Layered Lighting: What it is and Why You Need it
Don’t overlook lighting when planning your next home remodeling project. Here is a list of the three layers of light every room needs, their definitions, and what they do for your home.
So, your home remodeling project is coming to a close. After carefully selecting every last fixture, appliance, and texture, after weeks or months of construction dust, after all the disorganization, it’s finally time to wrap it up.
All that’s left to do now is screw in a few light bulbs to some basic fixtures and you’re good to go.
Well, about that…
We’re not sure why lighting is such an overlooked feature of interior design. Perhaps it’s because we take our lights for granted. You flip a switch, and the room lights up. What more is there to fuss about? Or perhaps it’s because we get so caught up in the bigger aspects of home remodeling that we simply forget to look up and remember those outdated lights. Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid this pitfall yourself.
No home remodel is complete without thoughtful lighting design. Here’s what you need to know before your next project.
What is Layered Lighting?
If you have ever been in an area with bad lighting, you probably noticed it almost immediately. Department store dressing rooms cast unforgiving shadows, the paint color you select in the store looks completely different once you get it home, and your eyes strain to read the menu in a dim restaurant. Bad lighting stands out as memorable.
Good lighting on the other hand, is pretty much unnoticeable when it is doing its job. Things simply look the way they are supposed to look, but don’t be fooled: a whole lot of engineering and design goes into making that happen.
The key to it all is layered lighting.
There are three main types of lighting – ambient, task, and accent – and your home and needs all three. Different lighting provides different benefits beyond general visibility. It can showcase a particular area or piece of furniture, it can change the ambiance or style of a given room, and it can add overall efficiency to your home by making it easier to see what you’re working on.
Let’s take a look at each type of lighting, and talk about why you need it.
Sometimes also called “general” lighting, ambient lighting is the most basic layer. The goal of ambient lighting is simply to illuminate the space for visibility and safety.
Ambient lighting could issue from almost any type of light fixture. While the most common might be an overhead light, ambient lighting can also come from lamps, wall sconces, chandeliers, pendants, or track lighting.
Think of a classroom or an office building. The type of light you are likely to see there is all ambient lighting. Nothing is being highlighted or showcased, and nothing can be dimmed or adjusted. The lights are either on or off.
The idea is to fill the room with a comfortable lighting level and to provide a basis from which to build other types of lighting. It may not be as exciting as other types of lighting, but it’s hard to imagine any living space without it.
This type of lighting is exactly what it sounds like – precise lighting designed to illuminate certain tasks. A classic example of this would be the gooseneck desk lamp. This kind of lighting will not illuminate the whole room, but rather will focus on a smaller space and provide additional light for you to see important details.
In kitchens, task lighting may come in the form of pendant lighting directly over an island, or as eyeball fixtures under cabinets, aimed at the countertop. In living rooms and bedrooms, task lighting may look like the aforementioned desk lamp, a reading light, or a table lamp. In the bathroom, the vanity lights act as task lighting.
Task lighting should be layered onto ambient or general lighting to provide extra illumination wherever it may be needed.
Accent lighting, sometimes also referred to as directional lighting, is a type of lighting meant to highlight a room feature, focal point, or piece of furniture. Interestingly, even though accent lights are not directly responsible for illuminating a room, a good rule of thumb is that accent lights be three times brighter than the ambient light around them. This way, even if all of the lights in a room are on, the accent lighting can still outshine them, and draw the eye to strategic focal points.
Wall sconces, recessed lights, picture lights, LED strip/rope lights, and even landscape spotlights are examples of accent lighting at work.
This type of lighting is meant to help add depth and texture to your room, as well as highlight the feature you most want to show off. This could be a painting, an antique, a mirror, a fireplace, the kickboard below your kitchen cabinets, the list goes on.
Okay, we said there were three types of lighting. That’s mostly true. However, there is a fourth type of lighting that can sometimes be used in special circumstances, and this is decorative lighting. Decorative lighting is when the fixture itself or the light pattern it casts is the main reason for including it in your decor.
A small Murino glass chandelier, a side lamp with a colored lightbulb for a baby’s nursery, or flickering LED candles are examples of this fourth type of light. In each case, they are not responsible for illuminating the room, but rather they are included for the sake of their own beauty.
For any home remodeling project, approximately 10 to 15% of your budget should be set aside just for lighting. Think of layered lighting as the finishing touch to every room. It will make your living space more inviting, while also adding functionality, efficiency, and style.
Learn more about how to apply layered light in each room: Home Lighting
In fact, layered lighting can even breathe new life into your current living area. If you are not looking to do the full “rip and replace,” but rather to update your space, and highlight your home’s best features, layered lighting is a much more affordable way to do that.