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 Task Lighting:
Task light is illumination for performing work-related activities, such as reading, cutting vegetables, and sorting laundry. The optimal task light is located between your head and the work surface. Lighting from above isn’t an optimal source of task light, because your head casts a shadow onto your book, computer keyboard, or ransom note.
Overhead lighting or incorrectly placed task lighting often contributes to what is called “veiling reflection”. It occurs when your eyes try to accommodate the contrast between black print on white paper. This happens when light comes down from the ceiling, hitting the paper at such an angle that the glare is reflected directly into your eyes, causing eye fatigue. Think of it as the mirror-like reflection of a light source on a shiny surface. It may be a glossy magazine page or any matte surface that has markings of shiny ink, pencil lead, or other glossy substance. Another related term is “photo-pigment bleaching”. A good example of this is when you try to read a book or a magazine outside and the brightness of the sunlight on the page makes it difficult to read. You end up moving to a shaded spot or tilting the magazine until the sun isn’t hitting it directly.
A reflective surface is always a reflective surface, which means you can’t eliminate glare if you are focusing light onto a mirror-like finish. What you can do is redirect the glare away from the normal viewing angle. That’s why a light coming in from one side or both sides, instead of directly overhead, is more effective. It directs the glare away from your eyes.
Table lamps with opaque shades often do the best job for casual reading, because they direct the light better and don’t visually overpower the room when turned up to the correct intensity for the job at hand. Fluorescent or light emitting diode (LED) linear lights are also a good source of task illumination when mounted over a work surface with a shelf above or in the kitchen with the fixture mounted under the overhead cabinets. Incandescent versions are also available but they are not energy efficient and can get very hot.
Now that you have a handle on what part task light can play, you can take a look at what I feel is the best the market has to offer. You’ll find that most of them are energy efficient choices – because beauty can also be wise.
Find the best bathroom lighting and other best task lighting that will put the right accent on your home's best features. We also recommend the best kitchen under cabinet lighting and other home lighting.