The 3 Types of Lighting You Need in Every Room


Source: IMC High Point Market


If you feel like you’re often sitting in a dark, dull or just plain uninspiring room the answer might be your lighting. Even if you  have more than enough light coming down from the ceiling in the form of recessed lighting you probably need more variety. Lighting can feel complicated so if we have a home that’s got a lot of ceiling light, we usually call it a day and leave it at that. That’s generally not working because it’s not just how many lights you have. It’s also about the types of lighting. Having the right combination creates the “mood” that we’re all looking for.

Most of my clients have never been made aware that there are in fact different types of lighting. The way a designer approaches lighting is to create layering of the 3 major types of lighting. If you’re surprised to hear that there are 3 different types, keep reading. I’m going to explain all of them as well as how to use them together for the most beautiful effect in your room.






SOURCE: Our Fifth House


Also known as general lighting, this is the one that most people are getting plenty of, especially if you’ve renovated or built new. The first source of ambient light is from natural light coming into our rooms. If you’re lucky enough to have natural light pouring into your room, you’re on the right track with your ambient lighting.

The next source is the overhead lighting that usually comes in the form of recessed lights. It spreads a nice glow across the room. If your room hasn’t been updated and you’re relying on just a centre light fixture as your ambient light, you probably aren’t getting enough of this type. A high wattage light fixture could possibly do the job but low wattage fixtures may be creating shadows in your corners. 

If you’re living in an older home you may have very limited overhead light. Instead of stocking up on lamps, consider switching out your ceiling fixture. You can go for something oversized and this will help reach some of those hard-to-reach areas of the room. 

Ideall, you want the lighting to be spread across the room in the perimeters. This is how we achieve the first layer and this becomes the foundation for everything else. If lighting is a problem for you, start with your accent lighting and explore how you could upgrade that.



SOURCE: Behance


Now that we have our ambient light under control we move on and start highlighting areas of interest. This could be down lights above a piece or art or even above the fireplace. The effect is to draw your eye to something beautiful in the space. While you’re creating these pockets of warm light you’re also creating a high end look. Even the most simple artwork looks more luxurious with lighting above it.

Another great source of accent lighting are wall sconces that shine light either up or down. This isn’t highlighting anything but it’s creating warmth. Our ambient lighting is allowing everything to be lit while the accent lighting creates areas of glowing warmth.

The secondary effect of accent lighting is that it creates pockets of warm light throughout your space. As a general rule of thumb, accent lighting should be 2-3 times brighter than the ambient lighting. Without that increase, you wouldn’t even notice the change from one light source to the next.



SOURCE: Studio McGee


Now it’s time to introduce task lighting. It’s exactly what it sounds like – it’s intended to create light for specific tasks. This could be reading lamps beside your favourite chair, under cabinet lighting in the kitchen or a good desk lamp for those late nights in the office.

The key to great task lighting is adjustability. Make sure you can switch between at least 2 settings so that the light is right for the time of day.



Ideally you want your ambient and accent light to be on dimmers. This helps to create a mood in the room. Even if you’re not using a space it’s nice to have the lights on low which you can accomplish easily with a dimmer.

Any lights that lead a path between spaces should be on multiple switches. You don’t ever want to be feeling your way along a dark hallway. If you’re creating a lighting plan for a renovation or build you’ll want to take a lot of time with the switch plan. It’s not easy, even for designers but try to imagine yourself walking through your space. This will give you some direction for where switches need to be located.



Here are some rules of thumb that will help you when it’s time to add new lighting. Like any rule, you don’t have to worry about adhering to it entirely but instead, use it as a guide.


Living Room

Table Lamps – minimum 28” height.

Table Lamp & Table – the combined height of table and lamp should not exceed 64”.

Floor Lamps – between 58” and 64” from floor to top of shade.

Accent Lamps – between 12” and 18” height.

SOURCE: Margery Wedderburn Interiors


Dining Room

Chandelier Diameter – measure your dining table’s width and subtract 12. That’s the ideal diameter of a ceiling fixture or chandelier.

Chandelier Distance from Table – bottom of the chandelier should be 30”-35” above table.

Wall Sconce (8’ ceiling) – centre of sconce should be 60”-66” above floor.

Wall Sconce (9’ ceiling) – centre of sconce should be 66”-72” above floor.

SOURCE: Pinterest


Pendant Above Island – bottom of pendant should be 30”-32” above countertop.

Distance Between Pendants – between 30” and 36” between outside edge of pendants.

Under Cabinet Lighting (puck lights) – centre between front and back of cabinet.

Under Cabinet Lighting (strip lights) – 2”-4” from front of cabinet.




Ceiling Fixture – option 1 – centre over bed.

Ceiling Fixture – option 2 – centre in room.

Wall Sconces – place centre of sconce 60” above floor.

Lamps – total height between 24”-27” height.

SOURCE: LivingEtc.


I hope all of this helps you feel inspired, understand the different types of lighting and to get your dark spaces lit up and feel more liveable.

If you feel like you need some help working out your lighting issues, book a Design Consultation with me. I can help you understand quickly and easily how to create the warm and welcoming atmosphere you’re looking for.


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