Basic Types of Lighting

The Fundamentals

There are three basic types of lighting that work together in your home:

  • Ambient (general lighting)
  • Task
  • Accent

A good lighting plan combines all three types to light an area according to function and style.

Ambient lighting provides an area with overall illumination. Also known as general lighting, it radiates a comfortable level of brightness without glare and allows you to see and walk about safely.

In some spaces such as laundry rooms, the ambient lighting also serves as the primary source of task lighting.

It can be accomplished with chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lights, and with lanterns mounted on the outside of the home. Having a central source of ambient light in all rooms is fundamental to a good lighting plan.

Task lighting helps you perform specific tasks such as reading, grooming, preparing and cooking food, doing homework, working on hobbies, playing games or balancing your checkbook. It can be provided by recessed and track lighting, pendant lighting and undercabinet lighting, as well as by portable floor and desk lamps. Task lighting should be free of distracting glare and shadows, and it should be bright enough to prevent eyestrain.


Accent lighting adds drama to a room by creating visual interest. As part of an interior design scheme, it is used to focus interest on houseplants, paintings, sculpture and other prized possessions. It also can be used to highlight the texture of a brick or stone wall, window treatments or outdoor landscaping.

To be effective, accent lighting requires at least three times as much light on the focal point as the general lighting surrounding it. Accent lighting is usually provided by track, recessed or wall-mounted fixtures also known as picture lights.

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