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Understanding the Layers of Light

The key to good lighting design is understanding the layers of light. Lighting has multiple purposes, which can be described as ambient, focal and decorative. Multiple direct and indirect light sources are needed to properly light up a space evenly and effectively.

Before you set out to find the perfect fixture, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Are you hoping to draw attention to a fabulous piece of artwork? Will your new kitchen be used for cooking, entertaining and socializing? Are you looking to brighten your home office? The answer will help you determine what type of light source(s) will help you illuminate your space. Here is a breakdown of the three layers of light and what fixtures can be used to create them:



Ambient Lighting



Also referred to as “general lighting”, ambient lighting provides overall illumination. Ambient lighting produces a comfortable level of brightness without glare or shadows. Sources of ambient lighting include chandeliers, pendants, ceiling lights, recessed or track lights. Your lighting plan should start with ambient lighting, as it sets the foundation for other layers of light.

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Focal Lighting



Focal light concentrates brightness onto a specific area. This includes task lighting, which is a type of focal lighting that helps you perform specific tasks like reading, applying makeup, cooking and working. The point of focal lighting is to draw attention to something. Think about mannequins in a retail space or artwork in a gallery. Track lights produce beams of light, producing great focal light.

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Decorative Lighting



A favorite here at, we refer to accent lighting as the “sparkle” in a room. The purpose of decorative lighting is to evoke positive emotions. The “sparkle” can be as simple as the shine that’s produced from light reflecting off of a polished decorative element, or as elaborate as a crystal chandelier. This type of lighting allows you to make a statement, express your personal style and have a little fun with your lighting.

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