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Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting – Choosing The Right Combination To Give Your Home Perfect Atmosphere

22 May 2023 | BY

Master the art of lighting by layering ambient, accent, and task lighting in the right places.

lighting guide - cover image

“I just need one light per room to see and do things in my house. Why do I need to buy so many lights,” said my father when our family moved into our new house. Granted, the main function of lighting is to provide visibility, which is why many of us are content with basic lighting that does its job. But there’s so much more you can do with lighting. 

If you dive deeper, the world of lighting is practically an art form. Home and living buffs who’ve mastered the art of lighting can tell you that lighting is as intricate as an onion, with many layers to it. This is because lighting comes in different shapes, sizes, colours, and functionality.

There are three types of lighting – ambient, task, and accent. Today, we’ll help you understand the different layers of lighting and how to get the right light in the right places.

Ambient lighting

lighting guide - ambientNatural lighting (left) and warm ambient lighting (right).
Image credit: @hamnehome, @hamnehome

Ambient lighting is your most basic form of lighting and arguably the most important way to brighten any space. Ambient lighting is consistent and creates visibility for everyday matters. 

Spread throughout a given space and cast overhead, ambient lighting brightens up a room similar to the way natural light illuminates the outdoors. Ambient lighting is meant to be dominant yet not glaring. What this means is when it gets dark in your home, just flip a switch and the majority of your space should be effused with light. 

Types of ambient lighting

lighting guide - overhead lightsImage credit: @chapter13interiordesign 

Regular ceiling-mounted lights, which is popular with the majority of HDB homeowners, is an example of ambient light. Some even choose to get ceiling fans that are integrated with lights so as to make the most out of their ceiling space. Directing light downwards, regular mount lights illuminate the area uniformly. 

lighting guide - overhead lights2Image credit: @chapter13interiordesign

Another type of ambient lighting that has been trending is cove lighting, which is typically housed in strips along a recessed ceiling. This is a popular choice as it adds elegance to a space and looks neat.

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - ambient 2Image credit: @solluminaire 

Hanging lights such as chandeliers and pendants are also in this category. They hang overhead to give class and a status lift, but make sure that you have enough headroom before buying one.

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - ambient 3Image credit: @solluminaire

Not all ambient lights have to be hung overhead. Wall sconces and floor lamps also do the job of providing uniform lighting.

Tips for ambient lighting

Even for ceiling-mounted lights, make sure to position them such that there is balance throughout the space. The light should surround the whole space like a warm hug, such that there are no corners left unlit. 

lighting guide - temperatureImage credit: The Lighting Design Studio 

Another tip is to play with colour temperatures. If you can’t decide between warm and cool lights, get an adjustable LED bulb so that you can toggle between the settings.

Task lighting

lighting guide - task1Image credit: @hamnehome 

Task lighting is pretty self-explanatory – they’re meant for specific tasks. From cutting vegetables to light reading, task lighting provides concentrated illumination in the area where you’re performing an action. The characteristic of task lighting is focused on practicality and less for aesthetic purposes.

Types of task lighting

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - task2Desk setup with a table lamp for effective studying.
Image credit: @lej_ournal 

For home offices or study rooms, good task lighting can come in the form of floor lamps, swing arm lamps, and table lamps. They are easy to set up so you can get in a reading mood or start the work grind right away without straining your eyes in the dark. 

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - kitchenImage credit: @myjibcode 

If you don’t want cut fingers or raw food in the kitchen, invest in under-cabinet lighting. When working in the kitchen, our bodies and cabinets usually cast shadows on the countertops, hence decreasing visibility. This can be fixed with under-cabinet lighting, and you’ll be better equipped to avoid kitchen mishaps. 

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - bathroomImage credit: @solluminaire 

Beauty guru girlies will appreciate good lighting when applying makeup. Even in the bathroom, it is useful to opt for a vanity bar, sconces, or pendants and install them close to the mirror. This helps to improve focus and precision, which is needed for symmetrical eyeliner wings and fully covered pores.

Tips for task lighting

Carefully select your task lighting as the wrong choice may create too much of a glare for your eyes, hence defeating its purpose. Positioning is equally as important. The light shone must cover a big enough area and not cast other shadows simultaneously.

Bad task lighting may even cause eyestrain or distract you if it is ill-positioned, while good task lighting will help you get into the zone straight away.

Accent lighting

lighting guide - accent lighting1Image credit: @solluminaire 

Usually brighter than ambient lights, accent lighting uses intense brightness to emphasise a particular object or space. Accent lighting is most commonly used in museums, where a visitor’s eyes will be drawn to the spotlighted artwork. 

The distinguishing trait of accent lighting is that the light complements rather than competes for attention, like the way fries complement a burger. 

Types of accent lighting

lighting guide - accent lighting2Image credit: @solluminaire 

Whether you’re planning to build a feature wall or simply want to display your children’s artwork, wall lights and track lights can help accentuate these details the right way. For a more professional look suitable for even professional galleries, we recommend getting an art light. 

lighting guide - accent lighting 3Image credit: John Cullen Lighting 

Book lovers wanting to showcase their scholarly pursuits can add recessed lighting to bookshelves.

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - accent lighting4Image credit: @caradearone 

Don’t limit yourself to regular bookcases and wall decor. Try combining accent lighting with irregular wall niches for an unexpectedly chic look. 

Tips for accent lighting

lighting guide - accent lighting 5Image credit: @gajeyama_gajeo, @zirai__girl 

Besides regular warm and cool lighting, try using different coloured lights to add style and character. For example, you could start by attaching LED strips to the back of your monitor to create an uber-cool WFH setup and complement it with RGB keyboards. 

Using ambient, task & accent lighting together

Ambient Vs Task Vs Accent Lighting - layeringImage credit: @corub_i 

The best way to create a well-lit and cosy home is to use all 3 types of lighting together. Typically, you should start with deciding where to place ambient lights, then follow it up with task and accent lights. Do this in tandem with choosing furniture, colour schemes, and everything else during the renovation process, and not when everything has been primarily settled. This will ensure that your lighting choices won’t clash with your decor. 

Opt for complementing pieces through a cohesive theme. This is called “layering”. Layering different lamps and lights can help a space come to life as each type of lighting fulfils a specific need and creates visual interest. 

Don’t settle for basic and boring lights. Just as you spend ages deciding on whether to get your favourite big-ticket item, spend the same effort on choosing the right kind of lighting to highlight your boogie purchase. 

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Cover image adapted from: @caradearone, @solluminaire, @hamnehome

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