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Give Me Lights Please!

I've been wanting to write a post about lighting for a long time now. For some reason, something always happened and I kept on postponing it, until now. It just so happens that I'm working on an inspiration board for a client and planning the lighting scheme, and so the timing now couldn't be better. Therefore let's talk about the art of lights...

A close-up of a lit light bulb
Image by Alex Iby via unsplash

Many of you might have heard the expression that lighting either makes or breaks a room! And it's absolutely true. Lighting holds ALL the magic! Its diffusion makes the darkness disappear and allows us to see things better and appreciate them with a fresh, new perspective. It serves a very special purpose. It illuminates, brightens and creates the desired atmosphere while at the same time it establishes and/or enhances the style of a space. A chandelier is not simply yet another decor piece. I think when people do that it's because they haven't fully appreciated the potential and quality of good lighting. If lighting is used effectively it can make any decor look more appealing, elegant, sophisticated, intriguing, glamorous; while intentional shadows created along the edges and in the spaces between volumes generate big drama...but, that's another chapter.

A pile of books lit by one of the two table lamps all placed on a table
Image by Chuttersnap via unsplash

Lighting can diffuse, mask, or take the eyes where you want them. 
-JoAnn Gregoli

Undoubtedly, lighting requires a lot of careful planning. You have to take a lot of factors under consideration in order to achieve the desired outcome. Overlooking a factor may "spoil" the entire design scheme. That's why it is so easy to get it wrong. So, I will do my best to simplify the basics about lighting in order to help you understand how to manipulate it. (It might also be a good idea to read an older post of mine about lights for more tips).


First of all, there are two major categories: direct and indirect lighting. These two terms describe best whether you can actually see the light source or not. If you can see the light source i.e. a desk lamp then it is direct lighting. The best scheme possible is the one that combines both direct and indirect light sources. That is because they compliment each other in numerous ways. So your aim for a well lit room is to blend your light sources, think once again in layers. (Everything is about layers, isn't)?

A corridor with an indirect light source - an artistic light fixture composed of flat overlapping circles - mounted on the wall at the end of the corridor. On the ceiling two separate (direct light sources) spotlights lit the space. A chair also rests against the end of the corridor's wall.
An artistic wall lighting (with an indirect light source). Image via airows.

Overhead (Ambient) vs Peripheral Lighting

I then, classify light as overhead, also known as ambient, (a central source usually found on the ceiling) or peripheral. Suspended lighting (think of pendant lights) or ceiling lighting (ceiling mounted lights) are the most common examples of direct ambient lighting. Overhead lighting (direct and/or indirect) illuminates evenly a large area but not necessarily the entire area. That's when peripheral lighting steps in and saves the day because it's all about the light sources you use as "fillers" around in a space to eliminate the dark and shady corners that the overhead lighting can't get to. Think of floor lamps, table lamps and wall lamps strategically placed in order to brighten shady areas. So these two types of lighting go hand in hand. (Personally, I love peripheral lighting and hardly ever use any overhead lighting in my every day life although I always include it in a design scheme because even I resort to it occasionally).

A dining space with a brass pendant light over the table
A brass pendant light adding a touch of glamour to a dining space. (Image via houseandgarden).

When it comes to a living space (I exclude working spaces and business premises where you need more specialized types of lighting) then you should never rely entirely on direct overhead lighting. Chances are that if it's too intense then, you'll have too much glare. The easy solution to this problem is using dimmers. They are probably the best "gadget-type invention" in lighting. So, yes by all means install them everywhere you can, even in the bathroom! But, they can compensate for the glare only up to an extent. Adding peripheral lighting though can help balance things out even further and create at the same time a much soother ambiance. That's because you can minimize your overhead lighting enough to eliminate the glare, yet it won't get too dark due to your peripheral lighting that will allow you to enjoy the functions of your room without any uneasiness. You see the trouble with glare is that it creates feelings of anxiety and helps increase stress levels and that's definitely something no one really wants. However, do note that if your overhead lighting is indirect (i.e. cove lighting) then glare is not going to be an issue to begin with, especially the higher your ceiling. This is partly the reason why it is such a great choice of overhead or ambient lighting.

A living room with a sectional sofa placed towards the TV and a cove lighting on the ceiling
An example of a living room with overhead cove lighting. (Image via homedit).

Task and Accent Lighting

Since I've already discussed ambient lighting (overhead) let me go on with task and accent lighting. They both fall under the category of peripheral lighting thus, they compliment ambient lighting. Task lighting refers to fixtures aimed at illuminating a specific area for a specific function. Floor lamps, desk lamps, bath bars, and lighting under the kitchen cabinetry are typical examples. It goes without say that floor lamps can be so much more than just task lighting. Some of them are designed as sculptures and make a brilliant design statement in a space. Similarly, pendant lights are not strictly ambient lights. They too can add drama. Their hanging position and height placement determine their primary role while their design usually establishes a room's style.

A contemporary setup with a grey sofa and two ball-like pendant lights of different sizes hanging low at the side over the side table.
Two statement pendant lights hanging low. (Image via houseandgarden).

A contemporary setup with a light blue sofa and a copper floor lamp hanging over it and a grey brick accent wall on the background.
A copper floor lamp emphasizing the brick accent wall. (Image via freshdesignpedia).

Accent lighting such as picture lights and track lighting are great for showcasing specific works of art, decor, gallery walls and/or bookcases.  I must also note that in certain cases, table lamps when placed on i.e. a sideboard also act as accent lighting. Furthermore, candle-light, which is the most gentle light of all and makes everyone look more charming and appealing, also falls under this category. So, having plenty of candles like in a fireplace, on a coffee table, on a dresser or in the bathroom is an affordable way to complement your lighting scheme.

A table lamp placed on a mirrored side table acting as a task light next to an armchair
A geometric shaped table lamp on a mirrored side table acting as a task lighting. (Image via freshdesignpedia).

A copper desk lamp acting as an accent light on a shelf arrangement
A desk lamp acting as an accent light. (Image via freshdesignpedia).

Just a quick recap:
  1. have multiple light sources at different spots
  2. use dimmers to control light intensity and glare
  3. use task lighting for specific functions preferably below eye level
  4. combine different types of lighting for an all-round design scheme
  5. avoid fluorescent tubes
  6. avoid overly lit spaces
An accent wall created by a led wall lamp that features a curvy wire running across the wall.
A stunning led wall lamp. (Image via homedit).

So, when do you know that you have enough peripheral lighting? If you forget that you have ambient lighting and the room is lit adequately just from your peripheral light sources, then you know that your room's lighting is complete. The point I want to make is that living in a space with multi-functions requires a flexible lighting scheme. There will be times that you'll need more light than others in order to perform a specific function - that's when you need task lighting and/or even your overhead lighting. While other times you will want to simply unwind with some low lights and that's when your peripheral lighting does best. Hence, a combination of both ambient and peripheral lighting is the secret to an effective lighting scheme.

I'm always happy to read your comments and suggestions. Should you have any trouble with your lighting scheme, drop me a line and I'll be more than happy to guide you.

Till next time,


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