The importance of lighting in interior design

Today we would like to talk about one of the most overlooked design elements in a home, which will either make or break a space when it comes to colour selection or highlighting art, furniture and decor items. Lighting is the most essential but often overlooked aspect in your home and probably the least budgeted for. Lighting in your home changes the mood of a room, just as it changes the perceived size of the room. The placement and type of lighting are important aspects of interior design, and they work in conjunction with colour selections, room size, availability of natural light and your furniture selection. The elements that come together when the right lighting is achieved, transforms a room into a seamless combination of functionality and style.

What are the different types of lighting available? What else is available besides ambient lighting? What is task lighting? With so many different types of lighting available, it can get very confusing, so we are going to break it down for you in easy layman's terms to give you a better understanding of what to look for when changing your lighting fixtures or designing lighting for a new home build. There are 3 types of lighting used in interior design, namely; ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. An excellent lighting plan maximizes the use of these 3 lighting types to illuminate a room depending on function and style. Task and accent lighting are more specific in its purpose, while ambient lighting provides the overall illumination to a room. This type of lighting should never be taken for granted.


Ambient lighting is the general illumination of a space, providing overall light to a room. Image Credit: Loxone

Ambient lighting is usually indirect, and coats an entire room. The mood and ambience of a space is often directly affected by this light source. The ambient light is usually indirect and reduces contrasts and shadows. This is created using recessed lights, sconces, chandeliers or pendants. Ambient or general lighting is your base lighting, which should illuminate the general space without a lot of glare. The key to good ambient lighting is to ensure that it illuminates a large portion of the space, acting as the central light source upon which you will layer other types of lighting. In a large space, recessed lighting is often a poor choice as a source of ambient light. Instead, use wall sconces spaced along the length of a wall or ceiling fixtures. Indirect fluorescent lights also provide adequate ambient light in a large space, or you can back-light an alcove so that the light bounces off the ceiling and reflects over the room without glare. In photography, ambient light is considered the 'natural light' within a room. In decor, ambient light is very similar, with the exception that you create ambient light by making the room’s lighting as natural and flat as possible. While ambient light is meant to get you safely from point A to point B, it is not ideal for working closely with something or to highlight things around your space.


Task lighting illuminates a small and specific area. Think about your bathroom vanity lights, your desk lamp, your bedside table lamps; these are in a space for a very specific use. These smaller lights are concentrated in order to get a specific goal accomplished. Task lighting brings the light source to the task, instead of trying to light every nook and cranny of the entire space. For example, task lighting over a desk brightens that space for reading and studying while allowing you to keep the light soft in the rest of the room. Lamps at each end of your sofa or a pendant light over a dining room table provide additional focused light to these areas, but only when needed. The goal of task lighting is to enhance visual clarity and prevent eyestrain, so it must be free of glare and shadows. Track lighting makes ideal task lighting because you can direct it to the points it is most needed. Focus on areas above kitchen counters, bathroom vanities, desks or next to bedsides or chairs to determine the task light that is most appropriate. Task lights are made with LED (light-emitting diodes) bulbs that are less aggressive to our retinas. Lamps which are too bright or dim strain your eyes and can lead to a number of vision problems.



Accent lighting is a very concentrated light with the intention of drawing the eye to its focal point. Accent lighting is a way of adding style and drama to your home. This will help you illuminate the pieces you want on display, while shadowing dull areas. People use accenting for wall washing, artwork, bookcase displays, pieces of furniture, collections and the general architecture of their homes. Outdoor accent lighting is when you highlight parts of the architecture of your home or yard. Accent lighting puts a spotlight on paintings, sculptures and woodwork within your room but does not illuminate the entire space. The accent lighting source itself should never be the focal point. Recessed lighting, track lighting, wall sconces and over- or under-cabinet lights are ideal accent light fixtures. When positioning accent lights, begin by accenting points of interest in the space, preferably around the perimeter of the room. Spotlights with low-voltage halogen bulbs or fluorescent strips are ideal for large items or entire walls, while track or recessed lighting are good options for individual pieces of art or points of interest. Washing the wall in light with strip lighting, soffit or valance lighting and spotlights are ideal for bookshelves, murals or collections of art or decor pieces.


Functional and decorative layered lighting. Image Credit: Glass House by Streamlight

The best designed homes tend to use a combination of 2 to 3 of these types of lighting in every room. Interior designer's usually start with the ambient lighting, and then fill in with task and accent lighting as needed. It is important to know how a person is going to use the space, how the natural light effects that space and at what time of day, to really get an idea of the perfect lighting plan for your home. Accurate combinations of lighting resources can completely change the experience and ambience of your home.


Without proper lighting interior design cannot be experienced to the fullest. Good lighting assures a warm, inviting and functional atmosphere in your home. Therefore the selection of proper lighting is the key element in interior design as it enhances everything in a room – from the furniture, flooring and fittings to the finishes and textures. Creative use of lighting can in fact embellish your decorating project. Implement different types of lighting to make your home a beautiful showcase. The light fittings and lamps chosen to compliment the style and decor of the room have a potential to give life to the space. Yes, selection of the right lighting can help you achieve a perfect balance between style, comfort and practicality in creating aesthetically beautiful yet functional interiors.


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Contact Kelly on 071 497 7262 or kelly@urbandezign.co.za