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April 8, 2011 > Real Space for Real People

Real Space for Real People

For a well-lit home, incorporate layers of light

Lighting plays a large role in the success of a room. So many homes I visit are inadequately lit. Sometimes one lamp in the corner is all there is. Other times, there are so many lamps that the room looks like a lighting showroom. The goal with lighting is to create a layered effect, using three different types of lighting-ambient, task, and accent lighting.

Ambient lighting allows you to navigate safely and fills the room with a soft glow. Great choices for ambient light are those that bounce light off the walls or ceiling, such as torchiere lamps or wall sconces. A light-colored ceiling will reflect more light than a dark-colored ceiling. A ceiling fixture that aims light upward can also provide ambient light, but one type of lighting is not enough. A room containing only ambient light can look flat, with no depth or dimension.

Task lighting provides illumination right where you need it. For example, a desk lamp will light up your writing surface, while a swing-arm floor lamp next to the sofa will provide good light for reading. Overhead lighting is generally not good for task lighting because it casts shadows of your head and hands onto your work surface.

Accent lighting does just that-it accents certain features of the room. Perhaps you'd like to highlight an art collection or a beautiful fireplace. Use recessed wall-washer lights or track fixtures in the ceiling to direct light onto those items. Also use accent lighting to highlight drapery fabric, as well as interesting wall finishes like wallpaper or faux finishes. Accent lighting should not be the only lighting in the room; instead, use it in conjunction with ambient lighting.

Combining task, accent, and ambient light in a room will assure that your room is beautiful and functional. When planning your lighting, evaluate the activities that will take place in that room. Your living room, for example may benefit from ambient light in the form of two floor lamps, an accent light calling attention to the new marble fireplace, a table lamp highlighting the accessories on the end table, and a task light on the little writing table in the corner. In your dining room, a gorgeous crystal chandelier can provide ambient lighting, but for even more depth and interest, add a pair of lamps on the buffet, and accent lighting to highlight the artwork on the wall. Whenever possible, use dimmer switches to allow for even more lighting combinations.

Anna Jacoby of Anna Jacoby Interiors is a local interior designer. Send your design questions to her at Call or fax her at 510-490-0379 or visit

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