There’s a lot that goes into making a living space feel homey and welcoming, and getting your lighting dialed in is right at the top of the list. There are three categories of lighting that you use every day in your home, possibly without even realizing it: ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. In this guide, I’ll be going over what ambient lighting is and how to put it to use in your space — with some help from a few experts.
What Is Ambient Lighting?
Ambient lighting is the primary source of lighting in a room. Ever walk into your bedroom and flick on your overhead light? Congratulations, you’ve used ambient lighting. But knowing what it is is only half the battle. There’s still the issue of knowing how to properly use it, and a single overhead light isn’t going to cut it.
“One bulb does not ‘light a room;’ many homes come with an overhead ceiling flush mount in the middle of each room — but this is just the first step to properly illuminating a space,” says Michael Almodova, founder of Mavisten Edition and industry veteran of RH, Pottery Barn and Arhaus. “Think about how important lighting is in a concert or theater venue: it enhances the expression of the artists to complement a performance and add expression. This is no different than the rooms in one’s home: to express an atmosphere and aesthetic to complement one’s life.”
Here’s how to properly utilize ambient lighting in your home.
Since ambient lighting acts as the primary source of lighting in a room, you’re generally going to want that light to have the ability to be very bright — whether that primary source is an overhead light, a floor lamp or even a table lamp.
“[Ambient lighting] typically has larger diffusers with at least 600 lumens of brightness,” says Ian Yang, founder and CEO of Gantri. “For example, our best-selling Maskor Table Light is 850 lumens and many of our floor lights are 950 lumens.”
One way to fine-tune your home’s ambient lighting is to use lights that are dimmable because they give you so many more options in how you can use them. “[Ambient] lighting is the most versatile, especially since all the lights we offer are dimmable,” Yang says. “Use them everywhere around your home — bedroom nightstands, the living room for when your guests arrive, etc.”
Almodova agrees: “Bright ambient light is great for activities like playing a board game with friends or cooking a dinner,” the Mavisten Edition founder says. “Medium illumination is perfect for visiting with company or relaxing in the living room. Low illumination is perfect when watching a movie or creating a ‘chill zone.’”
Even if you don't have dimmer switches on your light fixtures, you can still easily add dimmable lighting to your home by swapping out your standard bulbs for smart bulbs.
Ambient lighting may be the primary source of lighting in a room, but it should never be the only source. “The key to good, professional lighting is to layer,” says Sheva Knopfler, co-founder and creative director of Lights.com. “In every room, it is helpful to not only have ambient lighting, but task and accent lighting according to functionality.”
Task lighting is lighting that helps you perform a specific task, like a reading lamp, while accent lighting adds drama or emphasis to certain areas in a room, such as a bookcase. Knowing how to blend together all three types of lighting is really where the magic happens.
“When we use our home lighting in our daily lives, it sets the mood for the room,” Knopfler says. “Lighting can help with productivity, or it can assist you in relaxing after a long day. Layering your lighting and knowing when to use which fixture will greatly improve the functionality of your home spaces.”
You’d be surprised just how much a change in lighting can alter a room’s feel, which is why Almodova encourages his clients to experiment with their lighting to see what happens.
“My recommendation is to play with light!” he says. “Take a lamp and move it around in a room to see how the illumination changes the atmosphere. Try putting two matching lamps on either end of a console for a formal feeling. Put an interesting, funky floor lamp in a corner to create interest in a dark zone. Put a color-changing LED strip behind a sofa or piece of furniture on the floor to create a soft glow.
But by all means: only turn on the overhead ceiling fixture as a last resort!”