The single most important concept in creating a good lighting plan for the home is to use an array of different types of lighting. “My best advice whatever you’re doing, whatever you want to achieve, is to create three layers of lighting—ambient, task and accent,” says Patricia Rizzo of the Lighting Research Center. Too many people make the mistake of expecting one type of lighting to do it all. Each type meets a particular need.
Many options exist for providing light in a home, from integrated architectural solutions that require contractors and tradesmen, to decorative lamps that need only be placed on a table and plugged in to the nearest outlet. Although some types of fixtures are more commonly associated with a particular layer of lighting—ambient, task or accent—most fixtures are versatile enough to be used in a number of ways.
The three most common forms of architectural lighting are cove, soffit and valance; all three are integrated into the room’s structure. Cove lighting is located in a ledge, shelf or recess high up on a wall, and the light is bounced toward the ceiling or upper wall. Soffit lighting is located in a soffit or cornice near the ceiling, and the light radiates downward, washing the wall with light. Valance lighting is located in a wood, metal or glass valance (horizontal shield) mounted above a window or high on the wall, and the light bounces both upward and downward. The technique of bouncing light off walls and ceilings is known as indirect lighting, which is favored by many lighting professionals because indirect lighting minimizes shadows and glare. Architectural lighting is most often used as ambient lighting.
Installed above the ceiling, this type of lighting has an opening that is flush with the ceiling. A recessed light requires at least 6 inches of clearance above the ceiling, and insulation is essential to ensure that condensation does not drip into the fixture. Recessed lighting sends a relatively narrow band of light in one direction; it can be used to provide ambient, task or accent lighting.
Mounted or suspended from the ceiling, track lighting consists of a linear housing containing several heads that can be positioned anywhere along a track; the direction of the heads is adjustable also. Track lighting is often used for task or accent lighting.
Mounted under kitchen cabinets, this type of lighting can be linear or a single puck-shaped fixture. Undercabinet lighting is extremely popular as task lighting in a kitchen.
Suspended from the ceiling, a pendant light directs its light down, typically over a table or kitchen island. A pendant can enhance the decorative style of a room. Pendants can provide ambient or task lighting.
Suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers direct their light upward, typically over a table. They can enhance the decorative style of a room. Chandeliers provide ambient lighting.
This type of fixture is mounted directly to the ceiling and has a glass or plastic shade concealing the light bulb. Ceiling fixtures have been common in homes for nearly a hundred years, often providing all the ambient light in a room.
Surface-mounted to the wall, sconces can direct light upwards or downwards, and their covers or shades can add a stylistic touch to a room. Wall sconces provide ambient or task lighting.
Made in a wide range of sizes and styles, lamps are extremely versatile and portable sources of light in a room. Most lamps direct light downward, with the exception of a torchiere, which is a floor lamp that directs its light upward. Lamps are often used as task lights, particularly for reading, but can also provide ambient light.