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Interior Lighting Tips: Ambient Lighting


Ambient lighting plays an important role in the life of a home since it is a key element in creating a comfortable atmosphere and basically assures that one can see where one is going. This article defines the concept of ambient lighting and offers tips for effectively lighting the interior of your home.

Basics of Ambient Lighting

Light used for the general illumination of a room is known as ambient or general lighting. This type of lighting differs from task lighting in that its purpose is to provide an even wash of light throughout a room as opposed to concentrated light for a specific job. This type basically ensures that a room is comfortable and that its inhabitants make their way around the room without tripping on unseen obstacles.

Your ambient lighting plan may comprise both artificial light from light fixtures as well as natural light from the sun and moon that seeps in through windows. The mood of a room greatly depends on the way you organize ambient lighting. Even the style of the actual fixtures can influence the atmosphere in substantial ways. Why don't we go room to room and analyze each one in order to find a good ambient lighting solution.


The bedroom can be a tricky area to light since it is a room of function and relaxation. While there should be enough light to tell the difference between black and navy blue slacks, a bedroom should retain its romantic and soothing qualities. The most classic setup for a bedroom is a single fan light with incandescent lamps, but more contemporary lighting solutions can provide a more even illumination and give you additional freedom in controlling the mood at any given moment. This can be achieved using a series of recessed lights, track lighting, or pendant fixtures along with some well thought out wall sconces that are controlled independent of the overhead lighting. Installing a dimmer for the overhead fixtures allows you to further adjust the brightness and mood. Installing a large chandelier can produce a very dramatic effect, but that requires giving up the ceiling fan.



Ambient lighting plays a much less significant role in the bathroom than task lighting. Nevertheless most choose to light the bathroom with recessed ceiling fixtures or a small chandelier. Pendants can also be used effectively in the bathroom to provide a more contemporary look.


Living Room

The living room is a great area for utilizing natural light from windows since most everything that takes place there is typically not private enough to worry about keeping curtains closed. This option provides a very natural, broad-spectrum light and even has the potential to keep a room warm during cold times. Be creative with the shape and trim work you choose for the windows to add architectural interest to the room.

Window light works well during the day, but you will no doubt need additional lighting to keep the room well lit in the evening or on the occasional rainy day. A single fan light may work great in a living room in a country or classic style. More contemporary living rooms lend themselves to experimentation. Using a combination of recessed down lighting, decorative sconces, and desk and floor lamps can generate a modern and intimate atmosphere. Be sure to put different switches for the different types of lighting and to use a dimmer control of the overhead lighting.

Living Room


The kitchen is the one room where one must find a versatile lighting solution that functions as both general lighting and task lighting since separating the two within the walls of the kitchen are practically impossible. The most classic setup for the kitchen is a long light fixture with fluorescent bulbs, but this option is not ideal for task lighting purposes. A more contemporary alternative that works well as both general and task lighting is a track lighting system with halogen lamps. This option is quite flexible since each head can be individually adjusted and additional lamps added at any time if the initial light is not enough.


Dining Room

The most common setup for the dining room is a single light fixture, usually a chandelier, centered over the table. This provides enough general lighting and gives the room a focal point. If want to step outside of convention, you can install a few pendant lights over the table. The dining room is yet another place where you want full control over the intensity of the lighting, so make sure that you use a dimmer.

Dining Room


It is quite common to find flush or semi-flush fixtures in hallways. But the hallway is a place where you can get creative with general lighting. A series of wall sconces or uprights on each side can produce an interesting mood and open up a narrow hallway. If your hall is decked with artwork, using track lighting and adjusting the heads to shine on each painting is great way to combine ambient and accent lighting.

Dining Room

In Conclusion...

These are but a few of the options for lighting the rooms of a home. The possibilities are limited only by your own imagination. The ultimate goal is to illuminate space so that it is comfortable while retaining style and remaining economical. You may want to contact a qualified interior designer to discuss what would work best in your particular situation. Good luck!

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Using the Color Wheel: Finding the Right Color Scheme for Your Interior
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Interior Lighting Tips: Task Lighting
Find out more about the concept of task lighting and how to effectively light work areas.

Becoming an Interior Designer
Want to be an interior designer? Learn more about the education and experience it takes.

Basics of Window Types and Styles
Get some window talk under your belt before meeting with your window salesman.

Comparing Light Bulb Types
Find out which bulb will be banned by 2014 and which will save a significant amount of money.

Ray East III
Published: April 2010

All pictures made in Live Interior 3D by Victoria Naumova