The Three Layers of Lighting

Did you know lighting is one of the most important, and most often overlooked, design elements in your home? Even the most beautifully designed space will appear flat and lifeless without proper lighting. So before we spend our entire design budget on custom furniture, let’s take a closer look at your lighting plan.

Ambient Lighting

The first layer of a successful lighting design is ambient lighting. Ambient light is also called general lighting. I like to think of ambient lighting as necessary lighting. It ensures a safe environment, providing the user with adequate overall illumination. Lighting fixtures that fall into this category include recessed lighting and overhead fixtures. A simple way to calculate the minimum number of watts you need in a space is to simply multiply the rooms’ square footage by 1.5.

kitchen picture having only general lighting

This kitchen is a good example of ambient lighting. There is adequate lighting to safely use the space, but let’s be honest, it’s pretty boring!

Task Lighting

The second lighting layer is task lighting. Task lighting provides illumination for certain activities in a space. For example, a kitchen requires additional illumination over work surfaces. If you love to sit in your favorite chair and read, the lamp next to your chair is also considered a task light. Keep in mind every space in your home has different task lighting requirement. We calculate task lighting by multiplying the TASK square footage by 2.5. For example: a kitchen island that is 3’x6’ would require an additional 45 watts of incandescent light.
interior_kitchen13_bbre_755_01This kitchen example shows us ambient and task lighting. Getting better, but still room for improvement!

Accent Lighting

The third layer is accent lighting. Accent lighting is what brings our room to life! Identify the interesting features of your space, a stone fireplace, a piece of art, or a favorite antique. Select an accent fixture that will illuminate the accent feature of your choice with three times the light of the surrounding area.


We’ve arrived! Notice how the accent lighting in this kitchen draws your attention to the special details? Accent lighting is used to highlight the glass cabinets and wash the walls under the cabinets. The result is a harmonious, beautiful, and functional kitchen to share with family and friends.

Do you have a lighting dilemma? The students at Clary Sage College would love to help, all you have to do is ask!