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Highlight your house with modern lighting



The five main types of interior lighting are: general, ambient, mood, task and accent. Some lights can fit into a few types (depending on their placement, brightness and use) but a general understanding of each individual type of lighting can be very helpful in planning an effective scheme.

General lighting

The defining characteristic of general lighting is that it’s usually direct and should be controlled by a dimmer switch to account for changes in daylight.

General lighting is the basic foundation of a lighting scheme, providing a uniform glow over an entire room and illuminating a space functionally rather than for aesthetic reasons.



A central pendant light is perhaps the most commonly used source of general lighting and can be an important part of the design of the room. A luxury chandelier or an artistic installation both make great visual statements in a room and direct the eye.

A lighting scheme this simplified is generally considered vastly inadequate for creating a welcoming space.

Having said that, these must be accompanied by other lighting layers as a central light source on its own casts unflattering shadows (especially for people) and gives no real life to a room.a


Ambient lighting



The next layer of lighting is ambient lighting which is a great partner to general lighting. Both types share important characteristics—they’re primarily functional and used to light a complete area. The main difference between the two is in the direction of their light. Interior designer April Russell explains the difference by saying, “General lighting is just that—practical light for every day and night use. Ambience lighting will more times out of none be connected to a dimming system to control the light levels depending on the occasion. Ambience lighting is generally used for entertaining—it creates drama.”

Ambient lighting is indirect and therefore softer than general lighting—because it doesn’t usually use downlighting, it doesn’t create unflattering shadows. Think of eyeball spotlights or wall sconces which wash a wall with light, backlit perspex panelling or concealed coffer lighting which throws light onto a ceiling like this cinema room by Finchatton, left.

The ambient lighting used here is also an example of architectural lighting which is often used to alter the appearance or size of a space. Without it, this windowless room would be terribly dark and feel very confining.



Task lighting

As its name would suggest task lighting is any light source used for a particular task like reading or cooking. By nature, these lights need to have a stronger wattage than most other lighting. Always combine with adequate ambient light, however, to avoid eye strain caused by the sharp contrast from light to dark areas.


Mood lighting

It’s also an important element of a room’s style as it tends to be equally concerned with style as it is with function—popular options being table lamps and floor lamps as seen in this Parisian living room design by Jean-Louis Deniot.

Mood lighting is as important to the overall look of a room than general and ambient lighting and a space would be bare without it. It makes a room pleasantly inviting by creating pools of light which counteract the shadows caused by general lighting.



For table lamps, a solid side table or console is preferable otherwise it can be tricky to conceal the wires. Thread wires though a discreet hole drilled into the surface or tape or staple them down a leg.

Keep plug sockets close to where your lamps will be situated—another good reason to leave your electrical planning until nearer the end of your designing.


Because mood lighting is often the layer of lighting closest to eye level, it’s important to shade any glare from unsightly bare bulbs with a filter. The same goes for your general or ambient lighting if the bare bulb can be seen from below.

A handy tip from interior designer Barbara Barry helps with placement- “I like to place the source of lighting (the lamp shade) just above eye level which illuminates the whole room and is the most flattering because it doesn’t cast a down shadow.”



Accent lighting

Similar to task lighting, accent lighting has a particular function and is any lighting which has specifically been included to highlight a particular feature in a room.

Spotlights which highlight artwork, sculptures and objets in cabinets or on pedestals are examples of accent lighting which enhance the pieces and prevent them from being lost in an under-illuminated space.

Similar to task lighting, because of its nature, accent lighting needs more lumens (the light output)—at least three times as much—and therefore requires a higher wattage.




Sometimes architectural lighting can be included in accent lighting as well as ambient lighting. Accent architectural lighting tends to be a little more subtle, however, highlighting textures and defining perimeters instead of a specific object.

Lighting Effects



Downlighting is a very useful and most popular form of lighting in interiors—most central light sources or spotlights will be downlights. It does cast unflattering shadows (especially for people) so it needs to be counterbalanced with adequate ambient lighting.

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Uplighting is a much softer alternative to downlighting as it indirectly introduces light into a room by having it bounce off the ceiling and reflect back into the room.

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Wall Washing

Wall washing evenly illuminates a vertical surface in a soft way. Place the light at an adequate distance so that the beam reaches the entire surface.

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Wall Grazing

Wall grazing places a light intentionally close to the surface it’s to illuminate, effectively highlighting its texture.

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Spotlighting is used a lot in task and accent lighting to highlight a particular feature of a room.

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Perimeter lighting

Perimeter lighting accentuates the dimensions of a room and expands its apparent size. Coving or cornice lighting is an effective way to do this and is used often by interior designers and architects.

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