Articles Interior Design Understanding Lighting Design Principles for Your Home

Understanding Lighting Design Principles for Your Home

Lighting can contribute to the overall aesthetic of interiors. Understand these lighting design principles to make your home more visually appealing.

Good lighting design can make or break the visual appeal of a home. No matter how well you’ve decorated a space or how meticulous you were in arranging your furniture, interior design is incomplete without a proper lighting plan that puts emphasis on your treasured ornaments and home decor pieces.

While light fixtures can be considered as decorative pieces in their own right – think incandescent bulbs and exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling for that industrial look, or an extravagant chandelier for your formal dining room – a lighting design plan is fundamentally the system by which light is distributed in the space. It covers the main lights that allow you to see in the dark, the focused lights that help you do specific tasks at home, and the mood lights that accentuate the important objects in your home.

Because, what good is a piece of artwork from your favorite artist or an archival piece of furniture if no one can actually see it? Familiarize yourself with the three types of home lighting, and implement a lighting design plan that highlights the true beauty of your own space.

Living room with big windows providing ambient lighting

Ambient Lighting: Keep Things Even and Visible

Ambient lighting, or general lighting, is meant to provide uniform illumination across the entire space. As the first layer of interior lighting, ambient lighting is there to make everything visible and to make the home feel cohesive in its wholeness. Most properties will already have a generic ambient lighting plan that adjusts to daytime and nighttime needs in place, since no space can really function without this bare minimum.

The first source of ambient lighting is natural light from windows and glass doors; as a prospective home renter or buyer, you are well aware of a property’s appeal just from how much natural light it gets. That said, not all properties will have the same luxury when it comes to natural light. This is why many interior designers and contractors focus on substitutes that make up for the little sunlight that enters the space and try to evenly distribute them across the home.

Some of the fixtures that provide ambient lighting in the space include ceiling light fixtures, downward-facing recessed lights, track lighting, and high-watt floor lamps that wash the walls with enough light. These light set-ups are especially important in spots that need optimal and consistent visibility, such as stairs and hallways.

Kitchen with hanging lights for task lighting

Task Lighting: Choose Fixtures That Perform

Task lighting is the second and maybe the most straightforward interior lighting design type. It is exactly what it is called: lighting that helps you do work. More intense and brighter than ambient lighting, task lighting serves to provide a good working space where you can perform your errands diligently. The kitchen, just above the home office, might be the one place in your home with the most task lights present. From under-cabinet lights to pendants above the bar and countertops to the mini bulbs tucked away in your range hood, abundant and focused kitchen lighting is critical to making the space truly effective. You would not believe how much you will enjoy cooking in your own kitchen more if lighting is pleasant.

Other task lighting fixtures include vanity lights for the bathroom, desk lamps for the office, and bedside table fixtures for your sleeping space. For these purposes, task lighting – while intense – must be glare free so as not to cause any eyestrain.

To figure out a task lighting system for your home, it is advisable to understand the purpose of each room and space in your home. What activities are you performing in these spaces? How else do you think these areas can function as? Identifying how your space can work for you and adjusting fixtures to support those functions can make your home an even better place to live in.

Art piece with lighting above

Accent Lighting: Set The Right Mood

Accent lighting is different from the other two types of interior lighting in that its focus is aesthetic, building style and visual interest to the home. It is used to bring attention to your most-prized home ornaments and the brilliant architectural elements of your home. On the flipside, accent lighting – when done right – can take focus away from spots in your space that aren’t as pleasing or as interesting to look at.

It is all about creating the desired mood and image when it comes to accent lighting. Dim lights or settings in chandeliers and wall sconces add that extra flair in dining rooms and entryways. Spot lighting for your art pieces are taken as accent lights because they draw attention to decorative features. Niche lighting, candle lights, and light bridges on electronics and media furniture are all accent lighting fixtures.

Accent lighting is probably what you think of when you relate light fixtures to interior design. Using light to emphasize the beautiful furniture pieces or works of art in your home makes for an even more visually appealing space.

Interior lighting design is an often overlooked yet critical aspect of crafting a stylish home. By layering the three basic types of lighting to fit your needs and tastes, you can holistically enjoy great interior design.

When you own the property, it is relatively easy to change your lighting design plan to what the space requires – just hire a trustworthy contractor and gut everything out. However, that is not possible for many who have decided to rent instead of purchase their homes.

If you’re a renter with a landlord who refuses to get anything changed in the space, you can still amend your interior lighting set-up by introducing stand-alone fixtures to the home. Even without the largest windows, proper ambient lighting can be achieved by strategically placing floor lamps and pendant fixtures that help bounce light off ceilings and walls. Efficient task lighting is possible with bright table lamps for your home office and bedroom, or detachable light fixtures for your kitchen workspace and bathroom (e.g. vanity mirror lights with suction cups.) Accent lighting is not limited to wall spot lights; with smaller table lamps you can highlight any feature of your home.


French, L. (2020, May 21). Basics of Interior Home Lighting Design. The Spruce.