Three Basic Types of Layered Lighting
To create a balanced atmosphere, each room should have ambient, accent, and task lighting. “Even though we’re adding these layers of light, it's not really the lighting that we want people to notice,” Hoshyla says. “Lighting is about using the home as a canvas, calling attention to the life that happens inside and accentuating the home’s most exciting features.”
Consider ambient lighting the base layer, providing general illumination from a variety of sources.
Daylight from windows is a common type of ambient natural light. To control the intensity of daylight, install window treatments—like drapery, shades, or blinds—that can either diffuse or reduce light based on the material.
Recessed downlights (with a wide beam angle) are a common type of ambient light. “To get ambient light, people often install our downlights in the ceiling that are not aimed at anything in particular, just pointing down to create a soft blanket of light,” Ramos says.
To elevate a room’s design and ambient lighting, design professionals might opt for cove lighting. Here, the light source is hidden architectural details (like ledges or ceiling valences) and aimed downwards to illuminate a wall or pointed upwards to bounce light off a ceiling, producing an indirect, diffused glow. Because they’re tucked away, cove lights require a bulb with a narrow profile, like Ketra’s G2 Linear.
Photo Credit: Frank Oudenman
The most practical type of lighting, task lighting is meant to illuminate surfaces or areas for a particular activity. Because it directs light onto workspaces, it typically requires more lumens than ambient light. Task lighting can also bring a sense of intimacy to the space, especially when the room’s other lights are dimmed.
“In the kitchen, task lighting can be used to cast a cool, bright light for cooking,” Hoshyla says. “For dining, you want something warmer and less intense. An activity like reading calls for different light quality depending on the time of day or medium (paper or digital)—an easy adjustment with Ketra's natural light technology and easy-to-use controls.”
To find the right fixture for task lighting, Ramos suggests considering the user’s positioning within that space. For reading, a table or floor lamp would sit closer to the reader, eliminating shadows or glares that might be cast by lighting from above. A pendant light, on the other hand, would be appropriate for activities like dining or crafting since it provides direct overhead light without sacrificing surface area. Under-cabinet lighting is ideal for kitchen-based tasks, though it can also be useful in spaces like laundry rooms, bathrooms, or dressing rooms.
Photo Credit: Jake Holt Photography
If ambient light is the base layer and task light is the functional layer, then accent lighting provides the finishing touches. It’s a form of lighting used to highlight areas of interest. “Accent lighting guides people’s eyes and bodies through the space,” Ramos says. “Especially in luxury properties, it gives the eye landing points, showcasing objects with value or meaning, like art, furnishings, or architectural details.” To create those highlights, accent lights should use a narrow beam angle and should be significantly brighter than surrounding light.
Accent lighting comes in various forms, including recessed downlights, track-mounted projectors, integrated millwork lighting, or toe-kicks. When aimed at a particular object, like a sculpture or painting, recessed lights can function as accent lights instead of ambient lights. Track-mounted projectors are an ideal option for those who want the flexibility to change their art displays without having to drastically alter the room’s lighting. To highlight quality craftsmanship, consider integrated millwork lighting. Finally, toe-kick lighting adds a subtle glow and a floating effect to near-the-ground furnishings, like vanities, fireplaces, and lower cabinets. They can also be used to illuminate corridors and stairs at night.
Photo Credit: Jake Holt Photography
Photo Credit: Joel Danto