Perhaps the most overlooked element of your home décor is lighting. Affecting everything from a room's ambience to its perceived size, the light in your home is as crucial as the furnishings it illuminates. These fundamentals will help you find the right lighting to keep your décor in harmony.
Home lighting falls into three general categories: ambient, task, and accent lighting. You should use a combination of all three in your main living areas. Ambient lighting is used for overall illumination and helps you move easily through a room. Examples of ambient light include chandeliers, ceiling- or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lighting, etc. Task lighting is used for reading, sewing and the like, and includes portable lamps and recessed lighting. It should be bright enough to keep you from straining your eyes, but also free of any distracting glare. Finally, accent lighting draws the eye to areas of visual interest. To be effective, accent lighting (e.g., track lighting, spotlights, or wall-mounted fixtures) must be three times as bright as the general lighting around it.
Now that you know the different types of lights, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions. How does each room function? What kind of mood do you want to create? How can different lighting types be best applied to create a desired effect?
For instance, you will need ambient lighting in every large space for navigational purposes (e.g., to keep from tripping over furniture). Beyond that, the room's function will help determine other types of lighting that will need to be installed. In a reading room, you will probably want to place a table or standing lamp next to each chair or sofa where reading will take place. Hanging individual light fixtures over work areas in the kitchen (e.g., over an island countertop, above the sink, etc.) will provide extra illumination when chopping vegetables or cleaning dishes. In a library, undermounted, recessed lighting on the shelves will aid in a book search, while creating a great effect.
While lighting is primarily used to highlight certain areas or brighten a room, it can also hide or disguise. For example, uplights, wall sconces, and lamps can make a small room feel larger by softly grazing the walls, illuminating the ceiling, and providing a light glow throughout the space. Do you have cracks in your walls? Use table and floor lamps or soft accent lighting to generate pools of illumination rather than flooding the room with light. To save energy and minimize your electric bill, buy fluorescent lighting rather than incandescent lighting; use lower-wattage bulbs and dimmers; install timers to turn outdoor lights on and off automatically; and switch off lights when not in use.
Now you're ready to get started! There are many lighting options available, which can sometimes be overwhelming. For great ideas, go to your local hardware store or a specialty lighting store and see what's available. Check out several home décor books to get ideas of how to mix different types of lighting. And unless you or someone you know can safely install the lighting, have a licensed electrician do it for you.