Lighting isn’t just a practical choice. It’s so important that every color combination, furniture piece, and pretty much any design element hinges on your room’s lighting.

Just as every individual design element plays a role in a room’s overall aesthetic, so too does lighting. How you light your room can greatly affect its atmosphere and the mood of everyone who enters it. A room can turn large or claustrophobic, cozy or energizing, romantic or sterile. Even a room’s colors are subject to subtle alterations by different kinds of light.

No matter how perfectly designed a room, everything will fall flat without the right balance of lighting. So for any professional or Do-It-Yourself designer, familiarizing oneself with the basic principles of lighting a room and its different layers is a must.

Natural Lighting

Sunlight is the easiest way to heighten the mood of your room. It saves you electricity during the day, makes your room feel bigger, and provides that familiar, satisfying feeling of physical and mental well- being.

And it isn’t just about cramming as many windows on the wall as you can. Consider how much sunlight you want coming in, the position of the sun at certain times of the day, where the sunlight will hit the room, and room temperature. As the sun travels its course throughout the day, the colors of your room will also change subtly. You’ll want to consider this when choosing the size of your window and which side you’ll want it facing.

Other forms of natural light from candles and fireplaces (for those cool places in the Philippines) also fall under Natural Lighting. These are great alternatives to artificial lighting when you’re setting a warmer, more intimate atmosphere.

Ambient Lighting

The first layer of artificial lighting in your room to consider is Ambient Lighting. It’s your room’s main source of light, strong enough to illuminate everything in the room, but not so bright that it borders on unpleasant. Think of it as the starting canvas or “base lighting” of a room, which will serve as the foundation for the rest of your lighting scheme. Chandeliers and overhead lights are common examples.

A room’s ambient lighting doesn’t have to come from a single light source though. Doing so can result in the light being too focused at a single, glaring point. Spread out your light sources and layers, each consistently diffusing the light throughout the room. That’s why wall sconces, track lights, and the like can also serve as Ambient Lighting.

Task Lighting

Now think of the specific activities you’ll be doing frequently in a room. That’s where Task Lighting comes in. You need a functional source of light while you’re reading in the bedroom, preparing your meals in the kitchen, putting on makeup, or any other activity that requires good lighting. Think bedside lamps, vanity lights, and undercabinet lights.

Task Lighting only works if it serves its purpose effectively. Tasks that require concentration like working or illustrating need lighting that promotes productivity, alertness, and mental stimulation, while more relaxing activities like bedside reading go better with a calm, soothing source of light.

Accent Lighting

And finally, designers will add touches of Accent Lighting throughout the room to draw the eye to certain features, details, and ornamentations of the room. This is what really gives a room its character and depth, the icing on the cake if you will. Think of wall sconces flanking a wall’s centerpiece, or a recessed light over a painting.

Because Accent Lighting seeks to place greater emphasis on certain design elements, they will always be more pronounced than the room’s Ambient Light, and will often direct the light in a certain direction. When designing a room, think of the first things your guests will look at the moment they enter a room.

Together, these three core layers form the whole artificial lighting scheme of your room. First think of the room’s purpose, color scheme, and decorations before finding a way to seamlessly merge these elements with your lighting. Plan your ambient lighting first before moving on to the rest. Done right, a room’s lighting can effortlessly transform a room’s atmosphere and personality at the flick of a switch.


Kevin is a writer who probably should be writing more. He enjoys reading the good stuff, drinking the good stuff, and eating a darn good taco when he sees one.

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