Take a look around your home, and you'll find a variety of lighting situations, each with its own special needs. Learning the basics of lighting design will help you put the right light in the right place.
General lighting – also called “ambient” lighting by professionals – is the main overall light source for a room. It might be a simple overhead fixture, table or floor lamps, or track lighting.
In most cases, a 60-watt incandescent or 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb will provide enough general light for a typical bedroom, office or hallway. For larger rooms like kitchens and family rooms, a larger overhead fixture or multiple table lamps are usually necessary.
If you like to display artwork, a collection or other objects around your home, accent lighting can add eye-catching interest. For the most dramatic effect, accent lighting should be at least three times brighter than the surrounding area.
Before installing accent lights, test a variety of bulbs and positions beforehand to find the desired effect. "Uplighting" a large plant or window treatment with a small canister lamp can create dramatic shadows. Diffuse "downlighting" is great for framed artwork.
Accent lighting is also used to focus attention on architectural elements like windows, fireplaces, molding, etc. Easy-to-install rope lighting is great for this purpose.
Task lighting is functional, localized light used for a specific activity, such as reading, cooking or studying. Task lighting should provide a bright glow, but without glares or shadows.
Wattage isn't the only feature to look for when buying light bulbs - understanding lighting terminology can help you choose the right bulbs for every room in your house.