It’s easy to think of lighting in a room as an afterthought, but did you know that it can be a foundational design choice, even decorative chandeliers? In fact, smart decorative lighting choices can change or set the design theme of a room. Lighting should also support the room, both in its aesthetic and its function. Fortunately, by thinking in terms of layers and functions, lighting a room doesn’t need to be difficult or stressful!

First Layer: Ambient Lighting

Foyer with Vaulted Ceiling Lit by Rustic Chandeliers

Ambient lighting helps define a room’s overall feel and ambiance. It’s the lighting that makes a room feel warm and inviting, or bright and cheerful, more than any other. Fortunately, there are many more options than the stereotypical bland and boring frosted ceiling fixture!

What type of ambient lighting you choose for a room depends on the room’s purpose. Some rooms are easy: a kitchen should use bright down-lighting from multiple sources to illuminate the entire area without casting deep shadows. Other rooms are more challenging: a living room needs flexible lighting that can adapt to a variety of needs and uses. For most rooms, we like to avoid direct down-lighting.

In a room meant for socializing and activities with family and friends, indirect lighting that’s bounced off of the ceiling and/or walls can provide a wonderful ambiance without glaring off of the TV or making people squint at each other. The first thing that leaps to mind for this kind of lighting is probably torchier lamps. Depending on their designs, though, decorative chandeliers or wall sconces can also fill this role nicely. See how these decorative chandeliers provide an inviting glow that bounces off of the vaulted ceiling without being harsh on the eyes?

Second Layer: Task Lighting

No matter the room or space, when it comes time to get things done, ambient lighting will inevitably need some help. This is where task lighting comes in! For this layer, the room’s basic layout in terms of furniture and functional spaces should be fairly well defined, but decorative elements don’t necessarily need to be in place yet.

One good trick when planning task lighting is to ask yourself, “What can I picture myself wanting to do in this room?” For a kitchen, that’s obvious: cooking! Kitchen task lighting can mean under-cupboard lighting that makes sure good light can reach the entire countertop, all the way to the wall. It could also take the form of adjustable track lighting to cast pools of bright light on an island or stove. In a living room, it could mean reading lamps in the coziest spots to curl up with a good book, or soft, shaded table lamps on end tables to light faces favorably from the side for conversation. In a room with a TV or other entertainment system, it’s important for task lighting to be dimmable, so it can avoid glare and distracting from family movie night.

Regardless of the room, think “pools of light” that illuminate specific tasks people might want to do in the room in question, and you can’t go wrong!

Dining Room with White Rustic Chandeliers and Blue Recessed Ceiling Accent Lights

Third Layer: Accent Lighting

Accent lighting plays a role similar to that of art and other decorative elements. In fact, one important place to put accent lighting is on artwork. Sconces flanked by paintings, track-mounted spotlights to highlight a collection on a small table, interior lighting inside a hutch or display cabinet… basically anywhere you want to use light to call attention to the elements of decor that really give a room its personality, are great places for accent lights!

Another great way to use accent lighting is to call out architectural features of a room, especially when it coordinates with ambient lighting. For example, the recessed blue lighting in this ceiling completely transforms the look and feel of this dining area, adding a splash of playful color to bring the space to life.

When designing accent lighting, a good rule of thumb is to think of the light itself as decoration. You’re not trying to light the room; you’re decorating with light!

Check out our decorative modern rustic wall sconces for some great ideas for accent lighting and ambient lighting alike!