Lighting Design Basics


Welcome to Lighting Design Basics

Our designers are passionate about helping clients create unique lighting designs to fit their unique homes. As different as each home can be, each design follows the same basic principles to give adequate lighting and contribute to the room's mood, atmosphere, and style. In this guide, we'll walk you through some of the basic principles of lighting design, and describe some of the different kinds of light fixtures and their functions.

We hope that this guide helps inform you in discussions with your designer, and helps you get the most out of your home lighting. If you have any further questions, or would like to speak with one of our lighting designers, please don't hesitate to request a design consultation.

General Lighting Needs

Of course we need lighting to see in the dark. But how much light do you need and what kind of light fixture is best? When considering lighting for your home, begin by thinking about lighting needs you have in each room and discuss them with your designer. Below are descriptions of a few common lighting needs to get you started.

In this kitchen, Ketra's Dynamic Spectrum lighting allows you to tune the color temperature and color of the light.

Create Mood + Atmosphere

Lighting to Create Mood + Atmosphere

One room can have any number of different atmospheres due to lighting, from a lively party to a quiet evening at home. Even the smallest changes in the color temperature or brightness alters the mood. The right lighting design can make small rooms feel spacious and large rooms feel intimate, and different colors or color temperatures can change the mood from cozy and relaxed to bright and energizing.

Hubbardton Forge's Stretch Pendant in Red brings a pop of color to this modern dining space.

Enhance Room Décor

Lighting to Enhance Room Décor

From lighting that doubles as a sculptural piece of art to properly lighting pieces of art in your home, this type of lighting serves as more than just seeing in the dark. This type of lighting tells a story and sparks conversation, adding drama or character to your home while offering flattering illumination. Light can be used to draw the eye and showcase the aspects of your home of which you are most proud and accentuate their beauty.

Featured fixture: Stretch Pendant by Hubbardton Forge.
Hubbardton Forge's Henry Floor Lamp provides task lighting with industrial style.

Perform Visual Activities

Lighting to Perform Visual Activities

Reading, working or studying, food preparation, sewing and other hobbies, and grooming and cleaning are all common household activities that require specialized light. Some activities require more light than others depending on the level of detail involved. Additionally, varieties in color temperature create light that keeps you more alert and focused. If you have a home office, a room where you typically knit or scrapbook, or if you like to wear makeup, you may need more light than you are currently getting. 

Featured fixture: Henry Floor Lamp by Hubbardton Forge.
The outside of this home is well-lit with recessed lights at the entry for safety and security.

Ensure Safety + Security

Lighting to Ensure Safety + Security

Sufficient lighting can prevent accidents and provide visibility to enhance personal security, both indoors and outside. Placing exterior lighting next to the entrances to your home can help you identify any visitors before opening the door, and flood lights in your driveway and backyard can give you peace of mind at night. Inside, it is just as important to have adequate lighting inside to prevent household accidents, especially when using potentially dangerous tools.

Layered Lighting Designs

In the same way that you can’t make an outfit entirely out of shirts, you can’t adequately light a room with only one type of lighting. To meet the lighting needs in each room, Lighting Designers recommend a layered lighting design. Rather than relying on a single type of light or a single light fixture, a layered lighting design incorporates different types of lighting to fulfill different lighting needs and create a balanced living space.

The types of lighting used in layered lighting design are as follows:

Layer #1: Ambient Lighting

Ambient or general lighting provides overall illumination for atmosphere, safety, security, and the performance of simple activities. Ambient lighting also brightens the background of a space in which you need to perform a well-lit task. This lessens the contrast between one bright light and the rest of the room, and decreases eye strain.

Kitchen with recessed lighting providing ambient or general light.

Layer #2: Task Lighting

Task lighting is a localized light source designed to fully illuminate an area where you are performing a visual activity, i.e., reading, grooming, or working with hazardous tools. This type of lighting is usually brighter and cooler in color temperature to ensure proper color rendering and to help to keep you alert while working on your task. The necessary brightness of task lighting varies depending on the complexity of the task and on the person performing it.

Sonneman's Stix Plus linear LED bath bar provides task lighting at this modern vanity.

Layer #3: Accent Lighting

Accent lighting makes a room pop by highlighting certain aspects or features of a room using local or directional lighting. From a piece of art to an impressive mantle, anything that you want to showcase in your home can stand out with an accent light.

A modern office space that uses recessed lights for task lighting. The recessed lights highlight artwork on the walls.

Layer #4: Decorative Lighting

Decorative lighting doubles as art, and comes with a personality of its own to enhance a room’s décor. This type of lighting is perfect for a statement piece in a foyer or over a dining room table. Decoration doesn’t have to be the end of a beautiful light’s purpose, because most manufacturers offer functional lighting that can also complement décor. 

Featured Fixture: Graffiti Pendant by Hubbardton Forge.
Hubbardton Forge's Graffiti Pendant in Dark Smoke is an eye-catching statement chandelier for this dining room.

Fixture Types

A layered lighting design cannot be created with merely one type of lighting fixture. Only a combination of fixtures can achieve a cohesive look and feel. Different fixtures serve different purposes, from functional to aesthetic and everywhere in between, but one fixture in one room can serve a different purpose than the same fixture in a different room. The possibilities are endless and easily customizable to your home's unique vibe.

Here we'll walk through the range of lighting options and give you some insight into what your home may need:

A recessed light with a round flanged trim

Recessed Lighting

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting is lighting built into the ceiling that either does not protrude or barely protrudes from the surface of the ceiling. It blends comfortably with most interior designs without drawing the eye up or occupying floor, table, or wall space. Recessed lighting offers a wide range of lighting effects by utilizing different beam angles and spreads.

A track light

Track Lighting + Monorail

Track Lighting + Monorail

Track lighting and monorail are systems of electrified track and attachable lighting elements. Track boasts a flexible approach to accent and display lighting since you have the ability to place lighting elements wherever you choose. Better yet, you can relocate, re-aim, or replace the fixtures on the track at any time.

A linear LED light strip (also known as LED tape)

Linear LED

Linear LED

Linear LED lighting has become the industry go-to for lighting hard-to-reach spaces. The low-profile strips can be installed directly into ceiling coves, cabinets, or built-in bookshelves for discreet accent or task lighting. But don't just think small - they can also be installed in the ceiling or walls for eye-catching lines of light.

A five light chandelier



A chandelier is a hanging fixture that has several luminous elements. They are often used as a focal point in foyers and dining rooms, and help establish a room's tone and style. Since they are often decorative, chandeliers are most effective when paired with other fixtures to ensure sufficient room lighting. 

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A mini pendant with a round shade



A pendant is a hanging fixture with a single, central luminous element. In general, pendants tend to be smaller and less formal than chandeliers, and multiple pendants are often hung side by side. As well as being decorative, many pendants can also provide task lighting. For that reason, they're a favorite for over kitchen islands.

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A wall sconce



A sconce is a wall-mounted light fixture. They are often used in hallways, living rooms, dining rooms, and bathrooms. Traditional sconces can be found in bathrooms, but often they will be bath brackets (also known as a bath bar or a vanity light). These mount over or beside a mirror to provide task lighting.

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A flush mount ceiling light

Ceiling Lights

Ceiling Lights

Ceiling lights can be very useful to provide ambient light in lower-ceilinged rooms, and come in flush and semi-flush varieties. Flush mount ceiling lights attach directly to the ceiling, or are "flush" against it. Semi-flush ceiling lights hang from the ceiling but still stay closer to it than a pendant or chandelier.

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A modern table lamp

Floor + Table Lamps

Floor + Table Lamps

Floor and table lamps are standalone, portable light fixtures that provide localized task or ambient lighting. Some lamps have shades to diffuse light, others are designed to light a specific small area. Lamps are available in integrated LED and incandescent, and range from traditional to ultra-modern.

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A traditional lantern-style post light

Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting provides a welcoming first impression for visitors as well as practical illumination for security and outdoor activities. Nowadays, residential landscape lighting is typically small-scale, low-voltage, and LED. Decorative sconces, pendants, and post lights are typically line-voltage and come in a variety of styles and sizes.

Shop Outdoor Lighting

Considerations for Choosing the Right Fixture

The amount of light you need varies depending on a number of factors, some of which only a lighting designer can catch based on the parameters of your home. To speak with one of our lighting designers, please feel free to contact us.

In the interim, here are some basic rules of thumb and helpful hints when it comes to lighting your home:

Ceiling Height

Whether you have high, low, or sloped ceilings changes the way the space needs to be lit. As a rule of thumb, lights should not hang less than 7 feet above the floor. Over a table or counter, a hanging light should be hung 30-36 inches above the surface. Within that window is simply your personal preference.

If your ceiling is sloped, a lighting designer can help you find the right fixture for the angle of your ceiling, because not all fixtures will work. Having recessed lighting and track lighting is still possible with a sloped ceiling, but consult a lighting designer before making any purchases so they can help you optimize the light within your space, and make sure you know the angle at which your ceiling is sloped.


Too many light sources, lights that are too bright, or improperly concealed light sources can cause discomfort. Problems like these can be solved with one or more of the following:

  • A layered lighting design that is curated to a room and how you use it.
  • Indirect lighting, where you can’t see the source of the light directly.
  • Dimmers, lower-wattage bulbs, and bulbs with lower color temperatures.

Color of Surfaces or Finishes

The darker the colors in a room’s palette, the more light surfaces absorb and the less light they reflect back into the room. Rooms painted or wallpapered a dark color require more light than a white or light colored room.

Activities Done in a Room

The difficulty of a task depends on its size and contrast and how much speed and accuracy are required. Most homes do not require very high levels of illumination, except for local lighting of critical tasks, such as hobbies and careful grooming.

Note that the quality of the lighting has a greater impact than the quantity of light. For example, correctly-placed bathroom sconces with a shade that diffuses light evenly will be more effective than brighter sconces that are placed incorrectly or have a shade that causes shadows.

Age of Occupants

Older eyes need more light to see well, especially for difficult or low-contrast tasks, and are more sensitive to glare. People over the age of 55 may need twice as much light as a 20 year old person, and needs increase from there. Lighting that distinguishes the surfaces of walls and floors (especially changes in level) makes a space much more comfortable and secure for older people.

Need Further Information?

If you have any questions or need help with choosing the lighting fixture that is right for you, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Request a design consultation to discuss your project's lighting design with one of our expert lighting designers.



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