The 4 Main Types of Lighting and How to Use Them in Your Home

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett
Updated January 7, 2022
father and daughter cooking in kitchen
Photo: JenkoAtaman / Adobe Stock


  • Ambient lighting illuminates the entire room.

  • Task lighting shines a light on the task at hand.

  • Accent lighting accentuates the positive.

  • Decorative lighting infuses attitude and style.

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Lighting plays an essential role in home decorating. More than an accessory, the right lighting illuminates the interior design, bringing your home’s best features into view. Home lighting involves four basic lighting types—ambient, task, accent, and decorative. Here’s a look at all four lighting types and how they can enhance every room in your house.

Ambient Lighting

ambient lighting in large kitchen area
Photo: Tibor Molnar / Adobe Stock

Ambient lighting sets the mood of a room. It’s the most dominant lighting in a space and usually turns on with a flip of a switch. Ambient lighting illuminates a room while remaining conspicuous, never calling attention to itself; consider it an omnipotent option, usually showering light from above.

Ceiling-Mounted Lights

ceiling mounted lights in living room
Photo: interiorphoto / Adobe Stock

Ceiling-mounted lights provide the most light in a room, and they can be flushed or semi-flished. Flushed fixtures are usually dome-shaped and touch the ceiling. Semi-flushed lighting leaves a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture, creating an uplit reflection. Outside of natural sunlight, ceiling-mounted lights are the best choice for flooding a room with light. 

These lights work best in larger spaces, such as bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms, and can be incorporated into ceiling fans or mounted in more than one area of a room. You’ll also want to keep your lighting fixtures clean to ensure they stay bright year-round.

Wall Sconces 

Whether flanking a fireplace mantle or a bathroom mirror, wall sconces offer enough ambient light to brighten an entire room. These types of light fixtures come in a variety of styles and sizes. Here’s a hack: Place wall sconces in stairways and hallways to light transitions from room to room or different levels of the house.  

Floor Lamps

living room with floor lamps
Photo: Tibor Molnar / Adobe Stock

Floor lamps offer homeowners the ability to light a room without installing overhead lighting, which can clash with contemporary or modern interior design. Floor lamps are also an excellent ambient light option for two-story rooms or spaces with hard-to-reach vaulted ceilings. Those with high-wattage light bulbs provide the type of ambient lighting sufficient to brighten any room, so you might not ever need to turn on your ceiling lights. 

Torchiere floor lamps are popular tall lamps with upward-facing fixtures that resemble an extended arm holding a torch. Torchiere lamps occupy little space yet give off an abundance of light. Stash these thin floor lamps in corners of bedrooms, home offices or living rooms, where they create ambiance without getting in the way.

Task Lighting

As the name suggests, task lighting illuminates areas where you perform certain tasks, such as food preparation, reading, writing, sewing or playing video games. This type of lighting is best if it’s glare-free and bright enough for you to perform the task at hand. 

Task lighting can include lights under a kitchen cabinet, mounted above counters, or even beneath base cabinets. Fun fact: Desk lamps and floor lamps are portable task lighting. 

Under-Cabinet Lights

contemporary brown kitchen with cabinet lights
Photo: ventura / Adobe Stock

When it comes to task lighting in the kitchen, under-cabinet lights shine (literally). Under-cabinet lights can enhance food preparation, illuminate a coffee bar, or highlight a backsplash. This type of light can be LED puck lights, tape lighting, bar lights or fluorescent bar lights.

Recessed Lighting 

Recessed lighting is installed in a small hollow in the ceiling. When people think of recessed lighting, the round ceiling lights come to mind. However, recessed lighting can be round, square and even rectangle. 

Strategically placed recessed lighting along a stairway, beneath base cabinets, or near entrances make a home safer and visitor-friendly by providing a visual path in a dark room. Consult a local lighting pro about installing recessed lights with motion sensors, which makes any space more accessible.


Desk, nightstand, or buffet lamps can enhance a room’s interior design and function as task lighting. Lamps allow you to position light when and where needed. For example, in the age of Instagram and online meetings, ring lamps emerged as the task lighting of choice to brighten people or objects. Likewise, buffet lamps on a credenza provide lighting for party spreads, making the food more inviting. 

Accent Lighting

Often an afterthought, accent lighting plays an integral part in adding drama and character to a room. Accent lighting can draw attention to a piece of art or spotlight architectural details in your home. 

Cove Lighting

Cove lighting is installed near the ceiling to highlight architectural detail such as crown molding or a tray ceiling

Sometimes called ambient luminescence, cove lighting diffuses light and can be iridescent or fluorescent. The proper placement is essential, so consider hiring a lighting professional near you to install cove lighting.

Track Lighting

black and blue living room with track lights
Photo: Dinga / Adobe Stock

Track lighting provides flexibility, especially if each light fixture is adjustable. This allows you to point lighting at different areas in a room, similar to how lighting directors might illuminate a stage. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the direction of each light in track lighting. For example, adjust individual heads on a fixed track light to highlight dishes behind a glass cabinet door, a statue in a niche, or a book collection on a shelf.  

Landscape Lighting

Incorporate outdoor spotlights and floodlights into your interior design plans. Yes, landscape lighting can create a focal point for a sunroom, great room, or bedroom with large windows. A floodlight fixed on a Japanese maple tree creates living art you can view when natural light disappears.

Decorative Lighting

Decorative lighting is the diva of home lighting, adding attitude to style. Instead of accentuating other objects, decorative lighting brings the spotlight to itself. It’s simply there to look fabulous.


luxurious bathroom with candelabra
Photo: Hero Images / Adobe Stock

Candelabras can feature real or faux candles, but the impact is the same: drama in lights. Although associated with traditional design, candelabras come in contemporary, modern, industrial, and even rustic lighting styles. 

Neon Lights

Unexpected and fun, neon lights lend themselves to signage in a basement bar, billiards, or game room. Neon artisans can sculpt these bright lights into almost anything. As decorative lighting, neon lights lean toward the whimsical. 

String Lights

String lights lined along a ceiling are an excellent option for children’s rooms. String lights can act as night lights that delight and comfort little ones, while remaining out of reach. String lights can also give a room a festive feel.

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