Lighting Types in Design – Ambient, Task and Accent Light

When we think about interior design, the first things that usually comes to our minds are choice of furniture, color of walls, flooring, decor elements etc. yet we oftentimes tend to forget that lighting is something that is equally crucial and plays significant role in allocating your room a particular, individual style, ambience and functionality. People tend to underrate the importance of lighting in interior design and end up with space which does not have the best possible appearance and atmosphere. However it most certainly cannot be denied that we all want our living space to not only look good but we also want to feel good in it and be able to do there whatever our intentions are – be it creating separate space for relaxation, studies or parties. Each of the examples mentioned requires different approach once it comes to lighting types and this article will briefly guide you through three main lighting types in design, namely ambient, task and accent light explaining their specifics both from functional and aesthetical perspectives.

Why does light matter in interior design?

You can have your room nicely furnished, all the shades and color combinations carefully considered, the functions of each item thoroughly decided yet you might still feel that something is missing. Lighting, in fact, is the main thing that sets the whole ambience of any indoor and outdoor space.

It is very time-worn conception to think that the one and only function of lighting is to eliminate darkness inside a house during the darkest hours of the day. Now the whole idea of what ‘proper lighting’ is has been transformed and extended accentuating that light can also significantly influence one’s mood and even working abilities which means that incorporating proper lighting in our homes, schools and workspaces is gaining larger importance.

Of course, one can be careless about these aspects but if you are really thinking about the feelings, emotions and impressions your living space should evoke to you and your visitors, every interior designer will tell you to make your lighting choices very carefully. It means deciding numerous aspects of it – from light bulbs, colors, amount of light, brightness and lighting type.

Lighting types in design

There are three main ways how lighting can be implemented in our space to form wonderful and pleasing interiors:

1. Ambient lighting.

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting (sometimes also referred to as “background lighting” or “general lighting”) is used to brighten the space and enhance the glow of it. Usually this is achieved by single central pendant light but general light alone can leave very blend effect. That is why you should consider combining it with other lighting types. Ambient lighting looks well complemented with downlighters, uplighters, wall lights, lanterns and dimmer switches making it possible to alter and change the ambient light in accordance with the occasion and situation.

2. Accent lighting.

Accent lighting

Accent lighting

As the name already indicates, accent lighting (sometimes also referred to as “highlighting”) does not illuminate overall space but is used to highlight architectural elements of the room such as pictures and paintings, walls etc. Whereas ambient lighting is more general and has wider coverage, accent lighting is more specifically targeted and it provides special texture, focus and shape rendering more distinct appeal to the whole interior. Accent lighting also successfully serves numerous functional purposes. That is why it is widely used in exhibition halls and museums to highlight exhibits, paintings and photographs. The most common lights used in accent lighting are:

  • Table lamps;
  • Downlighters;
  • Uplighters;
  • Tracks;
  • Halogen spotlights;
  • Sconces;
  • Recessed lights.

Objects and spots you can nicely highlight by using accent lighting approach include:

  • Pictures and paintings. If you have gathered impressive collection of pictures and paintings, you probably want your guests to have a good glance at them. Adjustable spotlights seem to be the best option for these purposes. Keep in mind that many pictures and paintings are located behind glass so you will have to think about the ways how to avoid glare (one solution is to install so called “eyeball light”).
  • Bookcases. Neatly ordered and highlighted bookshelves always leave a nice impression. Install some wall washers into the ceiling or clip a spotlight on the underside of the shelf to highlight your book collection.
  • Plants and trees. Accent lights are often times used to highlight beautiful plants (indoor) and trees (outdoor). Before installing lights to accentuate plants, make sure that the plants you are about to illuminate actually love to receive that much light. A gorgeous tree illuminated in your yard will have a gentle and pleasant appearance ideal for outdoor parties and gatherings.

3. Task lighting.

Task lighting

Task lighting

The purpose of task lighting is to illuminate specific function of room such as kitchen area, reading area, home office desk, living room seating area and so on. Each of the tasks requires different approach and lighting techniques and hence it is good to identify first what you would like to do in each functional area of your home. The knowledge of appropriate task lighting is particularly important matter once it comes to designing office spaces since proper lighting can increase one’s productivity and ability to focus on a particular task, be it writing, work with computer or reading. Fixing appropriate task lighting includes numerous considerations such as color temperature of the light, light bulb type, brightness, location etc.

Main functions of task lighting:

  • For work. For people who have to work by office desk and read a lot, it is very important to ensure that the table lamp has been placed opposite writing hand otherwise the hand creates unnecessary shadow and disturbs the possibility to focus, as well as it interrupts the ability to perform the tasks.
  • For kitchen area. Kitchen areas usually are illuminated with overhead lighting. It can nicely be combined with a dimmer that can alter the brightness of the room e.g. make the kitchen darker during the break while the food is preparing in the stove and you are not doing any active cooking yourself.
  • For bathroom. Bathroom is the kingdom of every woman. It is the place where women get dressed and apply their make-up. When illuminating mirror, it is very advised to use side-lamps combined with overhead light which will illuminate the whole space.
  • For dining. To make your dining room more appealing, you should make the table the brightest spot in the room. This can be done by installing chandelier or pendant above it. Other parts of the dining room should be lighted indirectly.


Blogger, editor, developer who loves green living. Interested in photovoltaics and solar lighting. Reviewing solar products since 2013.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *