Here & Now

Fall 2016 Preview

Why LED is the Way to Be

Lighting Measurement, Color Rendering, and Correlated Color Temperature

The Layers of Light

Ambient, Task, and Accent

September 30, 2016

The Layers of Light

Ambient, Task, and Accent

September 30, 2016

In our Lighting Essentials guide, the first thing we discuss are the three layers of light. 

It's essential to a lighting plan, which is maybe why it's the first page of guide called Lighting Essentials. 

One might even say that without considering the various layers of light, what purposes they will serve, and consequently where the fixtures generating them need to go, there is no plan.

We've talked about them in previous posts, but, as we ready Volume 3 of our Lighting Essentials, it seemed to us it was high time to devote an entire post to them. We hope you find it useful.

Gideon by Hudson Valley Lighting adding an ambient layer of light to a room while lamps provide accent. 


Ambient lighting creates the base layer of light in a room. It comes from above, a central ceiling-mounted fixture or series of fixtures. It at once allows you to see everything clearly and move through the room safely, while also establishing mood with the assistance of a dimmer switch. This is really only the base layer of light, the beginning upon which a thoughtfully-appointed room builds. Considered selection of attractive task and accent lighting fixtures and their locations rounds out the room, creating an irresistibly inviting, fully functional room.   

Multiple layers of light maximise the liveability and beauty of an interior space. Proper layering of the three lighting types begins by establishing the "base" required to light the room safely and evenly. Ambient lighting is the functional foundation of an attractive lighting plan—which isn't to say that the fixtures that provide it must be something less than beautiful. Chandeliers can stand out as artistic centerpiece, while at the same time serving as the base layer of lighting. Pendants, flush mounts, and semi-flush mounts each can be used as a room's primary lighting source.

To determine a room’s ambient lighting requirement

Multiply the room’s square footage by 1.5 to determine the minimum number of incandescent watts needed. For example, take a room that’s 15’ x 15’. 15 multiplied by 15 is 225 square feet. Multiply 225 by 1.5 and you get 337.5, which you can round up to 338. So, a chandelier with 9 40-watt bulbs or a chandelier with 6 60-watt bulbs will give you 360 watts, which, exceeding 338 watts, will be sufficient.

Design: J&J Design Group | Liberty by Hudson Valley Lighting chandelier

Homeowner: Catt Sadler | Graffiti by Corbett in linear form, providing a glamorous ambient layer


While ambient illumination welcomes us into a room, task lighting is focused on the myriad things we might do there. The demands of task light vary substantially from room to room. Kitchens require strong, shadow-free lighting in areas where food preparation occurs, as well as warm, inviting illumination that underscores the room's role in social gatherings. Detailed grooming tasks performed in the bathroom take special care, requiring extra attention to vanity illumination. Reading, hobbies, and game-playing each have their own unique lighting requirements, which can be met with a variety of pendants, wall-mounts, and portables. 

Once you establish an adequate level of ambient lighting, the next step is to think about the various activities you perform in a given space. The typical tasks of a kitchen vary substantially from those of a bathroom or bedroom; each requires different lighting considerations. Identify which areas of a room will be dedicated to a given activity, then estimate how much space is needed to perform it. For example, if the activity is food preparation, the space required would equal the dimensions of the counter top where the work will be done.

To determine a room’s task lighting requirement

Multiply the total square footage of the task area by 2.5. For example, if a kitchen island is 3’ x 5’, multiply 15 (the number of square feet) by 2.5 to determine that you’ll need at least 37.5 watts of incandescent light.

Home: Doreen Corrigan | Altamont by Hudson Valley Lighting | Task light in the kitchen

Design: TC Studios | Blair pendants by Mitzi


Accent lighting is the finishing touch. It’s what makes a room feel complete. Fixtures such as wall sconces and picture lamps create warm pockets of light that add much to a room’s sense of dimension and intimacy. Used to highlight or subtly call attention to dramatic architectural features in a room, sconces and picture lights have a cumulative, dramatic effect. Sconces flanking a range hood in the kitchen, a fireplace in the living room, or a huge mirror in an entryway announce those features as important and worthy of lingering consideration. Picture lights guide the eye to works of art or shelves lined with treasures, inviting contemplation. Lastly, accent light serves to illuminate texture, adding depth and dimension to the space.

While the ambient and task layers are each key to a room’s pragmatic concerns, accent lighting heightens the impact of its décor features. It also contributes to an impression of depth. To appoint accent fixtures, first identify the interesting features of a room—an antique sideboard, a stone fireplace, a herringbone backsplash, a wall covering, an artistic showpiece—then select a wall sconce or picture lamp whose finish and style complement the décor of the room and the other fixtures in it. 

To determine a room’s accent light requirement

Whatever you choose to emphasize through an accent fixture, make sure the illumination is about three times that of the light in the surrounding area.

Design: House of Jade Interiors | Glenford wall sconce by Hudson Valley Lighting | Hallways and staircases often need accent light

Design: Dan Mazzarini | Prism sconces by Troy | A great place for sconces' accent light is by the mantel

Design: Ashley Cooper Design | Haley by Mitzi pendant doubling as accent light in bedroom and task light for reading in bed