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  • Writer's pictureAngela Chang

Illuminating Your Space: A Comprehensive Guide to Lighting in Interior Design

Updated: 4 hours ago

by Angela Chang | May 6, 2024 | Interior Design Tips


Hello there! I'm Angela Chang, and over the years, I’ve helped clients transform their spaces into reflections of their personalities, aspirations, and needs. But let me tell you, the journey with an interior designer is so much more than just following the latest trends. Today, I want to share some helpful knowledge on lighting design in interior spaces, and trust me, it is fun to learn all the science behind lighting.

“Lighting is to architecture what music is to literature.” – Oscar Niemeyer

Lighting is a crucial element in interior design, impacting not just the visual appeal but also the functionality of a space. It can significantly influence our mood, productivity, and overall aesthetics of a room. The right lighting can draw attention to a beautifully crafted interior or highlight the unique architectural elements of your home, creating a truly captivating environment.


Types of Light Fixtures


Ceiling Fixtures

Ceiling fixtures come in various forms, from the grandeur of chandeliers to the sleekness of recessed lights. Each type serves a specific purpose and adds charm to a room.


Chandeliers are elegant and sophisticated lighting fixtures that can serve as a focal point in a room while providing functional illumination. They can add a touch of glamour and luxury to any room. A perfect addition to add a little drama into a dining room or foyer.


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Chandelier
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Pendant Lights

Pendant lights are great for providing focused light while acting as decorative elements. They allow you to customize the hanging height and can be placed over kitchen islands, dining tables, or powder bathrooms.


Ceiling mount lights, also known as flush mount or semi-flush mount lights, are commonly used to provide general lighting. They offer soft and diffused light that illuminates the space evenly, making them ideal for use in hallways, bedrooms, and living rooms.


Spotlights and track lights are excellent choices for highlighting artwork, architectural features, and merchandise. They draw attention to these elements, creating focal points and adding visual interest to your space.


Recessed lights, also known as can lights or downlights, are often used to provide focused, task-oriented lighting. They offer a clean and modern look, perfect for low ceilings or a modern and minimalist aesthetic.


Wall-Mounted Fixtures

Sconces and picture lights are perfect examples of wall-mounted fixtures that add both ambient and accent lighting. Sconces offer both practical illumination and aesthetic appeal, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere in a living room or hallway. Picture lights can beautifully showcase artwork, adding sophistication to your home.


Wall washer lights are designed to illuminate walls evenly, creating a smooth and uniform wash of light across the surface. They enhance the overall brightness and mood of the space, eliminating harsh shadows and glare.


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Wall-Mount Light Fixtures
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Wall Sconces


Floor and Table Lamps

Floor and table lamps are not just functional but also decorative. They offer a variety of styles, sizes, and designs, complementing the existing décor and adding style and elegance. They provide task lighting for reading or working and create cozy corners in a room. Choosing the right lampshade is key, affecting light diffusion and contributing to the overall style of the space. Overall, floor lamps and table lamps are versatile and practical lighting solutions that enhance functionality and aesthetic appeal.


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Floor Lamp
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Table Lamp

Color Temperature and Lumens


Color Temperature

Have you ever noticed your food looks delicious under warmer light? Or when you walk into a public bathroom, your skin color looks off? That’s because of the color temperature of different light bulbs. Warm color temperatures (2000K to 3000K) create a cozy atmosphere in spaces like living rooms and bedrooms, while cool color temperatures (3000K to 4500K) are better suited for task areas like kitchens and home offices.


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Lumens

Lumens measure the brightness of a bulb, with higher lumens indicating a brighter light. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens, while an equivalent LED bulb produces the same amount of light using only 10 watts. When designing commercial spaces, it’s important to calculate the lighting to ensure each space is adequately lit for its purpose and safety.


Color Rendering Index (CRI)

The Color Rendering Index (CRI) measures how accurately a light source reveals the true colors of objects. A high CRI number is desirable for spaces where color accuracy is important, such as in a kitchen, a retail store, or an art gallery.


For most indoor lighting applications, a CRI of 80 or above is considered good, meaning the light source will render colors fairly accurately. However, for tasks that require precise color discrimination, such as in art studios or retail environments, a CRI of 90 or above is recommended to ensure colors appear as they would under natural light.


Higher CRI bulbs may cost more upfront, but they can enhance the visual appeal of a space and improve color perception. Today, LED lights’ CRI has significantly improved to achieve 90 or higher, comparable to or better than traditional incandescent and halogen lights.


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Light Bulbs and LEDs

Understanding the different types of light bulbs is essential for achieving the right lighting effect in your space.

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Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs emit a warm, yellowish light with a color temperature typically around 2700K. They are often used in spaces where a warm and cozy ambiance is desired, such as living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms. They are the least efficient, converting only about 10% of the energy they consume into light, with the rest being emitted as heat. They usually last around 1,000 hours.


Halogen Bulbs

Halogen bulbs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, converting about 20% of the energy into light. They produce a bright, white light with a color temperature ranging from 3000K to 3500K. They last longer than incandescent bulbs, usually around 2,000 to 4,000 hours. They are commonly used in task lighting applications, such as desk lamps, under-cabinet lighting, and display lighting.


Fluorescent Bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, converting about 25% of the energy into light. They come in a variety of color temperatures, including warm white (2700K to 3000K), cool white (3500K to 4100K), and daylight (5000K to 6500K). They have a longer lifespan of 7,000 to 15,000 hours.


Warm white fluorescent bulbs are used in residential settings for general lighting, while cool white and daylight bulbs are more commonly used in commercial and industrial settings such as offices and supermarkets. However, older fluorescent bulbs can flicker, which can be distracting and may even trigger headaches or migraines in some people. They also have a lower CRI, meaning they do not accurately render colors.


LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes)

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LEDs are the most energy-efficient option, converting about 80% of the energy into light. Because of their energy efficiency and long lifespan (up to 25,000 hours or more), they are a popular choice for eco-conscious homeowners. LEDs are available in a wide range of color temperatures, from warm white (2700K to 3000K) to cool white (3500K to 4100K) and daylight (5000K to 6500K).


They are versatile and can be used in various settings, including residential, commercial, and industrial. Have you ever seen street lights emit a purple color light? That’s a sign of an aging bulb. As LED lights age, their color performance can change. Depending on how often the lights are used, these energy efficient alternatives can last up to 5 or more years.


Different Types of Lighting Methods


Task (Direct) Lighting

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Task lighting is focused lighting that illuminates specific areas where tasks are performed, such as reading or cooking. It is essential to provide adequate light for these activities without causing glare or shadows. For example, in the kitchen, we want to have some general downlights, island pendant lights, and undercabinet lighting for safety due to cooking and handling knives.


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Ambient (Indirect) Lighting

Ambient lighting provides overall illumination for a room, creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. It can be achieved through the use of ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, or even hidden LED strips. We can use LED strips above ceiling soffits for indirect lighting to create the ambiance. Also, we can use wall sconces or wall washers to add dramatic light effects on walls, adding specific zones of interest.



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Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is used to highlight specific features or objects in a room, such as artwork or architectural details. It adds depth and dimension to a space, creating visual interest and drama. For example, warm, dimly lit accent lighting creates a cozy and intimate setting, while bright, cool-toned accent lighting creates a more energetic and vibrant atmosphere.



Dimmers, Sensor Lights, & Smart Lighting Control


Dimmers

Dimmer switches are a great way to control the ambiance of a room and reduce energy consumption. They allow you to adjust the brightness of your lights to suit different activities and moods.


Sensor Lights

Sensor lights, also known as motion sensor lights, are fixtures that can detect movement and automatically turn on or off in response. They are commonly used for security purposes to deter intruders or unwanted visitors, and can also enhance safety by providing illumination in dark or poorly lit areas such as outdoor pathways, stairs, or entryways. We installed a sensor light in the master bathroom for one of our clients to act as a night light to prevent trips and falls. It is also an energy-efficient way to only turn on when motion is detected, reducing energy waste compared to lights that are left on continuously.


Smart Lighting Control System

Smart lighting control systems take this a step further, allowing you to control your lights remotely and even set up automated lighting schedules. Brands like Lutron offer a range of smart lighting products that can enhance security and convenience in your home.


Circadian Lighting

Circadian lighting, also known as human-centric lighting, is designed to mimic natural changes in sunlight throughout the day. This type of lighting has been shown to have a positive impact on your mood and overall well-being.


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Circadian lighting can help regulate hospital patients’ sleep-wake cycles, which is crucial for recovery and overall well-being. It can improve focus and productivity, which is beneficial in work or study environments.


Finally, circadian lighting that mimics natural daylight can help alleviate the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of year, usually in the winter months. Imagine the impact of incorporating circadian lighting in the Northwest regions, where it rains for a couple of months a year; this could significantly enhance people’s emotional and mental health.


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Layered Lighting

Layered lighting involves using a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to create a balanced and functional space. It adds depth and dimension to a room, making it feel more dynamic and inviting.


For example, in a restaurant setting, ambient light can create an intimate atmosphere, while individual table lighting such as candles or small wireless table lamps can provide focused illumination for reading the menu and dining.


Dimming the overall lighting and incorporating table lights can also help create a more intimate dining experience, shielding the diners from surrounding crowds. Additionally, spotlights or wall washers can be used to highlight architectural features like arched ceilings or brick walls, adding visual interest to the space.


“Lighting is a powerful tool in creating an environment, an experience, and a mood.” – Ingo Maurer

Conclusion: Lighting in Interior Design

Lighting plays a crucial role in interior design, impacting both the aesthetics and functionality of a space. A well-designed space cannot be fully appreciated without proper lighting. By understanding the different types of light fixtures, bulbs, and lighting methods available, we can create a well-lit and inviting environment that truly reflects your style and personality. Remember, lighting is not just about illuminating a room; it’s about creating an experience.


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So, whether you’re looking to create a cozy living room or highlight the art you love, lighting design can help you achieve your goals. Consider consulting with a professional lighting designer to help you create a lighting plan that suits your needs and enhances your space. With the right lighting, you can truly make your space shine.


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