How to Choose Lighting

The credo here is “Light the tasks, not the room.” I’ve said that before but it’s the soul of successful lighting so it’s worth repeating. If you want the whole 9 yards on lighting, splurge and buy my book ‘Every-Day Design Dilemmas, Decorating Simplified ‘ There’s a whole chapter on lighting.

EDD book cover

Why do you need to pay so much attention to lighting? Well, for  example, a large ceiling light may  or may NOT provide enough illumination so anyone walking in the room can do so safely. Consider the person sitting in a corner trying to read, or sitting at a desk with her back to the center of the room. The book may be in shadows. Let’s not even talk about trying to thread a needle or count the stitches in a row of crochet. This is where the task lighting comes into play.

Get out your room usage list and look at each of the tasks that take place in this room. Place a light fixture, or fixtures, at each appropriate place on your floor plan.  There are a lot of different symbols for light fixtures; don’t get bogged down in minutiae —  just use a small circle.


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Remembering what was said last column about Lumens and the amount of light you need in a room, write the Lumens requirements inside each circle.

Here are a few of the main ones:

Reading: 300Lm per fixture

Writing or gaming: 720Lm

Over a stove or sink: 450Lm

Bathroom vanity: 1600Lm

Take this information with you when you go shopping for light fixtures or bulbs. And —  just so you know —  in a knowledgeable lighting store they may very well refer to the “lamp” as the bulb. The fixture is the combination of  the base and the lamp/bulb holder.

This is the task lighting and it is the lighting that helps make the room functional for the people using it. After you’ve placed the task lighting, is’t on to ambient lighting.

Ambient is the general lighting like the overheads. Ambient light ensures there is enough light to use the room safely. For example, task lighting at the desk does not necessarily light the way from the door to the desk. Ambient lighting does that.

General rule of thumb here is to err on the side of too much light. Just because you have a lot of light fixtures in a room doesn’t mean you must turn them all on all the time, but it’s crucial to have enough.

And last we get to the mood lighting. This is the accessory lighting and it’s added after the ambient and task lighting. Often it’s done after the room is fully decorated; it fills the corners, adds interest to a plant or draws attention to a painting for example.

Here’s  a copy of a lighting schedule I did which had 22 light sources in the living/dining room. You’ll see why they were all necessary. And they were.


The living room floorplan with no lighting assigned. It’s a big room. Note how many activities take place here…


The lighting ‘schedule’ It can be done on a separate piece of paper for ease of identifying what is needed where.


And then the two are overlaid for the final effect.

The Lighting Research Center is FULL of valuable info.

lighting research center

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