Living Rooms/Family Rooms

Layering light is especially important in the living/family area. This room is where most people gather and spend long periods. Markus Early, a lighting designer at early light in Providence, R.I., says he prefers to avoid recessed downlights in rooms where people spend a lot more time and instead uses lights that bounce off the ceiling for ambient illumination.

Early favors the bouncing of light off the ceiling, as it suits our human tendency to perceive vertical planes (looking up) rather than looking at our feet.

Early recommends incorporating cove or valance lighting in a room’s architecture to create ambient lighting that bounces off the ceiling. Early suggests that if bookcases or entertainment units don’t reach the ceiling, you can add some millwork to create ambient lighting. Early also recommends using the slim T5 fluorescents, which are dimmable, have excellent color rendering, and have a warm appearance.

A way to create ambient lighting in a living space is to lighten the walls. This can be done with soffit lighting, track or recessed lighting directed towards the walls or plug-in lamp torchieres with translucent upward-facing globes.

Table lamps can provide task lighting in a living space, such as adjustable pharmacy-style lamps placed next to a game table or reading chair. Cheryl Katz, interior designer at C&J Katz Studio in Boston, says that an apothecary-style reading light with either an LED or incandescent bulb is one of her favorite options for task lighting.

Accent lighting can be used in a living area to highlight an architectural element such as a fireplace, bookcase, painting, or sculpture. Track lighting accentuates artwork and plants, while uplights on the floor could be used for accent lighting. Lighting an art collection should consider the heat and brightness generated by the lighting. Some lighting designers are experts in accent lighting for artwork.

A new lighting design for large living rooms that was previously lit by table lamps and recessed cans could include two valances along the length of each wall (at least one foot below the ceiling), one soffit above a fireplace, and a table lamp next to a chair. Wall switches could control the valance or soffit. A keypad could also control all lighting settings with preprogrammed settings such as ‘entertaining,’ ‘reading’, ‘all on/off’, ‘all off’ or ‘all of’.

A homeowner can replace a wall switch in a small living room with a wired outlet. This will allow for energy efficiency and flexibility.

Living Room Lighting Designs


A kitchen is where food preparation and clean up are the main focus. It also has the potential to become a gathering space. This requires that ambient and task lighting be considered. Consider the task lighting over the sink and counters as the most important.

Sinks are often placed near windows to maximize natural light. This layout is still highly recommended today by lighting professionals. A ceiling-mounted or recessed fixture can enhance the natural light above the sink. Undercabinet lighting can illuminate countertops and work surfaces without the need for an overhead light that casts shadows onto the person working on them.

Markus Earley is an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He recently upgraded his kitchen lighting with LED and compact fluorescent options. Earley chose T5 linear fluorescent lights that can be dimmed and emit warm light with a correlated temperature (CCT), of 3,000 Kelvin. Earley states that LED technology has one problem. The LED chip is tiny and directional. Many tiny light sources can create shadows in a linear LED undercabinet light.

For a small kitchen, the basic lighting plan might include a central, ceiling-mounted light source providing ambient lighting. Undercabinet lighting provides task lighting above the sink and the pendant provides task or ambient lighting. This lighting scheme is suitable for most kitchens. It can be modified by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and putting all lighting on a dimmer.

Cove lighting is a good option for medium-sized kitchens. It will provide the ambient lighting that bounces off the ceiling and replaces recessed downlights and ceiling-mounted central lights, which send light directly down. The valance lighting above the sink or undercabinet lighting would provide the task lighting.


Bathroom lighting is important because it emphasizes personal grooming, which requires one to look in the mirror. Many bathrooms have a central, ceiling-mounted fixture that casts shadows onto anyone standing in front. Patricia Rizzo, Lighting Research Center, says that lighting both sides of a mirror is one of the most important improvements in a bathroom. Lighting designers recommend that the wall-mounted fixture is preferred in small baths. Rizzo says that you don’t want shadows to be created in a bathroom.

An older bathroom may have a central, ceiling-mounted fixture and a fixture above it. A better lighting plan would replace those fixtures with three wall lights, one on each side of the mirror and one on the opposite wall (offset from the mirror position).


Outdoor lighting serves many purposes, including safety (on walkways), security (playing up beautiful plants or trees) and aesthetics (inducing people to take a picture of the landscape). Jody Pritchard is a San Francisco lighting designer. She says that one of her first pieces of advice for landscape lighting is to select durable fixtures. Pritchard says, “The outdoor environment can be so harsh, especially on the coast, it is worth paying more upfront so you don’t have to replace fixtures every three years.”

Pritchard recommends planning landscape lighting in threes. Light something near the house, in the yard and in the corner. She says this creates interesting focal points when the house is lit at night. Outdoor lighting has the added benefit of reducing reflections from glass surfaces when viewed from the inside of the house at night. Pritchard notes that you can see beyond the glass reflection if you have something outside that is lit (even a plant outside a French door).”

Use only a little sunlight outdoors. People often believe that more light is better. However, if you make a bright area, you can also create dark areas. This can lead to unsafe conditions. Pritchard says it’s safer to have low levels all around.

The front door is one outdoor area where brighter lighting is permitted. Traditional lighting plans call for two wall-mounted fixtures to flank the door.

4.Dining Rooms

Dining room lighting should be focused on the table. Fixtures placed above the table can provide ambient and task lighting. Because dimmers can create a relaxed atmosphere for entertaining, they are especially desirable. A French-door dining room should have an outside light source (see the “Outdoor” section). This will allow people using the room at night to see beyond the reflections in the glass doors. Lana Nathe, lighting designer, says that lighting one outdoor element will solve the problem of nighttime glass reflections in a room.

Lighting a dining area requires that you consider wall treatments. Dining rooms are often decorated with wallpapers or paint. The walls with darker colors will reflect less light so it may be necessary to use more light fixtures.

Traditional lighting for a dining area includes a chandelier above the table and a pair wall sconces flanking a breakfront or sideboard. All lighting is on a dimmable switch. A more modern lighting plan could include dimmable chandeliers over the table and cove lighting on opposite walls.

Design Ideas for Dining Room Lighting


Bedroom lighting plans should address closet lighting and bedside reading. Lighting experts recommend wall-mounted light fixtures that have adjustable arms for bedside reading. This allows the light to be directed at the material. Each bedside light should have its switch. It can be located on the fixture itself or a wall switch.

Ambient lighting can be provided by architectural lighting, floor lamps, or sconces that flank a wall mirror. Bedrooms are a place where you can feel comfortable and relaxed. It is best to avoid ceiling-mounted fixtures as they could be seen from the bed. When planning light output, consider the bedroom wall’s paint color. Dark walls reflect less light. Ceiling-mounted and recessed fixtures are popular for closets.

Traditional lighting plans for bedrooms might only include floor and table lamps. Table lamps are placed on nightstands or in the dresser. Consider wall-mounted fixtures to flank the bed, or table lamps on nightstands. A pair of wall-mounted lights near the dresser is also an option.

Bedroom Lighting Designs

Home offices

The first step in designing lighting plans for a home office is identifying the tasks that will be performed there. Common tasks include reading books, writing, and using the phone. It is important to ensure that the light fixture does not reflect on a computer screen. This is possible by knowing the exact location of the internet cables and outlets. The task light should be placed to minimize reflections and shadows.

Patricia Rizzo, lighting designer, prefers indirect lighting for a home office. Indirect lighting is reflected off walls and ceilings rather than distributed in one direction. Rizzo suggests using cove lighting to wash the ceiling, wall sconces that project light upwards, or a floor torchiere that directs the light upwards if you don’t have a plug-in fixture.

A reading chair next to a window will allow natural light to be used during the day if the space’s layout allows. You can use a table lamp to provide task lighting during the night for reading.

Home Office Lighting Designs

Entries, Hallways & Stairs

Ambient lighting is sufficient for entryways and pathways to the home. However, accent lighting may be required for architectural or artwork focal points. A ceiling-mounted or wall-mounted fixture or wall sconce may suffice for small entries. Double-height entry with stairs may need a chandelier with lighting controls at the top and bottom. You can use recessed, ceiling-mounted fixtures or wall sconces to provide ambient lighting in hallways.

Accent lighting is a way to lighten a hallway. This is done by placing directional lights that emit narrow beams of light and ensuring they are precisely placed. Accent lighting is often provided by PAR (parabolic aluminum-plated reflector) or MR (multifaceted reflector) light bulbs. These fixtures can include ceiling-mounted track lighting or recessed fixtures. Professionals with experience and skill in lighting artwork properly require professionals who are skilled and knowledgeable in the placement and aim of fixtures. This will ensure that there is no glare and that the artwork is not damaged.

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