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Travis Hawkins

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How the Right Lighting Can Truly Brighten Up Your Home

You walk into a room, hit a switch, and Voila!... a light pops on. Is it ambient light? Task lighting? Or maybe an accent light? Good lighting truly makes your space both from a design and mood standpoint. Get the lighting right and your home can go from sunny and energized to moody and romantic with the flick of a switch!

home lighting tips

Here are some tips and tricks for lighting to make your home shine as bright as you wish. First, let's go over your lighting options.

Types of Lighting

Ambient, task and accent lighting refer to almost all light found in a space. While in essence, all three do the same thing (provide light) — they do so in different ways. In order to achieve the best lighting design possible, you will want to layer these different lighting elements.

Ambient Lighting

This is the main light source in a room and is also known as general lighting. In photography, it's understood as the "natural" light within a space. Ambient light is responsible for bringing depth and warmth to a room. It's versatile and removes shadows and glare. Think of it as just enough light to maneuver around a room, but not quite enough to do a focused task. The use of ambient light in a room is essential for a properly lit space, however, it's important to pair with other light types.

ambient lighting in your home

Examples of ambient light sources are:

  • Flush/Semi-flush mounts
  • Wall lights/sconces
  • Chandeliers
  • Entry lights
  • Ceiling fans with lights

Task Lighting

True to its name, task lighting is ideal for focused tasks as it's a more concentrated light. It is used best as a contrast light with ambient light to really highlight a specific area. You use task lights to read, review paperwork, do that last minute science project or chop food in a kitchen. Contrast lighting helps to stimulate your brain which allows for better concentration and alertness.

task lighting in your home

Examples of task lighting are:

  • Desk lamps
  • Table lamps
  • Wall lamps
  • Floor lamps
  • Arm lamps
  • Kitchen island lights
  • Vanity lights

Accent Lighting

This is a concentrated light designed to pull attention to something that you want to illuminate. Accent lighting might be great for a favorite piece of artwork, unique heirloom furniture or an architectural element. This type of lighting helps add drama by making use of light and shadows. Accent lighting is often seen in museums or art galleries, but can just as easily be used in a home.

accent lighting in your home

Examples of accent lighting are:

  • Track lighting
  • Recessed lighting
  • Under cabinet lights
  • Wall lights
  • Picture lights
  • Pendants
  • Sconces

Lighting Tips & Tricks

Make a plan!

Whether you're starting from scratch or totally redoing the lighting in a room, it's a great idea to pull together a plan. Think about how the room will be used and if there is anything you may want to highlight in the room. Do you want the room to have a relaxing vibe, or does it need bright light for more detailed activities? It's almost always recommended to layer lighting (ambient, task, accent), and planning exactly how you will do this is key to a balanced room.

Now is also the time to evaluate any architectural hindrances. If you are redoing an already complete space, it's a good idea to view the room at a few different times throughout the day to get a feel for how the lighting shifts with the sun — this could potentially have a major impact on how you choose to light the room. A little upfront planning will save you a lot of time in the long run!

Layer your lighting

We touched briefly on how it's best to layer ambient, task and accent lighting. It's worth another mention though as it's one of the cornerstone rules of lighting design. Layering lights will bring contrast to a room and can create drama and comfort all at once.

As an example, when adding lighting to your living room you may add ambient light by a ceiling fan that includes a light, a couple of side table lamps for task lighting and finish off with an accent light above the fireplace. You should approach each room differently and evaluate what layers will work best for each space.

Ceiling height matters

Ceiling height is an important factor when considering hanging light fixtures. A good rule of thumb to follow is that the bottom of a light fixture should hang about 12–20 inches below a standard 8-foot ceiling. (Tip courtesy of Houzz contributor, Gillian Lazanik on Forbes.com)

over the table light fixture

Pay attention to the details for over the table fixtures

Choosing the perfect fixture to place above your table can be a daunting task. Size and colors are important but how you hang a table fixture is even more important. For dining room or kitchen tables, you should allow 30–34 inches above the table and between the fixture for a standard 8-foot ceiling. For higher ceilings add an extra 3 inches to the hanging height per foot. (Tip courtesy of Leedy Interiors)

Don't forget about bulbs!

The light bulb itself may come as an afterthought, but it shouldn't! While style and design of the fixture do play a role, the light bulb determines the brightness, atmosphere (warm or cool tones) and energy output. Many fixtures will provide a wattage guide for choosing the correct bulb. You will need to choose between:

  • Soft/Warm white — creates a cozy, inviting color tone, perfect for most rooms.
  • Bright/Cool white — a bright and clean tone good for kitchens, bathrooms and more modern spaces.
  • Daylight — mimics a natural daylight tone that works well in most rooms.

Light bulb room temperature

Pro Tip: Give LED bulbs a try! They are great to install for their long-lasting glow even though they cost a bit more and come in various tones and wattage. They're especially great to install in those tall, hard to reach places so you don't have to make trips up and down a ladder as much!

Get creative!

Light fixtures are a great way to pull color into a room and can add just the right design feature to your space. Don't be afraid to explore less traditional light fixture options as they can bring the pop a room needs! With so many fixture options you could even replace wall decor with an interesting light, while likely adding a perfect ambient glow.

Light up these unique spaces

There are many spaces in your home that can be totally transformed by light that you may have never even considered. While it may feel frivolous, design and extra lighting are completely worth it. Get creative about where light may compliment a space (without overdoing it) and consider a few of these areas:

  • Under the kitchen cabinets (above countertops)
  • Inside cabinets (if they have a glass door)
  • Base of cabinets (where they meet the floor)
  • Along the stairs
  • In/above the shower
  • Above the fireplace
  • Floor lighting in hallways
  • Hidden in a tray ceiling feature
  • Under granite or stone counters

Lighting a home beautifully and in just the right way is no easy task! Not only must you consider how the space should be used, but factors such as design, ceiling height, types of light, layers of light, and bulb type will also all have an impact on the finished product. However, it's time well spent as lighting is one of the most impactful design elements in a home. The famous interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz puts it best, "Light is the magical ingredient that makes or breaks a space."

Want more advice about all things home — including homebuying or selling advice? Nestiny is a great place for homebuyer education and to help you gauge how ready you are to buy a home. Journey Homeward allows you to enter all your wants and needs while the True Affordability Tool will break down your budget, showing what you can comfortably afford. You will also receive a Ready Report that will give you a vital head start in the home buying journey, saving you valuable time and money.

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