Light Right: A Comprehensive Guide to the 3 Kinds of Lights

For some DIYers lighting can seem like a last step, an afterthought to a design project. “Just stick a lamp in the corner and voila!” On the contrary! Most designers will tell you that lighting is one of the most important design elements in any space, the jewelry of the room. You may have coordinated the wall color with your vintage area rugs perfectly, but if you can’t see any of it- no one will ever know.

The key to a well-lit design is knowing the different types of lighting and understanding how to combine these in your space. A good lighting plan for your space will combine general, task, and accent lighting. General and task lighting will lend their light more toward utility, while accent lighting will showcase design and style.

Here’s a more in-depth look at the 3 different kinds of lighting:

1. General Lighting

General Lighting will provide each room with its own overall illumination that allows you to see every corner of the room. This will be the light you turn on as you enter a space.

  • Around 60 watt equivalent bulb.
  • Hang the fixture 7’ from the floor for walk through spaces, 36” above a table or island.
  • Each room should have several sources of general lighting. Often people try to use one light for the room but it leaves corners unlit and will result in the light being too bright and causing the dreaded mustache and baggy eye shadows.
  • While utilitarian, should still be design cohesive, and attractive.
  • A combination of recessed lights or track lights, wall mounted lights, and chandeliers and/or pendants are all great options for interior lighting.
  • Spotlights, post lanterns, LED strips, and wall mounted fixtures are great for exterior projects. You can often find lighting that can be solar powered so there isn’t a need for additional wiring.
PRO TIP: Hanging chandeliers and pendants are perfect as general lighting for rooms with tall ceilings because you can adjust the height of the light for your needs and achieve the perfect light for a space.

2. Task Lighting

Task lighting is more focused lighting that is placed in an area to help you perform a specific task. Controls will preferably be separate from general lighting, and used when needed.

  • Around 100 watt equivalent bulb.
  • Place light low enough to the task area.
  • Should be glare free, and bright enough to prevent any eye strain
  • Great over vanities in bed and bath rooms, under-cabinet lighting in kitchen, over stove and sink, chandeliers over dining tables, islands, and bars, etc.
  • For under cabinets use strip LED lights, or puck lights.
  • For larger areas you can use track lights, pendants, or chandeliers.
  • For bedside areas you can use table lamps or sconces. can be used as task lighting when directed correctly .
PRO TIP: Using pendants or chandeliers with solid shades such as metal or ceramic are perfect for task lighting as they direct the light towards the area needed and not across the entire room. They can also be hung lower to allow the light to be directed more

3. Accent Lighting

Accent lighting should be functional as well as adding its own visual interest

  • Around 30 watt equivalent bulb.
  • Hang the fixture 7’ from the floor for walk through spaces, 36” above a table or island.
  • Accent lighting is used to draw the eye to a particular area. Ie. painting, houseplant, sculpture, architectural element
  • To be effective, should offer 3x as much light on object/area as general lighting
  • Can be used outside in entry ways or landscaping to showcase exterior elements such as trees, front door, fountain, etc
  • Use wall mounted lights, sconces, track lighting and other fixtures that direct a more concentrated light
  • Proper use of accent lighting may even make a room appear larger
PRO TIP: These fixtures are usually what can be considered the jewelry of the room. Focus on aesthetic and matching the style of your space is key.

As you can see, there is so much more to lighting your space than buying a couple lamps and calling it a day. A well-lit space will incorporate all three types of lighting; general, task, and accent. 

And remember, when in doubt: Ask a professional.

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