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Lighting 101: Understanding the 3 Basics Types of Lighting

Are you about to redecorate your home or remodel a room? Hold it right there. Lighting is one of the most important—and overlooked—aspects of interior design. Choosing fixtures is about more than the look of the sconce or chandelier. There are three different types of lighting most commonly found in the home: ambient, task, and accent lighting. Here’s how and when to use each to illuminate your home as beautifully as possible.

Ambient Lighting

  • General lighting for everyday living
  • Comes in many styles/types

Task Lighting

  • Smaller beam of light
  • Bright lighting for specific tasks

Accent Lighting

  • Highlights details and adds interest
  • Dimmer and moodier
Table of Contents

Ambient Lighting


This type is also commonly known as general lighting. Providing any area with comfortable, balanced brightness throughout the room, it provides just enough light to allow you to perform your daily tasks. When you think about ambient lighting, think about the ceiling mount above your bed in the primary bedroom or the chandelier in your dining room. Ambient lighting is not restricted to a single, large light. Mounted lanterns on tracks or a line of vanity lights above your bathroom mirror are considered ambient light. If they are used to illuminate an entire area of the home, they are ambient lights.

Some smaller spaces rely on different sources of light such as task or accent lighting. But of the different types of lighting, ambient is considered the most necessary.

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Task Lighting

lighting 2

This type of light usually comes from a smaller beam. It is concentrated on illuminating a specific area of a room, as opposed to the entire thing. Task lighting was given its name based on the purpose it serves—providing enough light to complete a task. In your home, task lighting is needed in areas where you work, cook, read, or write. When you think about task lighting, think about the lamp on your bedside table or office desk. The light in the hood above your stove or the crane lamp with the adjustable neck used for sewing projects are also task lighting.

You can perform your daily activities such as cleaning or getting ready for the day with ambient light alone. But without task lighting in each room, you will find it difficult to complete more detailed projects. Because of this, use a light layering strategy, relying on both types of light depending on the activity or task.

Accent Lighting

lighting 3

This type of light is also commonly called highlighting because it is used to draw attention to a particular area or item in your home. Homeowners frequently use accent lighting in decorating and remodeling because it creates visual interest. When you think about accent lighting, think about a sconce placed below a piece of art, a can light pointed towards a tree, or a small light used to illuminate your curio cabinet.

Although some would deem accent light as the least necessary type of lighting in a room, the details are what make the biggest differences. Accent lighting allows you to literally shine a spotlight on your most prized belongings, whether that be a piece of art, an award for your work, or a group of collectables.

Now that you’re armed with tools to up your interior design game, you can show off your home in its very best and most flattering light.

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