Lighting – The Magical Design Element!

Featured photo by ASIA CULTURECENTER on Unsplash

When it’s the time of year where the shorter days of the upcoming winter bring about fewer daylight hours, it is no surprise the arrival of holiday lighting brings about a cheerful glow, both visually and emotionally. Why is this the case? Because light represents the ability to bring things to life and gives us assurance of what our eyes can see. Without it, the daily functions of our world are affected, both inside and outside. No matter what we do during our days and nights, without the glistening rays of the natural sun, the brightness of manmade light sources, or the glow of candlelight, many of us would not be able to experience life and its surroundings to the fullest.

So how important is light to design?

One may think that interior design is solely based on the layout, finishes, and furnishings of a room, the things that can be touched and seen. But without the invisible design element of light, it is like baking a fancy cake without the frosting! And, without the proper levels and types of lighting, both the aesthetic and functional aspects of a space can be compromised or destroyed.

Designing beautiful, comfortable, and inviting interiors include determining appropriate lighting, which can be broken down into three layers – Ambient, Task, and Accent. Incorporating all these layers synergistically will contribute to a successfully designed room. The description of each lighting layer is as follows:

1) Ambient Lighting: The general illumination of the overall space

Ambient lighting may come from light sources located in or at the ceiling, on a wall, or from portable lamps, as well as utilizing natural daylight through windows. This layer of lighting should focus on not creating glare, hotspots, or shadowing but be reflected off the walls and ceilings to create overall good fill light. Controlling the intensity of this type of lighting can be done with electronic dimming, color temperature, the number of lumens generated, and through window shading. The goal is to provide evenly distributed light levels over the entire respective space.

Shown: Architectural and decorative ambient lighting; photo courtesy of Hubbington Forge Lighting/BOWA Construction Company

Shown: Decorative ambient lighting



2) Task Lighting: The focused illumination in a specific area where work or activity takes place in a space

There are particular areas in rooms where specific work or tasks take place, such as kitchen counters, bathroom vanities, or bedroom reading areas. Here the type of light layer needed can be precisely located where the activity is taking place. The source can come from in or at a ceiling, a wall, under a cabinet, or from a portable lamp, but the selected fixture type will depend on the nature and location of the task. Without this layer of lighting, one can experience physical strain on both eyes and body, possibly resulting in low productivity or poor use of the space.

Shown: Under cabinet task lighting; Photo by Sidekix Media on Unsplash

Shown: Portable task lighting



3) Accent Lighting: The artistic illumination of an object or architectural detail in a space

This last layer of lighting is used for highlighting or enhancing objects or design elements in a room to give the space dimension, character, and dramatic effect. Artwork, meticulously detailed architectural treatments, or unique item collections can be showcased as a significant element of the room design by adding defining lighting. Again, depending on the subject to be lit, the fixture type will vary but can include mini-recessed, track, or portable luminaires. Accent lighting can give an object visual prominence which can enhance the overall room design.

Shown: Shelf and display accent lighting; photo courtesy of Tech Lighting

Shown: Toe-kick accent lighting

Lighting is clearly an essential element in creating a space that has presence, personality, and purpose. It should be used not as just a utilitarian resource, but as a way to produce marvelous harmony within a room. The art of lighting in layers can embellish and enrich the design of interior environments. Just as the holiday lighting suggests a festive atmosphere, let proper lighting be the magical touch to your space!

Karen Lee Johnson, interior designer in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Hi, I’m Karen!

I’m the Founder/Creative Director of Karen Lee Johnson Interiors, a residential design firm working with clients seeking a professional, innovative and collaborative approach to design. We partner with you to creatively and meticulously translate your dreams and visions into reality. Learn more about our services or book a call to tell us about your project!

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