Design Lesson

Design Lesson: How To Set The Mood With Lighting

How To Set The Mood With Lighting

SOFA, COFFEE TABLE, CONSOLE TABLE, MIRROR, SIDE TABLE, Daltrey. FLOOR LAMP, $829, brass and cane, Pogo. WALL SCONCES, $279 each, CB2,

Design Lesson

Design Lesson: How To Set The Mood With Lighting

Samantha Pynn has some bright ideas for lighting up your life.

A layered lighting plan with sources at multiple levels is as important to a room as the placement of furniture. Read on for tips on how to set the mood and create an inviting space with ambient, task and accent lighting.


Ambient (or general) lighting provides overall illumination. Think: recessed lights, flush mounts, pendants and chandeliers. When pulling together this first layer of your lighting plan, it’s important to think about how you plan to use each room. And do draw up your lighting and furniture plans in tandem; don’t, for example, install your dining room fixture before placing your dining table. Try to avoid installing too many recessed lights – a space that’s bright enough to land an airplane is not relaxing. Plus, the shadows cast from intense recessed lights are unflattering and often called “hag lighting” by designers. For this reason, I’m a big fan of forgoing recessed lights – or limiting them to a few strategically placed ones for functionality. I’d opt for flush mounts and pendants in bedrooms, bathrooms, and living and dining rooms, paired with a mix of task and accent lights (see below), all placed at varying heights. This mix of lighting sources will create a softer, relaxed and more natural glow throughout the space. And definitely install dimmer switches everywhere possible, especially if your existing lighting plan has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.





Task lights, the second layer in your plan, are for doing specific work. But though their functional role is key, they also add depth, warmth and mood. If you read in the living room, add in a large floor lamp or a pair of lamps on your sofa table. Swing-arm sconces in the bedroom will free up space on your nightstands – the current trend is to layer sconces with bedside table lamps. Sconces at eye level and flanking a bathroom mirror will make guests (and you!) look gorgeous. In the dining room, one on each side of a buffet or a pair above a sideboard will ensure that people at the ends of a long dining table won’t be sitting in darkness. In the kitchen, under-cabinet lights illuminate food prep areas and create soft lighting when you turn off the overheads.

Accent and decorative

Accent sources highlight decorative elements, such as art, bookcases and architecture. Sconces, track lights and picture lights can be adjusted to bring attention to your walls, art and beloved objects. These days, accent lighting also includes a multitude of unique, artful fixtures used to create atmosphere and express style even when the lights aren’t lit. There’s a trend to fixtures made of textured, nature-inspired materials that echo the decor: organic-shaped sconces and lamps are mimicking the soft curves of furniture. Statement-making pendants and chandeliers have become the focal point in a room, while sculptural floor and table lamps are works of art. When it comes to lighting that doubles as art, choose one or two statement makers per room; let the other fixtures play supporting roles.


Break the rules

  • Go big with an oversized living room pendant
  • Mix modern and traditional fixtures and lamps.
  • Instead of the usual single chandelier over the dining table, hang two pendants or a slightly undersized sculptural piece.
  • Add a brightly coloured table lamp to a neutral decorating scheme
  • Rather than wall sconces, consider hanging pendants on either side of a bathroom mirror or above the head of the bed.
  • Embrace asymmetry: Place a floor lamp next to the buffet; on top of the buffet, at the opposite end, position a single table lamp.






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Design Lesson

Design Lesson: How To Set The Mood With Lighting