A beginners' guide to lighting layers in Interior Design

| Martina Pardo | Interior Design Tips

Hello! Today I'd like to review a topic that is crucial for the success of an interior design. Whether you are designing or simply refurbishing a residential or commercial space, layering lights is one of the most important steps to carefully consider. So, first of all, let's introduce them and then go through their functions. Overall, there are three types of lights. These layers are called Ambient, Task, and Accent lighting. Naturally, each one has a different purpose.

Using Light Layers is about discovering the art of combining light sources to create a beautiful and more functional lighting design.


Ambient is general, overall lighting that every room needs. Pendants and some floor lamps are the best light fittings for this purpose.

lounge gif

A good example from one of A Designer at Heart's Projects, is the TV and multi-purpose room we realised for the Rock Student accommodation in the Netherlands. We needed the room to adapt to different needs from group activities for the students to conferences or talks organised by the managers. So, two main sources of light, one as pendants and the other as a large floor lamp ensured the right overall lighting for all of them.

rock cinema


Task lighting is added in specific areas where you need intense, direct lighting in order to fulfill a task. The first example that comes to mind is the desk lamp. Definitely necessary when someone wants to work or study desk gif

There are many other situations in which task lighting might be required. For example, if you are preparing food, or having an informal meal around the kitchen island, you may need mini-pendants above it or an LED strip underneath the kitchen's wall units. Another typical example of task light is the pendant above the dining table to light up food and people's faces, creating a jolly mood.

bristol pdr

The photo above is a private dining room and lounge area we designed for a student accommodation. In this view, all the three use of task lighting described are visible. In order, specific series of lights have been placed above the dining table, the kitchen island, and finally, an LED strip runs at the back of the kitchen unit too.
Obviously, this room also has ambient light in the form of recessed ceiling spots. The secret for a more functional result is to make these on different circuits (and ideally even dimmable) so that the users can choose which type of light they want to use depending on the need. This is the main principle behind layering.


Accent lights help you balance your lighting and create the atmosphere. For example, you may want to draw attention to your artworks by adding wall lamps.

accent gif

Or in a different setting, you can add accent lighting working itself as a decoration on a feature wall. A well-designed room should feature a mix of these lights. You don't need to use all of them at the same time; layering means that they can be turned off depending on the user's needs of the moment. Ideally, ambient and accent lighting could also be dimmable. The varying intensity of the lights provides a higher level of complexity and overall flexibility that you might need to set the right mood.

One of the best places I can think of is again a cinema room we designed a while back. The combination of dark-painted walls and wall lamps whose purpose was mostly just decorative, giving it a touch of refinement, gave back the right atmosphere for a place to spend time and have fun while relaxing with a movie. They also give the whole space a 'theater-like effect'.


If you are interested in this topic you might want to check A Designer at Heart's Instagram page as well. I followed up this topic with the first short video of a series dedicated to light layers. In the meantime, what about your lighting? Did you know about the layers?

Even a simple interior with the right mix of colours and lights can change radically and give back an extremely refined look. When you start looking at light layers and organise them cohesively within a space, this will likely offer you an entirely new perspective on it. So, I hope I've given you some inspiration for your own interior design work. More to come soon.

Martina Pardo

Written by: Martina Pardo

I am Martina, an Italian designer based in London. I spend most of my time designing interiors or writing about it. I also love travelling. You may find me walking around the East End of London, drinking coffee and stopping at every single bookshop I bump into.


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