Bright Ideas – Getting Lighting Basics Right


(Family Features) – Furniture, fabric and accessories aren’t the only things to think about when decorating.

Lighting makes a big difference in the home. It adds beauty and drama as well as functionality. It can make a small room look bigger and a large room more intimate. Done right, it can have a significant impact – and for far less money then other decoration options.

The Layered Look

When it comes to illuminating a room, lighting pros recommend thinking in terms of layers. In general, every room should have three basic layers of light: general or ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting provides overall lighting for the whole room. Typical lighting fixtures for this layer include recessed fixtures, pendants, chandeliers and surface-mounted fixtures.

Recessed Fixtures: A basic recessed fixture, typically housing a reflector floodlight, throws light downward in a cone shape. Placing recessed fixtures in an evenly spaced grid pattern lets those pools of light overlap and provide even lighting. In a room with eight-foot ceilings, place the fixtures in a grid from four to six feet apart.

Chandeliers: A chandelier that’s too big will overpower a room. One that’s too small will seem out of proportion. One trick to calculating a chandelier’s size is to measure the width of the room in feet. Double that number and you’ll get the diameter of the ideal chandelier in inches. For example, a room that’s 12 feet wide should have a chandelier no wider than 24 inches in diameter.

Surface Mounted Fixtures: Surface mounted fixtures can be very functional fluorescent types with white diffusing plastic covers or decorative crystal designs that can add sparkle and drama to foyers and hallways. Like chandeliers, they tend to distribute light more broadly than downlights, and are useful in delivering light to wall surfaces.

Tips and Tricks

  • The bottom of a hanging fixture should generally be seven feet above the floor. If a fixture hangs above a dining table in a room with an eight-foot ceiling, the bottom of the fixture should hang about 30 inches above the table.
  • The minimum chandelier diameter for most dining rooms should be 20 inches. It should be no greater than the length of the table minus 12 inches.
  • For higher ceiling applications, consider using spotlights to add more “punch” to objects below.

Task Lighting

Task lighting focuses on a specific area of the room where activities like reading, cooking or sewing require additional light. It can be as simple as a pendant light over a kitchen counter, undercabinet lighting, mirror lighting or a reading lamp by a chair.

To achieve multiple task lighting levels that accommodate simple to more difficult activities, try using GE Reveal® 3-way bulbs, which provide clean, white light at three different levels.

Tips and Tricks

  • As a general rule, task lighting should be no more than three times as bright as the ambient light.
  • Fluorescents under a kitchen cabinet provide energy-efficient light for food preparation.
  • For floor lamps next to a reading chair, the base of the lamp shade should be 40 to 42 inches off the floor.
  • Lighting fixtures at least 16 inches long, placed on both sides of a mirror, can work best for grooming activities.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting creates drama in a room by revealing pleasing architectural features in a room and highlighting artwork, plants and other decorative items.

Track lighting and recessed adjustable fixtures are typically used for accent lighting. Downlights over tables and counters can provide visual interest and highlight decorative items. For paintings and other decorative items displayed on walls, lighting fixtures are usually 2 to 3 feet from the wall (for ceiling heights of 8 to 9 feet). Halogen reflector lamps in various sizes and beam spreads are popular light source choices.

Tips and Tricks

  • Accent light should typically cast about five times more light on a target than the general light of the room. It should be aimed carefully to prevent glare or unwanted reflections.
  • To highlight the texture of wall surfaces like stone or brick, graze the wall with light. However, if there are imperfections in the wall surface, then place lighting fixtures away from the wall to avoid grazing light.
  • Three dimensional objects like sculpture are often better revealed with more than one light source.
  • Carefully chosen and well-placed lighting fixtures will help put your home in the very best light.

    For more lighting ideas tips, visit

    Bulb Basics

    Not all light bulbs are the same – how do you know which bulb is right for your fixture? Mary Beth Gotti, a lighting expert with GE Consumer & Industrial, has these tips to help.

    Choose the light quality for your style.

    • Some bulbs, such as GE Reveal® incandescent and halogen bulbs, have neodymium in the glass. This rare earth element filters out dull yellow rays, making colors in artwork, wallpaper and fabric really stand out.
    • Halogen produces bright, crisp white light, and is often used by designers. Excellent for task lighting or special accent lighting to call attention to a favorite art piece.
    • Compact fluorescent bulbs use up to 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, and last up to 10 times longer.

    Find the right shape
    The right bulb for the fixture means increased light output and better functionality.

    • Use general purpose bulbs in table and floor lamps as well as enclosed ceiling fixtures.
    • Decorative bulbs should be used in chandeliers, sconces or anywhere the light source is visible.
    • Spotlights and floodlights are best for track and recessed fixtures.

    General Electric

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