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How to Use Task Lighting in Your Home, According to Experts

Learn how task lighting can help you in your day-to-day life with some advice from lighting pros.

a woman sitting on a couch reading with a lamp

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 task lighting is and how to put it to use in your space — with some help from a few experts.

What Is Task Lighting?

While ambient lighting acts as the main light source in your home, task lighting is lighting that you use only to perform a specific task, hence the name. “Task lighting is more direct (than ambient lighting) and serves a lighting purpose,” says Sheva Knopfler, co-founder and creative director of Lights.com. “For example, bedside lighting or a desk lamp for a home office.”

a woman sitting at a desk reading with a desk lamp

Task lighting should also be bright since its purpose is to help you better see the “task” at hand (I’m going to be using the word “task” a lot here, my apologies). Also, for this reason, it should be physically close to you. A desk lamp on the opposite side of the room from where you’re working is not task lighting in that instance because it isn’t helping you do anything.

“[Task lighting] is high lumens (illumination) concentrated in a small area,” says Michael Almodova, founder of Mavisten Edition and industry veteran of RH, Pottery Barn and Arhaus. “It’s perfect when reading a book or applying makeup in a vanity mirror, and it’s important for the light source to be closer to one’s eyes to see all the little details.”

Keep It Down

Think for a moment about what most examples of task lighting have in common. A desk lamp that illuminates your workspace. An under-cabinet LED strip that helps you see the veggies you’re chopping up on your kitchen counter. A floor lamp angled over your favorite reading chair. What do they all have in common? They all direct light downward, and that’s no accident. “Task lighting helps you focus on the work at hand,” says Ian Yang, founder and CEO of Gantri. “The light diffusion is typically downward facing, so it casts a bright surface on your desk, book, etc.”

The reason for that downward-facing light is that many tasks we do on a regular basis involve us looking down, but keep in mind that not all task lighting needs to point downward all the time. Sometimes the best route to take with task lighting is to pick a lamp that offers something in the way of adjustability so that you can set it to illuminate the task at hand. “Some task lights (like our Focal Task Light) offer pivots so you can adjust the angle to your needs,” Yang says.

Think Outside the Box

The most classic example of task lighting is the ubiquitous desk lamp, but any lamp that offers light specifically intended to help you do something is task lighting. A reading lamp on your nightstand? That’s task lighting. The lights on your bathroom vanity? Task lighting. The light above your stove that you turn on when cooking? That’s task lighting, too. We use task lighting every day, as it’s an unsung hero that makes our lives a whole lot easier, and it comes in many shapes and sizes.

a clamp light illuminates a person cleaning a camera lens

“While traditionally, most task lights sit on a desk, we've released innovative task lights that allow you to work from anywhere at home,” Yang says of Gantri’s collection. “For example, the Aim Floor Light is much shorter than regular floor lights, so you can easily work or read from your sofa. Whereas the Aim Clamp Light can be clamped onto things like a shelf or headboard."

Placement Is Key

You don’t want to just throw task lighting sources anywhere in your home. Think about areas where you perform specific tasks that could use more light. Your desk is the most obvious spot, but it’s far from the only one where fine detail is appreciated. Think especially about areas that tend to be dark where you may need a small amount of extra light to perform specific tasks, like the bedroom. “In a bedroom, it is appropriate to have task lighting at the bedside for reading or before-bed rituals,” says Knopfler.

Also, remember that task lighting does not exist in a vacuum — it functions best when working in conjunction with your home's ambient and accent lighting in well-thought-out layers. "The key to good, professional lighting is to layer," says Knopfler. "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."

Johnny Brayson is Gear Patrol's associate home editor.
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