Ambient, or general, lighting is the most basic layer of lighting. It fills an area with a comfortable level of illumination and allows for safe movement in the space. Ambient lighting is fundamental to a good lighting plan, and is the base on which other layers of light are added.
Nearly any type of lighting fixture can provide ambient light, including chandeliers, pendants, flush and semi-flush mounts, wall sconces, recessed lighting, track lighting, and even table and floor lamps. To avoid glare, it is best to use fixtures that either are shaded or bounce the light off the ceiling or other surface.
Task lighting supplements ambient lighting in areas where daily, detailed activities are performed, such as reading, studying, cooking, or applying makeup. To enhance visual clarity and prevent eyestrain, effective task lighting should minimize glare and shadows. Typical fixtures that provide task lighting include recessed and track lighting, pendant lighting, undercabinet lighting, vanity lights, floor lamps, and table and desk lamps.
Accent, or directional, lighting is typically used to highlight certain objects or architectural features from paintings and sculptures to walls and trees. Accent lighting should be about three times the level of the ambient illumination. It is usually preferred to use an inconspicuous fixture, as the object being lighted should be the focal point. Typical fixtures that provide accent lighting include track and rail lights, recessed lights, downlight pendants, wall mount fixtures, cabinet lights, tape and rope lights, and landscape lights.
Decorative lighting is when the fixture itself, or the light it creates, is the focal point. Some fixtures are designed to create beautiful and interesting patterns on the wall. More commonly however, the design of the fixture is what adds that aesthetic appeal. With today’s many choices in glass, fabric, finishes and profiles, decorative lighting has a style all its own and can lend that style to your room. In fact, you can change the whole feel of a space just by adding this decorative touch. Decorative lighting fixtures often do not provide sufficient ambient lighting, and should be used in concert with other fixtures for a complete lighting plan.