Home Interior Lighting Ideas | Remodeling Applications

How to design lighting for a remodel project

In this post, we dig into modern home interior lighting ideas and how to apply them to your remodeling project.

We will explore 5 steps to understanding, designing, and implementing lighting to achieve a subtle and stylish, yet practical result.

1: Understanding layered lighting
2: Using ambient, task and accent lighting
3: Understanding wattage and lumens
4: Understanding color temperature and ambiance 
5: Applying layering guidelines to specific rooms

In a nutshell, we design lighting for a remodel project by following these rules of layering and applying them to individual rooms.

Layered Lighting

The best way to set about lighting a home in a remodel project is to use the concept of Layered Lighting. If you follow the basic guidelines we set out here, you can turn what sounds complex into something quite simple. 

But although simple, it does require planning and incorporation in the remodel project from the beginning. You can’t treat it as an afterthought.

With the lighting element of your remodel project you want to achieve utility, comfort, and ambiance. This is achieved through layering the three categories of lighting. These are: ambient, task and accent. 

Layered lighting goes way beyond the old school of throwing a switch to turn on the overhead light in the ceiling. Rather, it carefully arranges and combines the three categories of light to achieve an overall effect.

Ambient Lighting

The first layer is ambient lighting. This is nothing more than general illumination. It is what keeps you from bumping into or falling over things in the dark. We usually achieve this through recessed lighting, flush or semi-flush fixtures, or a ceiling fan/light combination.

Ambient lighting is less intense than task lighting, which is special-purpose lighting.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is the second layer. We use it in every room of the house that has a purpose. For example, in the kitchen, it could be the under cabinet light to help with food prep. In the bathroom, it is the vanity light you use to shave or put on makeup by. In the bedroom, it is the reading light on the nightstand. In the office, it is the desk lamp.

Task lighting needs to be bright but should be on a dimmer.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is emphasis lighting. We use it to create mood and atmosphere, or make a point. We use it to highlight artwork, collectibles, or an architectural feature. It can be just decorative or can also contribute to ambient light. 

Each type of light should have its own switch and be on a dimmer.

Lumens and Lighting

With the advances in lighting technology, we are now enjoying, we no longer shop for a light bulb’s brightness by reference to the wattage stated on their labels. Rather, we now look for the lumens on the label. 

So what’s the difference? Wattage is the measure of the electrical energy consumed by the bulb. In the old days of incandescent lighting, the amount of energy consumed by the bulb was directly related to the amount of light the bulb emitted. And it was not much understood that 90% of the energy used was in fact creating heat not light.

Now with the advent of LED (Light Emitting Diode), CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp) and Halogen (improved incandescent) bulbs, measurement is no longer the amount of power consumed but rather in the amount of light emitted in lumens. 

What is the lumen?  

The definition of a lumen is: “a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units, that is equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela intensity radiating equally in all directions.” Translated, this means that a lumen is a unit of light. The more lumens, the more light.

OK. I’m used to wattage. So how many lumens do I need?

Lucky for us the experts have done the work for us. First, if we are used to shopping by wattage, there are roughly equivalent outputs in lumen depending on the type of light source used. We say roughly equivalent because there will be variations depending on the manufacturer. Next, we’ll look at how many lumens we need per room.

Here is a chart indicating lumen output by the type of light bulb used and comparative power consumed. 

Old style Incandescent(power consumed in watts) Equivalent in lumens LED(power consumed in watts) CFL(power consumed in watts) Halogen(power consumed in watts)
100 W 1600 up to 22 W up to 26 W up to 72 W
75 W 1100 up to 20 W up to 23 W up to 53 W
60 W 800 up to 12 W up to 15 W up to 43 W
40 W 450 up to 9 W up to 11 W up to 29 W

How many lumens do I need for my remodel project?

Lighting experts give us a range of recommended lumens per type of room. And this range relates to ambient or general lighting only. You would need to add task and accent lighting as described elsewhere in this piece. These quantities are in lumens per square foot (psf) of floor space.

Kitchen 30–40 lumens psf
Bathroom 70–80 lumens psf
Bedroom 10–20 lumens psf
Dining room 30–40 lumens psf
Living room/great room 10–20 lumens psf
Utility/laundry room 70–80 lumens psf
Hallway 10–20 lumens psf

Color Temperature and Ambiance 

Yes, color has a measurable temperature! For us non-geeks, this is just a fancy way of explaining what we understand as the look and feel of warm, cool and daylight colors.

The Westinghouse company has provided these very helpful images and charts to illustrate this and indicate how best we might use the concept in designing lighting for a remodel project.

warm cool and day light

led color temperatures

Notice especially the recommended applications for ambient lighting. This is where mood and ambiance are most subtly created.

Great Rooms, Living Rooms & Family Rooms

These are the larger rooms of the house, where people gather in a variety of settings or activities. These can include board games, watching television, reading, computer work, conversation, and cocktail party entertaining.

This is where the concept of layered lighting really comes into play.

Ambient lighting in the living room

A great way to implement ambient lighting is to wash the ceiling with light. The ceiling is usually in a white color that naturally reflects light. So you can literally bounce light off the ceiling if you conceal the fixtures in coves or valances or along the tops of bookshelves. This is a very effective way to distribute light evenly around the room without the shadows cast by down lights or recessed lights.

Depending on the shape of the room and the wall space available you can achieve a similar effect by washing the walls with light from, say, a torchiere type floor lamp.

Task lighting in the living room

We provide task lighting with table lamps. Pro tip: when you plan to put a table in the middle of the room, be sure to pair it with a power outlet in the floor. It’s expensive if you forget it and have to do it after the finish floor is in. 

Accent lighting in the living room

Accent lighting in a great room, family room or living room highlights architectural elements such as a bookcase or fireplace. Or it focuses on plants, artwork or collections. You can use up-lights placed on the floor to light plants or track lighting to light artwork. 

Kitchen Lighting

Efficient and attractive kitchen lighting requires three types of lighting. These are ambient (general) lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. You need to pay attention to all these as part of laying out your kitchen remodel and planning your cabinetry and rough electrical layout. All these lighting circuits should have with dimmer switches.

By the way, “rough electric” is builder jargon for the electrical infrastructure in the kitchen and accounts for where the wiring, power outlets, switches and GFIs are placed. “Finish electric” accounts for the addition of the lighting fixtures themselves.

Ambient Lighting in the Kitchen

Ambient lighting is simply what allows you to see your way around the kitchen. This is typically provided by down/recessed lights in the kitchen ceiling. A recessed or can light has a housing that contains the light source and its mounting and is recessed into the ceiling. It also has a trim, which is the flange that fits close to the ceiling and gives the light its aesthetic look. The trim comes in a variety of finishes and shapes chosen to suit your color scheme.  The type of housing you select (new construction, remodel or retrofit) will depend on how extensive your remodel project is and your electrician will advise on this.

Another choice for ambient lighting is the flush-mount or semi-flush-mount light, which is not hidden in the ceiling and casts a more diffuse light.

And, in a similar fashion to the living room / great room discussed earlier, a great way to provide ambient light in the kitchen is to wash the ceiling in light from fixtures concealed above the cabinetry. This also has the effect of accent lighting.

Task lighting in the Kitchen

As its name implies, task lighting is the illumination of the spaces in which you actually do work. This is meal preparation on countertops in the space below the upper cabinetry, which is in the shadow cast by ceiling lights. Another example would be looking around in the dark interior of cabinets or drawers for the items you need. And another would be working at a kitchen sink, which is only lit indirectly.

For the kitchen sink, add one or two spot lights or recessed can lights in the ceiling over the kitchen sink.

For under cabinet lighting install LED strip lights or “puck” lights or light channels. To avoid glare, place the light strips on the lip of the underside of the cabinet facing the backsplash or mount the light channel on a 45 degree surface mount facing the backsplash. Puck lights have a different effect as they work like mini spots and create a single pool of light on the counter top.

For the cabinet interiors use LED strip lighting on the underside of the forward edge of the cabinet shelves and angled towards the back of the cabinet. A motion sensor or micro switch can turn them on and off.

For drawers use LED strip lights. As with cabinet interior lights, they can be combined with a switch or motion sensor to turn them on/off.

Accent lighting in the Kitchen

Toe Kick Lighting: Consider toe kick lighting for the lower cabinets and the kitchen island. This provides an excellent accent effect and is also very beneficial, if you are making provision for someone who is visually impaired.

Display Lighting: For display lighting in glass fronted cabinets, consider puck lighting or strip lighting

The Kitchen Island

Lighting the kitchen Island requires a combination of task lighting for when it is used for, say, meal prep, and accent lighting for decorative effect. Both can be provided by a recessed light and/or pendant lights.  

Pro Tip: In planning to get the best overall lighting effect for the kitchen, first lay out your task lighting, placed where you really need it. Then work on the accent lighting to get the visual effects you want. Then fill in with the ambient lighting to ensure there are no shadows.

Bathroom Lighting

The trend is to create a spa-like mood in the bathroom to make it a place of rest, relaxation and personal retreat as well as serve its basic function. Lighting can play a big part in this and to this end, all bathroom lighting should be on dimmers. Good lighting is particularly important in those remodeling projects where bathrooms may well be relatively small compared to the larger bathrooms typical of new construction. And also consider the needs of those who may be visually impaired.

In the same way as with kitchen lighting, we are concerned with ambient, task and accent lighting, although the bathroom is not as complex a lighting project as the kitchen. 

Ambient Lighting in the Bathroom

Use overhead ceiling-mounted or recessed lighting for general illumination and in the tub and shower areas. And for those areas use fixtures that are fully enclosed by glass and rated as safe for wet conditions.

Task Lighting in the Bathroom

Task lighting is to illuminate the “work” or function areas of shower, vanity and toilet areas. This is particularly important for the vanity.

Avoid lighting the vanity space with an overhead light. This lights up the top of your head and creates unflattering shadows under eyes, nose, and chin and is not helpful when you are putting on makeup or shaving. Instead, put two wall-mounted opaque or frosted sconce type fixtures on either side of the bathroom mirror to create cross-illumination and cancel out shadow effects.

Accent Lighting in the Bathroom

Use accent lighting to highlight plants or artwork. This helps add depth and interest to the bathroom. Especially, add LED strip lighting under the toe kicks below the vanity base cabinets. This is to help you navigate your way around the bathroom at night and to assist any visually impaired person you may need to accommodate.

Bedroom Lighting

Unlike other rooms in the home, the bedroom is where we dwell in all conditions of light, from complete darkness to full daylight and every light condition in between. So while we follow the same rules for layering and dimmers as set out above, we make a special allowance for safety during the hours of total darkness.

Ambient Lighting in the Bedroom

This is best achieved through the use of ceiling lighting fixtures (flush-mounted, pendants, chandeliers). We like to see ceiling wash lighting from fixtures concealed cove molding high up in the walls.

Accent Lighting in the Bedroom

Accent lighting draws attention to items such as artwork. It can also double as ambient lighting. You can achieve this in any number of ways, including ceiling spotlights, wall sconces, and recessed lighting.

Task Lighting in the Bedroom

Bedroom task lighting is usually associated with reading in bed. Consider table lamps on the nightstands, wall sconces, or directional lighting incorporated in the headboard. If you have a lounge chair for reading, place a floor lamp close by.

Safety Lighting in the Bedroom

Then also consider the task of bathroom visits in the middle of the night, when it is totally dark but you don’t want to disturb your sleeping companion by turning on unnecessary lighting. So, consider guiding your way safely with dim wall socket mounted plug-in lights.  

LED Lighting

Wherever possible, our recommendation for lighting for a remodel project is the use of LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting. This is because developments in LED technology are outstripping the utility of the gradually obsolescent forms of incandescent and fluorescent lighting.

In any case, we support this energy efficient Green remodeling technology. Plus, the ability to select a light color temperature in Kelvins is beneficial for those who are aging-in-place, or who may be visually impaired.



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