Why You Should Layer Your Home's Lighting—and How to Do It
It's not enough to just have overhead lights in your home. For a room that's equally pretty and practical, subtly light every level and corner, says interior designer Elizabeth Lawrence, a partner at Bunny Williams Associates, in New York City. The basics go as follows: The first layer is ambient lighting, usually overhead lights found at the center of a room. Their job is to illuminate the entire room. The next layer is task lighting. These lights focus in on specific areas to help with tasks such as a table lamp for reading, or pendants over a kitchen island for chopping. Lastly, we have accent lighting. These are decorative pieces that provide the finishing touches to a room. They can be used to illuminate art or a bookshelf, or draw attention to architectural features.
Once your lighting is figured out, put all fixtures on a dimmer, so you can fine-tune with ease. Here's how to orchestrate an inviting glow.
Brighten the Perimeter
"Sconces are both decorative jewelry and practical contributors," says New York City interior designer Alexa Hampton. Hang them about 66 inches high on a wall (1), and team them with lights above bookcases and art frames, and up-angled floor lamps (aka torchères).
Go to Task
"I've found that people never have enough lamps," says Atlanta interior designer Suzanne Kasler. Put them where you'll need them daily: Slide a floor lamp up next to a reading spot (2); top end tables or consoles with 28-to-30-inch-tall table lamps.
Blend old and new pieces in a variety of finishes, suggests West Hollywood interior designer Mark D. Sikes. Brass and bronze look chic together, he says, and "every room needs a ceramic table lamp." (3)
Ceiling fixtures, also called "down lighting," can get a bad rap for casting harsh shadows. But dark rooms need all the help they can get. Pick a style scaled to your space: a chandelier for a tall ceiling; a semi flush-mount fixture for low, says Ben Marshall, creative director of Hudson Valley Lighting Group. Another one of his tips: Pendants should hang 36 inches above a dining table, and be no wider than three-quarters of the table's width.
Martha Stewart Living, October 2019