When designing the lighting for your home, you should start by learning the “language of light.” Don’t be intimidated. There are only four words to learn: decorative, task, accent, and ambient. All electric lighting falls into these four categories. Once you have these terms down, then working out the lighting for any of the rooms in your house becomes much less overwhelming. There is no one light fixture that can give you everything you need to illuminate a room properly. The trick is using a variety of light sources to create a flexible, inviting space. This is what is referred to as “light layering.” These categories are also referred to as the four functions of light. Here is a list of what they are and what it is that they do:
These are what I like to call “architectural jewelry.” Their only purpose is to look pretty. They add sparkle to a space. Chandeliers, exterior lanterns, and candlestick-type wall sconces fall into this category. They should not be used as the work horses for lighting a space. When they are too bright they can visually overpower the other elements of the design. Subtle is the way to go when thinking about decorative lighting.
Lighting by which you do work, such as the under cabinet lighting in the kitchen, reading lamp next to a chair, lighting in your closet, and lighting at the bathroom mirror for applying makeup or shaving.
Lighting used to highlight objects in a space. This adds depth and dimension to an environment. Recessed adjustable fixtures, track lights, portable uplights and directional landscape lights all fall into this category.
This is the gentle fill light for a room. It softens shadows on people’s faces and fills the volume of the space with a warm glow, as if the room was being filled with the light of a roaring fire. Ambient light comes from illumination that is bounced off the ceiling. Such sources as opaque wall sconces, torcheres, pendant hung indirect fixtures, and cove lighting can be used to create the ambient light.
The Bottom Line
By layering these four functions of light together, you can create an environment that welcomes visitors into the space, while providing usable light for day-to-day activities. Getting a feel for these terminologies will get you on the right path to understanding how light can work for you.
The Best Decorative Lighting:
Light fixtures such as chandeliers and table lamps work best when they are used to create the sparkle for a room. They alone cannot adequately provide usable illumination for other functions without overpowering the other design aspects of the space. Think of them as the “supermodels” of illumination. Their one and only job is to look fantastic. For example, a dining room illuminated only by the chandelier over the table can create a “glare-bomb” situation. As you turn up the dimmer to provide enough illumination to see, the intensity of the light from the decorative fixture causes every other object to fall into secondary importance. The wall color, the art, the carpeting... and especially the people are eclipsed by this supernova of uncomfortably bright light. No one will be able to appreciate any of the other elements in the room, no matter how beautiful or expertly designed.
By its very nature, any bright light source in a room or space immediately draws people’s attention. In the best designs, the decorative light sources only create the illusion of providing a room’s illumination. In reality, it is the other three functions of light (task, accent and ambient) that are actually doing the real work of lighting up the space.
Another common example of poorly done decorative lighting is the overuse of table lamps and wall sconces with translucent shades. Filling a room with translucent shades makes the room look like a lamp shade showroom. It is partly because translucent shades, such as those made of linen or parchment can draw too much attention. When incorporating this type of decorative fixture into a lighting design, consider using an opaque shade. This will help direct the illumination downward over the base, the tabletop, and across your lap when you’re reading.
Still, filling a room with only table lamps to provide the main source of illumination is just bad lighting design, as it uses only one type of light. The other three functions of illumination must come into play. This is “light layering”, where a number of light sources are blended together to create a comfortable, inviting and flexible environment.
Now that you have a handle on what part decorative light can play you can take a look at what I feel is the best the market has to offer.
Find the best decorative lighting to create the right atmosphere in your home or your yard. Choose the best decorative solar lights for your backyard or the best decorative light selections for the living or dining room.