A Look at Different Types of Lighting

There are many types of lighting that can be used in various rooms of the home or office.


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Ambient: A hidden source of light that washes a room with a glow. It flattens an interior and creates very little shadow. A wall sconce is an example of ambient lighting. So are those Japanese paper shades you find in stores. Use of a dimmer also can provide ambient light.

Accent: Directional lighting or lighting that adds interest or highlights a certain object or unusual architectural feature in a room. A bulb and some kind of shield to direct the light are all that's needed for this type of lighting. Halogen spotlights and table lamps with opaque shades are good ways to achieve accent lighting.

Task: Task lighting is just that; lighting that's used to perform daily activities such as reading, cooking, shaving, putting on makeup, etc. It needs to be glare-free. Effective task lighting enhances visual clarity and keeps the eyes from getting tired.

Different banks of task light are useful in the kitchen -- near the stove and chopping areas are places for this type of lighting. Task-lighting sources are never seen and any task light should have a reflective shield. Ambient lighting and task lighting go hand in hand. Pools of light created by several spots produce a lovely effect.

Aesthetic: Lighting itself can be a work of art. A neon sculpture would be purely decorative and an example of aesthetic lighting. A spotlight illuminating a statue on a pedestal or portrait on the wall is also artistic. This type of lighting also needs to be used along with other lighting types.

Natural: Sunlight, candlelight and firelight; this is light that moves and is sometimes referred to as kinetic. The quality of natural light, sunlight in particular, depends on many things -- time of day, weather, what season it is. Fall has a different light than summer, for instance. The setting sun gives a different kind of light than midday sun.

And now for the various types of light bulbs and what they do:

Tungsten: Gives off a slightly yellow tinge. These are your ordinary light bulbs.

Spotlight: Gives a focused burst of white light.

Halogen: Gives the closest approximation of natural daylight, known as "white light." Colors appear sharper under halogen light. The halogen bulb is also an energy saver. Can be dimmed.

Fluorescent: The typical fluorescent gives a flat, cold light, often bluish and harsh. It is a daylight-equivalent and cannot be put on a dimmer. There are many types of fluorescents on the market: warm ones, cool ones and special-colored ones.

Incandescent: Refers to several types of bulbs, including halogen and some fluorescents. This type of light has a warm quality and is very complimentary to skin tones and psychologically appealing. It's an inviting light.

So what's the best light to use where? There are many ways to light a room. And the room's function greatly determines the way it should be lit. Some examples: If a room is too tall, use low luminaries that let no light out the top to help shorten those high ceilings.

If a room is too small, visually push one wall open by washing it with light. If a room is too wide, illuminate the narrow ends. Conversely, if a room is too narrow, illuminate the wide sides.

Rooms should be illuminated to accommodate the user's needs. So what about a multipurpose room? You will need to divide it up into activity areas. If there is a dining or game table, a separate light hanging over the table will be necessary. A reading chair in the same room will need a lamp that directs light over the shoulder of the reader, being careful not to place the source of light behind the person's head so as to avoid shadows on the book or magazine. Dark walls and floors reflect less light than light-colored ones. If you're looking for an intimate atmosphere, use little illumination in this dark room. On the other hand, be aware that this darker room will require more light for general tasks.

A balancing act is important in all rooms when it comes to light. An evenly lit room will become boring rather quickly. It will also tend to fatigue the user, particularly if repetitious tasks are being performed. Up lights, down lights and wall washers work well together. They make a good team in almost any room and if dimmers are added they can perform well in any atmosphere.

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