Guide to Lighting Design and Lighting Control

Chapter 3 - Home Lighting Techniques

In Chapter 2 – What is Mood Lighting, we started to define the lighting circuits in our home lighting example and we concluded our initial lighting design using 3 lighting circuits to create our “cooking” and “dining” moods. This may seem sufficient in terms of overall light in the area but has it really transformed the space? Basically, no! For example, what about the homeowner’s art or ornament collection? Does the pendant light create an impression the homeowner’s wanted to give their guests?

When we look home lighting we classify the purpose of the light into categories; general ambient lighting, accent lighting, task lighting and decorative lighting. Let’s look at each of these categories in turn and see what other lighting we could use in our example.

General Ambient Lighting

We probably focused on this category of home lighting in our example more than others. The recessed ceiling down lights we choose for the kitchen area would provide general lighting. But given the lower than standard ceilings they may not be best choice. We want General Ambient lighting to be indirect. By this we mean we do not want to see the light source, rather, we want to only see the effect of the light. Although we could select recessed ceiling lights where the light source i.e. lamps are set back from the surface of the ceiling and therefore be less direct and produce less glare. There are alternatives. One might be to use a ceiling panel to imitate a skylight thus also providing a nice feature. The ceiling panel is formed of a translucent stretched fabric with in-direct light sources (or multiple light sources) placed behind it. Another technique could be to uplight the ceiling. Washing a ceiling with light actually reflects the light more uniformly than a point lights source in the ceiling facing down.

Accent Lighting

What do we want to accent in our home lighting example? Lots! For starters, the the home owner has clearly stated they want their artwork and ornaments on show. So, let’s assume the artwork is going to be located on the walls around the dining table. The dining room pendant light simply is not going to do the artwork justice. We could go to the large expense of using framing projectors which need professionally configuring to throw the exact amount of light onto the artwork and only on the artwork. We could use wall mounted picture lights but the homeowners want a very contemporary feel.

So let’s explore use down lights. Rather the down lights located in the towards the centre of the room for ambient light, we could use dedicated down lights in the ceiling placed in front of, each piece of art work. We would use down lights with tilt-able figures enabling us to point the light down at the art. But there’s more to lighting art work than just pointing light at it! We need to place the down lights offset from the wall to light the art sufficiently. We also need to select lamps with the correct Colour Rendering Index (CRI) or more accurately Colour Quality Scale (CQS). Without going into detail, these scales help identify the correct lamp to ensure the colour of the surface we are lighting with artificial light compares to lighting the same surface with sunlight. We obviously want the colours in the artwork to look as intended, so this is an importance consideration. Equally we need to choose, a lamp with correct beam angle given the distance and size of artwork.

The ornaments the couple collected when travelling could be displayed on custom shelves perhaps in the recess the couple were looking to board over. There are several ways to light ornaments using shelf lighting. Indirect lighting within the construction of the shelving could be placed above or below, in-front or behind, point down above. The shelves themselves could also be lit using glass shelves and the light directed through the glass pointing towards the room. For this example, lets assume we light the ornament collection from the front of the shelves and light the glass shelves.

What else in a home lighting example needs accent? How about that feature wall? Here we would perhaps emphasis the texture of the stone by wall washing or wall grazing. Wall washing is lighting the whole wall, from the ceiling or from the floor, uniformly. Wall grazing is similar to wall washing except lighting is placed closer to create an effect. Let’s assume we use wall grazing in our example.

There is one other accent lighting technique we can use in our example which we will return to later on.

Task Lighting

What tasks do we need to provide light for in our house lighting example? To start with there’s cooking. Although, In Chapter 2 – What is Mood Lighting, we said our third lighting circuit would be the lighting provided by the kitchen unit supplier. We probably want to have full control over the lighting specification. We could use our own under cabinet spot lights or an LED strip light for task lighting . A technique we like is backlighting a natural material like marble. So we could create a kitchen splash back out of marble with back lighting or a translucent material and use RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colour LED backlighting allowing millions of different colours. We cover colour changing later in this guide, so, lets use just white back lighting a translucent natural material for our splash back.

We may want to provide the children dedicated task lighting while they eat their breakfasts at the breakfast bar. Two dedicated narrow beam down lights would achieve this. Similarly, we need lighting above the table whilst eating but we’ll cover that in next.

Decorative lighting

Decorative lighting is more to do with the fixture than the light. The obvious place to make a statement with decorative lighting is above the dining table. There’s is such a wide choice of decorative light fixtures it really is down to personal taste. But do we just need one lighting circuit above the table? The answer depends on the decorative light. We could use a separate accent lighting circuit to direct light onto the decorative light fixture itself thereby making it stand out. We could also improve the task lighting at the table buy including a separate task lighting circuit with discreet directional light, lighting the table rather than using the light from the decorative fixture.


As you can see our initial home lighting design using 3 lighting circuits has increased to 10 and we now have:

  • Circuit 1 – Uplights to wash ceiling with light (General Ambient Lighting)
  • Circuit 2 – Artwork lighting (Accent Lighting)
  • Circuit 3 – Shelf front lighting for ornaments (Accent Lighting)
  • Circuit 4 – Glass shelf lighting (Accent Lighting)
  • Circuit 5 – Feature wall lighting (Accent Lighting)
  • Circuit 6 – Kitchen splash back back lighting (Task Lighting)
  • Circuit 7 – Breakfast bar lighting (Task Lighting)
  • Circuit 8 – Decorative light fixture (Decorative Lighting)
  • Circuit 9 – Lighting the decorative light fixture (Accent Lighting)
  • Circuit 10 – Lighting the table (Task Lighting)
  • This may seem excessive but we’ve used multiple independent lighting circuits in our home lighting example to allow for greater mood lighting control. In Chapter 4 – Lighting Circuits we explore this further.

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