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Home Lighting Tips

No matter the size of a space, how you light it can make all the difference in its function. Learn how to light a favorite painting and rid your living room of shadows.

Living room with lamps and candles.

Select a Fixture Style

Not sure if you want a rustic feel or perhaps something more industrial? Start with a favorite element in your room and look for a fixture that complements it. If you have a more modern sofa, look for lighting with clean lines to enhance your space.

You can also take a cue from the existing finishes in the room. If the door handles and cabinet hardware are all brushed nickel, choose lighting fixtures in a complementary finish.

And don’t be afraid to add a little sparkle. Many lighting fixtures are adorned with beads, crystals or decorative glass shades. Have fun mixing materials to create a personalized look.

Good to Know

A dimmer switch allows you to change the mood of the room. Check the packaging to see if the light fixture is dimmable.

Layers of Light

There are three layers of light: ambient, task and accent. The size of your room and room type will determine which types you need, but in general you want at least two to properly light a room. Sometimes simply adding a layer of light can dramatically increase your home’s quality of light.

Ambient lighting or general lighting is needed in every room. It provides a comfortable overall level of light. Ambient light sources are typically overhead lighting, and as a general rule it’s the best place to start when lighting a room.

Ambient light sources to consider for your lighting plan: ceiling fans, chandeliers, flush-mount/semi-flush-mount ceiling fixtures, pendants, recessed lighting, torchiere lamps, track lighting, vanity lighting and wall sconces.

Task lighting is just that – lighting that allows you to perform a task. It supplies the intense, direct light needed for detailed work – reading, cooking, prep, applying make-up – in places like the kitchen, office and bath.

Task light sources to consider for your lighting plan: desk lamps, island or mini pendants, track lighting, under-cabinet lighting, vanity lighting and work lamps.

Accent lighting allows you to spotlight interesting features in your home decor, such as a painting or a mantel. It also serves as a secondary light source to augment ambient lighting in a room. Ambient lighting mainly provides overhead lighting, and accent lighting helps fill in the rest of the room where ambient light can’t reach.

Accent lighting sources to consider for your lighting plan: recessed lighting, track lighting and wall sconces.


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Lighting Your Home

Think about common activities in the room. For instance, your office needs more task lighting than your bedroom, and your living room needs more accent lighting to highlight pictures and other artwork.

For flexibility with your lighting system, add a dimmer switch. This allows you to turn up the light when the kids are at the dining table doing homework and turn it down when you’re having friends over for a dinner party. For more information on lighting your home, check out Lighting at a Glance.

Foyer

Foyer with pendant light and two table lamps.

The foyer creates the first impression of your home, so you mainly want ambient light here with a couple accent light sources. You can’t go wrong with a flush-mount light or a semi-flush-mount light. If your foyer has a vaulted ceiling, go bold with a chandelier or pendant lantern for a more dramatic entrance. If you have a side table, a table lamp provides a secondary light source.

How to Choose a Chandelier

Living Room

Living room with a ceiling fan and floor lamp.

The living room is the place for hanging out, relaxing and cozying up with a book or a movie – lots of activity occurs here. That means you need a variety of lighting.

If your living room has areas with no light or you have light that casts shadows, you need more ambient and accent lighting. Recessed lighting and flush-mount or semi-flush-mount lights are good options for ambient lighting. Track lighting provides accent lighting – it allows you to direct light toward paintings, glass vases or whatever you’d like to showcase. If you have a focal point in the room, like a mantel, add wall sconces to either side for additional accent lighting. If you like the look of wall sconces but don’t want to deal with hard wiring a light fixture, a pair of wall lamps works, too.

Other ambient lighting options are ceiling fans, chandeliers, pendant lights with a drum shade and torchiere floor lamps. A torchiere floods the ceiling with light. Torchiere lamps work well if you’re not in the market to install permanent lighting or for lighting small spaces like lofts or apartments.


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Good to Know

Place overhead lighting on a dimmer switch so you have more flexibility. No one wants bright lights in their face when watching a movie.

How to Choose a Floor Lamp

Kitchen

Kitchen with mini pendants and recessed lighting.

Much more than cooking goes on in the kitchen, and you need multiple layers of light. Recessed lighting is great ambient lighting for both big and small kitchens. If your kids do their homework at the kitchen island while you chop veggies for dinner, hang an island pendant or individual mini pendants in a row over the island for task and accent lighting. Undercabinet lighting provides additional task lighting and takes up little space. It’s also helpful for the holidays when you have lots of chefs in the kitchen. To light a breakfast nook, an inverted pendant or a chandelier works perfectly.

Dining Room

Kitchen with mini pendants and recessed lighting.

Besides mealtime, the dining room can be a place for arts and crafts or family game night and needs to be lit accordingly. Chandeliers are still a classic option and serve as an ambient light source. If you prefer a less-traditional overhead light, hang a pendant light with multiple light sources – such as glass jars – as a fun alternative. Try placing table lamps on a server or framing the server with wall sconces for extra ambient and accent lighting.


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Good to Know

Place overhead lighting on a dimmer switch to create mood lighting for a dinner party.

Bedroom

Bedroom with wall sconces and candles.

Bedroom lighting should evoke a feeling of calm. You still need ambient lighting, such as a ceiling fan, or a flush-mount or semi-flush-mount light. Bedside table lamps or wall sconces mounted above the bedside table provide task lighting for reading in bed. Wall sconces are a great space-saving trick for smaller bedrooms or for a guest room. If you have a sitting area or workspace in your bedroom, table lamps work best.

Bathroom

Bathroom with wall scones framing the mirror.

Bathroom lighting has gone to a whole new level. While a vanity light above the bathroom mirror is still a traditional option, many homeowners are installing chandeliers for a more glamorous, spa-like feel. A bathroom fan with light provides ventilation and overhead light. Wall sconces or pendant lights on either side of the bathroom mirror paired with a vanity light above create the perfect ambient/task light combo. The sconces provide cross-illumination, making activities like applying make-up, shaving or flossing much easier. Recessed lighting works well to light a shower or water closet.


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How to Light Your Bathroom

Office

Office with a desk lamp.

In an office you need to be able to focus. If you’re squinting to see your computer and you don’t need glasses, you may need more light. Invest in an adjustable desk lamp so you have plenty of task lighting. Recessed lighting can provide ambient lighting for the whole room and can be put on a dimmer switch. A ceiling fan is another overhead lighting option. If your desk is positioned against a wall, mount wall sconces or wall lamps on either side to help illuminate your workspace.

How to Choose a Table Lamp

Light Bulbs

Don’t forget light bulbs. Things like color temperature, lumens and wattage all play a factor in your room’s quality of light. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescents (CFLs) help lower energy costs. Both have a lower wattage but provide the same light output as higher wattage incandescent bulbs. LEDs are also cool to the touch. In general, look for a warm white color temperature for living rooms and bedrooms, bright white color temperature for kitchens and workspaces and daylight color temperature for reading nooks and studies. For more information on light bulbs, check out the Light Bulb Buying Guide.

Caution

Never exceed the maximum wattage recommended for your light fixture.