb, however, a light in the center of a space should not hang lower than 7 feet above the floor. Over a table or counter, a hanging light should be hung so that there are 30-36″ between the bottom of the fixture and the surface of the table or counter.

If your ceiling is sloped, keep in mind that not all light fixtures can be used on a sloped ceiling. Often a fixture will have a maximum slope that it can accommodate. A lighting designer can help you find the right fixture for the angle of your ceiling.

Color of Surfaces or Finishes

The darker the colors in a room’s palette, the more light surfaces will absorb and the less light they will reflect back into the room. Rooms painted or wallpapered a dark color require more light than a white or light colored room.

Activities Done in a Room

The difficulty of a task depends on its size and contrast and how much speed and accuracy are required. Most homes do not require very high levels of illumination, except for local lighting of critical tasks, such as hobbies and careful grooming.

Note that the quality of the lighting has a greater impact than the quantity of light. For example, correctly-placed bathroom sconces with a shade that diffuses light evenly will be more effective than brighter sconces that are placed incorrectly or have a shade that causes shadows.

Age of Occupants

Older eyes need more light to see well, especially for difficult or low-contrast tasks, and are more sensitive to glare. People over the age of 55 may need twice as much light as a 20 year old person, and needs increase from there. Lighting that distinguishes the surfaces of walls and floors (especially changes in level) makes a space much more comfortable and secure for older people.

Ready to Begin?

Request a consultation to discuss your project with one of our designers.

Lighting Consultation