Room’s function cues type of lighting

DEAR GAIL: We thought by adding can lights in our family room it would brighten up the room and be all we would need. Wrong. We have a vaulted ceiling that goes up to the second floor and just don’t know what to do. Before we go out and buy more lighting, we’d like to know a little more about what we should be looking for. Thanks. — Marsha S.

DEAR MARSHA: Can lights do bring overall lighting to a room, but above 12 feet they are really too far away to bring enough illumination into a room.

When selecting lighting, you first have to look at what the function is in a room. For a kitchen you need light over your work surfaces. I was working with a client who insisted on 12-foot ceilings in the kitchen and only wanted cans. Guess what? We had to add lots of under-cabinet lighting, pendants and even tables lamps.

In a dining room, a chandelier over the table is what you want. It’s funny how many homes I’ve seen that only have cans lights in the dining area and they’re 10 feet up. It doesn’t set that romantic mood and you can barely see what you’re eating — except if you put 100-watt bulbs in each can.

For your office, task lighting is the most important. Then for your bedroom and social areas, general lighting is most important.

With that said, it is important to have all three types of lighting in every room: general or ambient, task and accent.

Over the years the one thing I’ve found is that lighting is thought of last or not at all. When looking to transform a room, you’ve heard me say many times, paint is the least expensive, quickest and most dramatic decorating item to add. But without light, the room has no life. In my opinion there is nothing worse than spending time in a room that is not properly lit; it is unwelcoming, drab and many times uncomfortable on your eyes. I don’t want to have to squint just to see who I’m talking with.

So before you go shopping, first consider the main function of the room and where you would place that lighting. At a minimum, you should have your lighting on a diagonal across the room, so there are at least two lighting sources. But, it’s better if you have three on a diagonal. The lighting sources not included in this pattern are those 10-foot cans or light fixtures on your ceiling fans. Only ceiling fixtures in your entry and over your kitchen or dining table are part of this pattern.

The first type of lighting you should be looking for is general or ambient lighting. This is overall lighting that brings a comfortable amount of light into a room and provides enough light to see and safely move around. This is the base plan of lighting for every room as it spreads lighting throughout the space.

So for your family room, look for table and floor lamps. If you don’t have a ceiling fixture that you can turn on before entering the room, make sure one of your lights is plugged into your hot plug operated by a wall switch. All rooms have these, but sometimes they’re not in the most sensible place. Mine was placed way outside my main seating area, so I had it moved.

Next is task lighting, which is directional light for a specific task. It is not lighting that is suppose to light the whole room. Some examples would be table, desk, under-counter, track lighting or pendant fixtures.

With your general and task lighting covered, it’s time to bring in accent lighting. Accent lighting directs attention to a space or object. You would use accent lighting to light an art niche, wall gallery or a sculpture, something of particular interest. Some examples are track, spots, sconces and cans. Portable light (table and floor lamps) is not able to provide the directional lighting you need.

Lighting along with color and your décor will transform a room. Take the time to put together your lighting plan to bring your room to life.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is:

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