Layering Lighting in Your Home

Recently, a friend called me about his great room in his new home, saying that it just didn’t feel warm and cozy. (And friends, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from this pandemic: we are all craving cozy spaces in our homes!) He sent me a few pics of his space, and immediately I knew why. While the furniture arrangement was fine, the room had a vaulted ceiling, so it was a very open and airy space. The only lighting in the room were the recessed lights in the ceiling. He said that when he turned them on in the evening, they felt too bright.

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So, I suggested that he add additional lighting “on the ground”- some floor lamps and table lamps that would give him lighting that was more at an eye level. Adding more light sources may seem a bit counterintuitive, but hear me out. In the evening hours, using lamps that are placed at eye level (a combination of floor lamps and table lamps in his case) will make the room feel so much cozier. The room will feel warmer when the light is coming from around you, rather than from above.


Another bonus of this approach? Lighting at eye level is infinitely more flattering than overhead lighting ANYWHERE in your home. Try it in your bathroom mirror. You’re welcome. 😉

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The Concept of Layers


Properly lighting a room takes a bit of realization and skill. You might think that you can throw a few recessed lights in a ceiling and be done with it, but in order to get that warm and welcoming feeling in a room, you’ll need to think about “layers” of lighting.


"There is no single light fixture that gives you everything you need to illuminate a room properly." - Randall Whitehead, residential lighting expert

A room needs a combination of three different types of lighting. And because nearly everything for me relates to food (😊), I like to think of a lighting plan as a cake:


  • The foundational lighting in your room is the cake itself – this is ambient lighting.


  • The accent of the cake, with its fun colors, flavors, and other decorative elements, is task lighting.


  • And finally, the cherry on top (or in this case, some fun pink doughnuts!) is your accent lighting. It's like a bit of a fun surprise on an already well-decorated cake!

Let's dig in!


Ambient Lighting


Like our cake, ambient lighting is the foundational lighting element for a room. Our cake, whether it's one layer or multiple, provides the basic structure for the finished product. Ambient lighting is the same - it's job is to provide diffuse light for the entire room. If not recessed, it typically has more than one bulb. This is the lighting that you’ll typically flip a switch to turn on, and is generally placed in the middle of a room (again, if not recessed).


Examples of this type of lighting include recessed lighting, flushmont or semi-flushmount fixtures, a chandelier or pendant lights, or even a ceiling fan with a light.


(All lighting images in this post are from one of my favorite lighting retailers, Shades of Light.)


Chandelier Flushmount Semi-flushmount

Large Pendant Fan



Sometimes, you may actually feel that your ambient lighting is too bright to use in the evening. Make sure this type of lighting is on a dimmer, and that you install dimmable bulbs (for recessed lighting) or have a dimmable fixture (for a chandelier or pendant). Why? That way, you can control how much light you choose to use in the evening hours – also really helpful in avoiding an interrogation-like atmosphere!

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Task Lighting


Getting back to our cake example, the next layer is the icing. Icing can be virtually any color, and has a ton of different formulations - buttercream, fondant, ganache, and sometimes a mix, like in our example! It adds more flavor, color, and texture on top of our cake.


In our layering model, this is what’s called “task lighting.” This is lighting that gives a more focused illumination for activities – think reading on your sofa, prepping dinner in the kitchen or working on your laptop at your desk. Typically, these fixtures have decorative elements with variations in color, finish, and even shade texture.


Some examples of this type of lighting are floor lamps, table lamps, pendant lighting, undercabinet lighting and desk lamps.


Floor Lamp Table Lamp Pendant Light Desk Lamp



All of these are examples of lighting that is designed for a specific area in a room (in other words, not trying to light the entire room), and are focused on a specific task.


Combined, these two types of lighting can provide a great foundation for creating a well-lit space. But to add one more unique element, let’s move on to our final lighting layer.


Accent lighting


Think about our cake with those whimsical pink doughnuts on top - they add such a fun and unexpected element to that cake! The same can be said for accent lighting - it's used to highlight objects or areas – things like architectural details, artwork, even a fireplace mantle.


Some different types of accent lighting include wall sconces, picture lights or even recessed lighting directly placed over artwork.


Sconce Picture Swing Arm



Baking it all Together


Light is integral to both the function and atmosphere of our homes. Using these three lighting layers will help you to build the perfect environment in your home - just like the perfect cake! With the right ingredients in the right combination, you'll be able to create both a functional and beautiful lighting plan for your room.


Now, I'm off to go find a slice of cake....


Still feeling confused about these elements? Reach out and book a complimentary Design Discovery Call with us! It's easy to self-schedule, and we can talk through how you can get the home that your love.


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