Why Layered Lighting Should Be Your New Priority

From building a home to buying a historical gem, lighting is often toward the bottom of the design checklist. Why? Because it's easy to view lighting as a necessity vs. an impactful design element that can completely steal the show. Well, we are going to unleash some lighting truth on ya'll! Here's to never putting "lighting" in a corner again (cue the Dirty Dancing soundtrack).

Lighting Design 101: Types and Purposes  

Ambient: Provides overall illumination for a room, and is intended to create a uniform light level throughout a space, independent of any special lighting that may be needed in targeted areas of a room. 

Accent: Draws attention to a particular object, such as artwork, sculpture, plants or bookcases.

Task: Targeted to a particular area of a room, task lighting is intended to illuminate a specific function. 


Now, observe the space you're reading this post in right now (assuming you're indoors).

  • How many types of lighting do you see?
  • What is the primary purpose of the space? 
  • How do you feel in the space?

Take note of your answers and keep on reading. 

So, What Are Lumens? They Aren't Watts.  

Lumens equal brightness where as watts measure energy used. Two very different and important things. Why? Because if you're straining to read the words in your book or the glare on the television is inhibiting you from seeing your favorite show, clearly we have a problem. There are a plethora of great posts on "how to calculate lumens needed per room" and we encourage you to dive deeper into the world of light. But for our purposes, here's a general guide:

Living Rooms/Family Rooms: Ambient lighting should be 1,500-3,000 lumens. Task lighting for reading should be a minimum of 400 lumens.

Kitchens: Ambient lighting should be 5,000-10,000 lumens, with task lighting at counters, sink and range a minimum of 450 lumens in each area.

Bathrooms: Ambient lighting should be 4,000-8,000 lumens, with task lighting at the mirror a minimum of 1,700 lumens.

Dining Rooms: Ambient and task lighting combined should be 3,000-6,000 lumens.

Bedrooms: Ambient lighting should be 2,000-4,000 lumens, with a minimum of 500 lumens for each reading light, and 400 lumens for closet lighting.

Home Offices: Ambient lighting should be 3,000-6,000 lumens, with task lighting at the desk a minimum of 1,200 lumens.

Entries, Hallways and Stairs: Ambient lighting should be 1,200-4,000 lumens; ambient lighting for a hallway should be 1,200-2,500 lumens.

Source: https://www.lumens.com/how-tos-and-advice/light-bulb-facts.html

Source: https://www.lumens.com/how-tos-and-advice/light-bulb-facts.html

When You Know Better, Do Better. 

While you may not have a design degree just yet, you are now (hopefully) more educated on the types of lighting and why lumens matter. Now it's time to get into layering. 

We've spent countless, thumb-scrolling hours looking for "shelfie" layering inspiration and it's time to shift gears. It's time to give layered lighting her "run, jump, Baby lift" moment.

When you layer types of lighting (married with beautiful fixtures), you create an experience. Your eye dances around a space noticing other areas of your curated design because you have literally, lit the path. In addition, when the time of day moves from bright and sunny to moody twilight, you can adjust the lumens from one of your amazing fixtures to create the desired effect. If you only have one layer of lighting, you are limited to its lumens and its up-light or down-light effect. 

Design Tip: Dimmers are your friend - we use them on practically every fixture we install. They allow you to adjust the lumens on the fixtures, adding another layer of mood control.   

Types of Fixtures and Where to Place Them 

Wall Sconces: I'll start with my personal passion project in every design we touch. Sconces can be placed in hallways, on pillars, flanking art on a fireplace, up a staircase, and more. You can also use candle sconces! The light can be directed upward or downward and they serve as ambient or task lighting. 

Pendants: The best thing about pendants is that they come in a variety of sizes (both width and length) and they elevate the decor of a room! They can be used in hallways, foyers, over a table or kitchen island, or in powder rooms. Pendants can provide ambient or task lighting.

Desk, Floor and Table Lamps: Don't underestimate the power of these gems. The designs available are endless and made to suit every aesthetic out there. Lamps are generally used as task lights, particularly for reading, but can also provide ambient light. If you have a great room (open concept living/dining space), a great way to separate the space is to place a console table behind a sofa and place a table lamp on one or both sides. It's also fairly painless to have outlets installed on the floor so the cords aren't running wild! 

Recessed: My only request is that you do not end with recessed lights. They certainly serve a purpose and are even better on dimmers, but don't forget to layer! A recessed light requires at least 6 inches of clearance above the ceiling, and insulation is a must to ensure condensation does not drip into the fixture. Recessed lighting is generally one-directional and can be used to provide ambient, task or accent lighting.

Undercabinet: Designer admission - I forgot to install undercabinet lighting on our kitchen cabinets! Building a home is stressful (who's with me?!) and it didn't make it to my endless amounts of lists. So, learn from my mistake and mount lights under your kitchen cabinets. It's extremely useful as task lighting in a kitchen.

Track: We aren't anti-track but we don't use them much in residential design. However, the designs have come a long way and if removing your current track system isn't in the cards, swapping out a dated version is a great option. They are mounted or suspended from the ceiling, and consists of a linear housing containing several heads that can be positioned anywhere along a track; the direction of the heads is adjustable. Track lighting is often used for task or accent lighting. 

Have the "Light" of Your Life!

At the beginning of this post, I asked you to observe the lighting in the space you're in and note how it makes you feel. Now that we've covered some important lighting basics, what would you add, change or keep in that space?

I hope we shed some light (wink) on this topic and empowered you to embrace layered lighting in your designs.