Interior Design Calgary: How To Light Your Home!

Have you ever cut your finger while chopping veggies because you can't see?  Or stubbed your toe as you stumbled through a too-dark bedroom?  Or missed the toilet because you refused to turn on the light in the middle of the night?  I, very thankfully, haven't done any of these things because of poor lighting.  I have managed to do them all because I was in la-la land.

However, there's an easy way to fix these mishaps and save yourself the curse words for a better time (like when that guy cut you off in traffic).


Lighting doesn't have to be scary, expensive, or, like my partner seems to believe, as bright as the sun!  We had a daily struggle between my lighting requirements - ie. please don't turn on the sun before 8:30 AM or after 8 PM - and his - ie. I will turn on the sun at every time of day and night.  Our challenge?  Our home did not have enough lighting layers.  Or dimmer switches.  With a very small investment, we changed both.  And now there's no grumpy me in the morning or frustrated him in the evening :D

Lighting Basics

Ok, here's the basics.  There are several categories of lighting.  The most important: ambient/general; task; and accent.  Here's what they mean:

Ambient Lighting

Ambient, or general, lighting is the overall lighting in a given space.  Typically this is achieved through an overhead fixture of some sort.  Read: the light in your hallway, the one in the middle of the kitchen, or the centre of any room.  The purpose of this light is to give general light throughout the space.  This is typically not vegetable-cutting lighting.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is for, well, tasks!  I'm telling you, this stuff is so easy, you'll be an expert in no time!  Task lighting is the light source you have directly over a task you are doing ie. a desk lamp, a vanity light (though this may also fall under ambient lighting), or undercabinet lighting if you work at the counter.  The purpose of this light is to prevent you from cutting your fingers off and keep you from needing to find your "stupid glasses" (my Mom's favorite term).  It directly lights the area you are working at.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is the funnest one!!  This layer of light is specifically to highlight a feature - like rake down a stone wall - or to add a bit of pop to a given space.  This is typically the layer that most people forget or forgo.  It is often purely for aesthetics but adds a HUGE element to a space!

Lighting and YOU!

 Cute booties!

Cute booties!

Ok, so now that you're an expert on the different types of lighting, how do you make it look awesome and prevent those "Don't turn the sun on!" morning-breath discussions?  Well, the key to a well-lit space is LAYERING.  Ahhhhh...... like dressing for fall.... :-)

Meaning:  a room should not have only one source of light for good lighting.  A well-lit and beautiful kitchen, for example, often has a centre fixture [ambient light] as well as undercabinet lighting [task/accent light] and possibly even pendants over an island or sink [accent/task light].  When the kitchen is bustling, often all of the lights are on.  This enables you to see what you're doing at every work space, to see inside all the cabinets, and to see what's on the floor (if you're a messy cook, this IS important).

  Houzz  - Mary DeWalt - United States

Houzz - Mary DeWalt - United States

The kitchen pictured above has all the elements mentioned previously as well as a few add-ons.  Ambient or general light is given through the recessed lights; task lighting is given through the undercabinet lighting along the workspace and accent lighting is given in a few layers.  First, the pendants hanging above the island.  Second, through the use of above-cabinet lighting highlighting the tile carried up the wall.  And third, through the puck lights in the glass upper cabinets.  Combined together this kitchen is well-lit and doesn't feel dark, even with the darker finishes.

Fun With Lighting!

Ok, so you have the basics down pat.  Now, have a bit of fun with your lighting!  It doesn't have to be one fixture to one space.  Check out the examples below for some inspiring ideas of how to change it up!

  Houzz  - 27 Diamonds Interior Design - Orange County

Houzz - 27 Diamonds Interior Design - Orange County

Drop a chandelier in the middle of a living space to bring a space together and provide some visual grounding to a seating area.

  Houzz  - Britto Charette Interiors - Miami

Houzz - Britto Charette Interiors - Miami

If you have the opportunity to change up a little electrical in your home, add a couple boxes on either side of the bed and drop two gorgeous pieces of lighting art alongside.  Alternatively, some fixtures can be found with a plug in and inline switch.  Then you can insert a hook in the ceiling on one or both sides and hang a fixture that plugs into the regular outlet.

  Houzz  - Charles Cunniffe Architects - United States

Houzz - Charles Cunniffe Architects - United States

You may recall this space from an earlier blog post but I'd like to use it again to point out the great lighting.  There is recessed lighting both over the seating area as well as over the bar island.  There is cove lighting set into the cove above the seating area adding soft ambient light.  If you look closely, you will also see lighting set into the floor along the stone wall in the centre of the image.  This light rakes up the wall and highlights the texture of the stone.

Additional Notes of the *ahem* Wise

Now that you are inspired to start personalizing your home, let me add a few quick notes. 

#1 - Track Lighting - Track lighting is meant to be an accent light.  It's purpose is to highlight specific features such as artwork.  In other words, while you see this in every kitchen going these days, it's a terrible kitchen light.  It throws a lot of heat (nice in the winter, not so nice the other 8 months of the year) and it creates strong shadows.  If your kitchen already has this fixture and you're not wanting to change it, add other lighting.  This is where undercabinet and pendant fixtures can be saviours to you.

#2 - Dimmer Switches - I did not discuss dimmer switches above but they add HUGE value to the use of your space and will help set any mood.  Add them on everything - kitchen lighting, bathroom lighting, bedroom lighting, dining room lighting - you get the idea.  A simple dimmer switch, which may only cost you about $15-$30 depending on the model you select, can save you a world of grief.  Add it in the bathroom and instantly you have soft lighting for those middle-of-the-night potty breaks.  Add it in the dining room and watch your room start to sparkle when you lower the lighting.  Plus, dimming a light even 10% saves a lot on electricity.  **IF YOU HAVE LED LIGHTS** make sure you have a dimmable bulb or fixture and buy an LED-compatible dimmer.

#3 - Selecting Your Fixture Size - This is a whole other post but if you are wanting some great info right away, check out Progressive Lighting's post.  They have beautiful fixtures as well so do some shopping while you're there.

Get Started!

And you're all set!  Go make your home your own and if you have any questions, post them below!