The Guide to Types of Light Fixtures￼
When a lighting plan is well-executed, light fixtures seamlessly complement a room. Lighting can create a sense of comfort and warmth while providing the brightness you need to enjoy your life and accomplish tasks in your space. The effortless cohesion of lighting schemes can sometimes lead you to glance right past the light fixtures to other elements of an interior design.
Behind that ease, however, is careful planning. We sat down with Chelsea Tutt, Associate Designer here at Acampora Interiors, to discuss how the team approaches lighting design and gather advice for selecting the best light fixtures for every room in your home.
Types of Lighting
Effective lighting design begins with an understanding of the layers of light that coalesce in a space. Each of the four main types of lighting unites to create a complete concept that supports and elevates your room.
Tutt encourages you to begin with an understanding of your home. “First, you want to think about your floor plan and how you use the space. Then, you want to think about the different layers of lighting: ambient lighting, task lighting, accent lighting and decorative lighting.”
Ambient lighting adds general brightness to a space. Many types of light fixtures can provide ambient light, from recessed lighting overhead to a floor lamp with a linen shade.
The purpose of ambient lighting is to bathe the entire room in light rather than to highlight any one area or feature.
Task lighting illuminates spaces in a room where you wish to accomplish something specific.
Tutt offers several examples, such as an articulating sconce above a nightstand–perfect for reading in bed–or under-cabinet lighting in a kitchen to brighten countertops for food preparation.
Where you choose to place task lighting in your space will be dictated by how you wish to use each room.
Similarly to task lighting, accent lighting aims to pull visual focus. Accent lights are added to rooms where you wish to highlight a specific detail, such as artwork, an architectural element or items displayed on built-in shelving.
Finally, decorative lighting seeks not to emphasize areas in the room but rather to be the center of attention itself. A dramatic chandelier in a double-height entryway or a neon sign welcoming your children to the basement game room are examples of decorative light fixtures.
Decorative light fixtures can set the tone of a room–evoking drama, playfulness, hygge or any other mood you wish.
Types of Light Fixtures
There are numerous types of light fixtures to choose from, and each has countless designs and styles to suit any home.
As a general rule, our team recommends incorporating three sources of light at various heights into each room. This technique minimizes odd and unflattering shadows by bathing your space in light from all angles.
Fortunately, there are myriad light fixture options to help you adhere to this design principle.
Wall lights, as the name implies, are light fixtures that affix to the wall. In interior spaces, these lights often adorn bathrooms around the sink or sit in entrance hallways.
Wall lights are also popular in exterior lighting plans, where lamps may flank the front door your home, or flood lights may provide needed visibility over the driveway basketball hoop.
Sconces are a popular wall light used in bathrooms, bedrooms or hallways.
Tutt shares why our team loves incorporating sconces into bathroom lighting design. “We always do sconces around vanities. They give you greater control over lighting when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror,” she says, providing additional light to fortify the ambient lighting overhead.
Ceiling lights are mounted on the ceiling of your room. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles.
Chandeliers are hanging light fixtures with multiple lighting elements. Some have shades, while others feature bare bulbs and decorative details.
Chandeliers are usually more ornamental than purely functional, so spaces with chandeliers often require additional light fixtures.
Determining how to pair multiple light fixtures is a collaborative effort. Tutt explains, “Typically, we work with lighting experts who send us an RCP, or reflected ceiling plan. They figure out the recessed lighting beforehand, then we select decorative fixtures to match the size and style of the space.”
Like chandeliers, pendants are hanging fixtures. However, these light fixtures contain only one illuminating element.
Pendants are a popular lighting option in kitchens, especially over center islands.
As the name implies, flush mount lights are installed directly on–or flush to–the ceiling. These light fixtures are ideal for hallways or spaces with low ceilings. Their compact design makes them an unobtrusive and functional lighting option.
Semi-flush mount light fixtures are connected to the ceiling by a small downrod, meaning they hover just below the ceiling when installed. Like flush mount fixtures, semi-flush mount lights do not take up extra space and are perfect for mudrooms or smaller guest bedrooms.
If you desire an unobtrusive lighting option, recessed light fixtures are an appealing choice. The fixtures nest inside the ceiling, leaving space for other design elements to shine. Recessed lighting can be used throughout your home, and it offers a neutral base lighting option that provides general ambient light around which to build the rest of your lighting plan.
Lamps are mobile and are often used to add style to a space once overhead light fixtures have met the greater ambient lighting needs.
With a wide array of designs, you can always find a lamp to enhance your room’s interior design style.
Floor lamps are most often used in living rooms or bedrooms. These light fixtures do well when placed next to a chair or sofa and can illuminate spaces as you enjoy a good book, partake in family game night or binge your latest show.
Table lamps can be decorative additions to a living room, family room or bedroom. They often feature shades, which provide diffuse ambient light for your space.
These lights can be used alone when you desire lower light in an area, or they can be used in conjunction with overhead ambient light to create a brighter room.
Desk and Task Lamps
Desk and task lamps, such as reading lamps, are primarily about function. These lamps often have articulating features that allow you to point light in your desired direction.
Just because these lamps are functional does not mean they are without style. From a brushed bronze desk lamp for your study to a fire-engine red plastic task lamp for your child’s lego table, task lamps come in various designs and finishes.
Kitchen Light Fixtures
Kitchens often represent the heart of family life, and therefore need lighting that meets the needs of all household members. From task lighting under countertops to help with food prep to pendant lights over the island to illuminate casual family dinners, kitchen lighting plans are involved and multi-layered.
As with all interior design projects, Tutt reminds you to begin with understanding your needs for the space.
“Your selection of light fixtures all hinges on your floor plan,” says Tutt. “Then, you’ll want to think about how you use the space. These two considerations go hand in hand.”
Once you’ve determined where everything is and how you will use the space, you can get into the specifics of selecting fixtures.
Islands often require a layered lighting plan to accommodate the range of activities that might happen there. Some homes have sinks and food prep areas on the island, plus seating. Pendants or linear lights provide ambient coverage over these multipurpose kitchen spaces, while task lighting brightens the work areas.
No matter what you plan to use your island for, there are some essential guiding principles for selecting features that are the right size for your space.
“You never want to go larger than the width of your island,” Tutt says. To maintain the proper scale across your island, fixtures should be slightly smaller than a third the depth of your countertop.
Then, there are the height considerations. “You always want about 30 to 36 inches from the bottom of the light fixture to the top of the counter,” Tutt advises. This provides enough clearance when you lean over your island during food prep and serving.
Finally, remember sight lines. Tutt reflects on projects our team has worked on down the Cape, where the real star is the ocean just beyond the kitchen window.
“If there is a kitchen with views, we try to stay away from big, heavy pieces that will block that,” Tutt says. “We often use glass pendants, which are seamless and clean.”
Bathroom Light Fixtures
Like kitchens, bathrooms are highly functional spaces that serve multiple purposes. While the master bathroom must facilitate efficiency in the morning as you get ready for work, in the evening, it may become an oasis where you sink into a bath to enjoy a book.
Tutt reemphasizes the importance of layered lighting plans: “You want to consider the different layers of lighting in terms of how they relate to the space and how it will be used.”
The ability to dim your lights is also crucial. Selecting fixtures that can go from bright and energizing to soft and relaxing helps make your bathroom space inviting at all times of the day.
Tutt recommends that the base layer of your bathroom lighting have a warmer temperature. “We typically select light fixtures and bulbs that are around 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin,” she says. Lighting in this temperature range feels relaxing and inviting.
Next comes the task lighting. “In a bathroom where you get ready for the day, you might need some smaller, more controlled fixtures,” she says. “A Robern mirror has bright lighting inside the glass and is great for doing hair and makeup.”
Tutt considers sconces a must-have in bathroom lighting plans as well. They add an additional layer, and when used with three-way light bulbs, they can be set brighter or dimmer depending on the amount of light you need at a particular time.
Outdoor Light Fixtures
When it comes to lighting outdoor spaces, Tutt introduces a fifth type of lighting that is absolutely crucial: wayfinding.
“For outdoor spaces, wayfinding is the top priority,” she says. “Not only do you want guests to be guided to their destination, but you also want everyone to be able to move around safely at night.”
Outdoor spaces also incorporate the other four types of lighting, and the fixtures you select depend on the mood you’re trying to evoke and any needs you have for the space. The pool deck or grilling area might require task lighting, while you may wish to add accent lighting at the perimeter of your patio.
Tutt recommends engaging a landscape architect to design an effective and beautiful lighting plan for your outdoor spaces.
Bedroom Light Fixtures
In bedrooms, one rule guides all of Tutt’s light fixture choices: “Bedroom lighting should be soft.” Dimming is vital in bedroom lighting designs.
As in other rooms, bedroom lighting plans begin with foundational ambient lighting. In addition to lighting needs, ask yourself: Are there other elements affecting your choice of ceiling lighting?
“Do you want a ceiling fan? Do you want decorative ceiling fixtures?” Tutt offers these questions as jumping-off points. “If so, will this center fixture offer enough light, or do you need to mix in recessed lighting as well?”
Ceiling heights also play a role. Bedrooms with lower ceilings may require a decorative flush mount, whereas vaulted ceilings leave room for a chandelier.
As for other light fixtures in a bedroom, Tutt steers clients toward pieces that diffuse light. “We recommend lighting that conceals bulbs and reduces the chance of glare,” she says.
Tutt also relies on three-way light bulbs, which offer three light levels, for greater control over bedroom lighting. While you may wish to have your bedside sconce at full brightness as you check your phone in the morning, you may prefer to set it to a lower level while you read before bed.
Hallway Light Fixtures
In a hallway lighting plan, height and width are your primary considerations.
Hallways have several entry points, so you must plan your lighting with ample space around those areas. “You want to be careful that a door doesn’t interrupt where a fixture comes down off the ceiling,” says Tutt.
Ceiling height is another factor. Tutt provides a baseline rule of thumb for establishing the placement of your hallway lighting fixture. “You always want at least a 7-foot 6-inch clearing from the floor to the bottom of the fixture,” she says. “This ensures you’re not going to hit your head, no matter your height. It’s a good amount of breathing room.”
Depending on your room, you may wish to position your fixture even higher. Proportions and scale are critical in selecting the appropriate piece for your space. Some hallways, like a grand entrance foyer, are double-height and can accommodate a large chandelier or dramatic drop pendant suspended high in the air. Other hallways are narrow and require flush or semi-flush mount fixtures that hug the ceiling.
A well-designed lighting plan adds literal and figurative brightness throughout your home. When you consider floorplan and your family’s lifestyle, you can select lighting that is highly functional and endlessly stylish.