When lighting a home, we usually think of providing illumination to get safely into and through our homes or to create light in a specific area to perform a task such as preparing a meal or shaving. But lighting can be created to do much more. Not only can it perform the functions just mentioned, but by using three types of lighting, it can transform a space, creating an atmosphere that appears more welcoming, relaxing, or even romantic. Moments later, the lighting can be intensified in order to read or perform minor surgical procedures such as splinter removal with effortless precision. Proper lighting has even been used as a front porch chaperone on warm summer evenings. Lighting has been called “make-up” for the home. Just as make-up can be worn for specific occasions, lighting can be changed for specific occasions by layering or using the three basic types of lighting by themselves or in combination. The three basic types of lighting are ambient, task and accent lighting.
Ambient lighting, also known as general lighting, provides illumination over a broad area such as a kitchen, laundry, bedroom or garage. Ambient lighting creates a level of brightness that allows for safe movement around the area being illuminated and even allows for performing some tasks such as cooking or doing laundry. Examples of fixtures for ambient lighting would be fluorescent lights (either linear or circular), flush mounts (mushroom), recessed cans, or track lighting. Recessed cans and track lighting fixtures should use light bulbs with wide beam spreads to cover larger areas. Chandeliers can be used to provide ambient lighting for dining rooms while wall sconces can be used to light hallways or stairs. Ceiling fan light kits can also be used to provide ambient lighting but as wattages for light kits have been reduced over the last few years, many users have been disappointed with the amount of light output.
Task lighting is used to provide more directed lighting to assist in performing specific tasks or performing close-up work. These tasks can include such activities as reading, playing cards or games or applying make-up. Task lighting is usually performed with table, floor or desk lamps. Recessed lighting or track lighting is often used for task lighting for food preparation and is best when used with a reflector type lamp (light bulb) that has a spot or narrow flood beam spread. Under cabinet lighting is also an excellent form of task lighting for food preparation or for desktops that have shelving over the desk. Bathroom vanities are best illuminated for applying make-up or shaving by positioning sconces on either side of the mirror to provide even lighting on both sides of the face and eliminating shadows.
Accent lighting is primarily used to create visual interest by highlighting architectural features or artwork. It can add drama and romance to a room by creating shadows on walls or ceilings that have rough surfaces such as stone or brick. Grazing a wall by shining down adjacent to the wall with a light fixture highlights any surface irregularities on the wall creating variability and interest in the room. Artwork is spotlighted with accent lighting. Coves and plant shelves can be lit with rope light or LED tape to highlight ceilings or back light plants or artwork on plant shelves. Accent lighting can be accomplished with recessed cans, track or rail lighting fixtures. Low voltage lighting in either recessed cans or rail lighting is often used in accent lighting because of the variety of beam widths and wattages available in the smaller mini-reflector (MR16) lamps. Recessed can trim is available specifically for accent lighting.
Application of Layered Lighting
By using the three basic types of lighting simultaneously at different intensities, the look and feel of a room can be changed with the flip of a switch. All three types can be turned on at the same time or a single type can be used to create a single layer of lighting. Dimmer switches add a whole new dimension and flexibility to creatively lighting a room, especially when used with ambient and accent lighting fixtures. It’s also important to note that several of the fixture types can be used in the three different types of lighting. What distinguishes them is the type of lamp that is used in them. For instance, a track head fixture can use a lamp that has a beam spread rated as a “flood” for an ambient light application or a lamp with a “spot” beam spread for an accent application. Different types of light bulbs with different wattages/lumens can be used to add to the flexibility and variety of looks.
The design principle is to use the three different types of ambient, task and accent lighting with different levels of intensity to vary the mood and look of your home. This layered concept can be further enhanced by using dimmer switches and different types of lamps or light bulbs suited for specific needs or applications. FBN
By Michael Knapp
Mike has been involved in the lighting industry for almost 14 years, having worked at The Lite Company for four years before purchasing it with his wife, Kathie, almost 10 years ago. As a member of the American Lighting Association, Mike has obtained the designation of Lighting Specialist through a combination of experience and course work with the ALA. In addition to residential lighting, Mike has been involved with smaller commercial projects such as lighting restaurants, offices, and art galleries and has been described by one customer as “a lighting nerd.” For more information, Mike can be reached at The Lite Company at 928-774-6257, or stop by the store at 2109 N. 4th Street.