Smart Design With Suzette: A Lighting Plan

A well-lit living room requires a combination of ambient, accent and task lighting. In this living room, recessed fixtures cast general lighting, wall-mounted lights showcase artwork and an adjustable floor lamp provides light for reading. Courtesy photo
Smart Design With Suzette
A Lighting Plan

Something that often gets forgotten, and which can have a profound effect on the look and feel of a home, is lighting. Strategically placed lights and landscape lighting can drastically alter the way you feel about your home, how you interact with your home, and according to some, even your mood and health.

When you build a new home often an electrician will map out a very basic lighting plan that only includes the barest minimum required. But a properly designed lighting scheme will make your house more useful, better for the environment, and in the long run, better for your pocketbook.

A person’s ability to see clearly, identify objects, prepare food and attend to personal grooming all rely on the right type of lighting in every room of the house. Just as importantly, a person’s moods and emotions are triggered by light, a result of the direct connection between the way the retina converts light signals into neural signals in the brain.

According to the Lighting Research Center, the overall goal for home lighting is that it should be “comfortable, easily controlled and energy efficient.” To that end, manufacturers and lighting experts are working to improve the options for homeowners.

Energy efficiency is a particular focus given that lighting typically accounts for more than 25 percent of a home’s energy use, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Whether the lighting is inside or outside the home, there are new developments daily—in everything from the longevity of a light bulb (some now are designed to last 25 years) to the design of the light switch (which may just become obsolete, replaced by keypads or smartphone apps). The key to getting the greatest benefit out of home lighting is to plan properly.

Lighting chart. Courtesy/Suzette Fox

To get started, grab a pencil, measuring tape, ruler and graph paper. You will want to measure you room and furniture then transfer to graph paper using a ruler for drawing accurate, straight lines.

Draft Your Floor Plan

Measure your space, then rescale and draw it onto the graph paper. Next, mark any immovable objects such as chimneys and windows. Finally draw in your furniture.


Evaluate the space. Take a hard look at how you’re using a particular room and how the current lighting setup is helping or not helping you.

To determine your ambient and task lighting think of all the possible uses this space offers. Keep in mind that some rooms have multiple functions, even at different times of the day.

Layering Light

When planning the layers of light in a room, it usually makes sense to consider the ambient lighting first, and then consider task and accent lighting. I like to move from general to specific when planning the lighting for a room.

Ambient lighting is also called general lighting. It provides overall illumination for a room. Ambient lighting takes many forms, including: ceiling-mounted or recessed fixtures that direct light downwards; wall sconces that wash the walls with light; cove, soffit and valance lighting that bounces light off ceilings and walls.

Task lighting is targeted to a particular area of a room. It is intended to illuminate a specific function. Task lighting includes under-cabinet lighting and table lamps.

Accent lighting is also called highlighting.  It draws attention to a particular object, such as artwork, sculpture, plants or bookcases. Accent lighting is often used outdoors, to highlight a beautiful tree, plant or water feature, or to draw the eye to a particular area of the landscape. Recessed or track lighting is often used for accent lighting, with adjustable fittings that allow light to be focused precisely even on a small object.

Draw The Light Zones And Fixtures

Now that you’ve set up your floor plan, you can choose locations for each light source. Draw ‘light circles’ in the areas that you would like to illumine. Then note the type of fixtures you would like to use – for instance wall mounted, ceiling mounted, recessed or freestanding.

Consider The Switches

Mark light switches in convenient locations on your floor plan. To vary the brightness of your lighting, consider using dimmer switches.

Create Your Shopping List

Your lighting plan is complete. Using the floor plan with its marked fixtures, you can now create a shopping list and look for options.

Need more help to plan your lighting? The shortest and safest answer to this, of course, is to employ a lighting designer. A lot of people don’t realize it, but proper lighting design is very much an art, one that involves consideration and skill.

Feel free to contact Los Alamos Interior Designer Suzette Fox to suggest specific design topics or for help with your home. For more information, find her on Facebook at and on her website

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