Direct vs indirect lighting for your home

Direct vs Indirect lighting in your home

When it comes to lighting for home and office there are two different types of light you can and should use: Indirect light sources and direct sources. Direct lighting sources are actually split into two types; direct task lighting and direct accent lighting. I will explain them all and how to use them effectively in your home for a beautiful and dramatic effect.

Pin with kitchen lighting example showing direct vs indirect lighting

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What is indirect lighting and what are some indirect lighting sources?

Indirect lighting is a type of lighting used for general illumination in a room. Basically a source that gives light distribution for the entire indoor space. Typically, this would be overhead lighting, but there are some indirect sources from other areas as well.

Here are some examples of indirect lighting sources or ambient lighting sources:

But it can also be natural light from the sun’s rays shining in from a south-facing window or indirect sunlight coming thru skylights.

sofa with indirect lighting from a large window wall

The image above is a great example of indirect lighting from a window wall with the sun shining in the room, and and accent light from the floor lamp directed at the sofa and wall.

You can use indirect lighting in any room of your home. When you use indirect lighting it will give you an overall sufficient light so that you can see in the room, but not necessarily enough light to perform a task in the room.

Ex. Imagine a bathroom with ceiling lights, but no vanity lights. You would be able to see in the room, but wouldn’t be able to put on your makeup or remove a splinter 🙂

As you can see from the example above, Indirect lighting will make your room feel bright and welcoming, but won’t give you the kind of light you need for your work surface or any other specific area in your home where you need to do a task.

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What is direct lighting and some direct lighting sources?

Direct lighting is lighting used in a given space for doing some type of task, or for accent lighting to draw attention to a specific area or object for a pleasing effect. This type of lighting will cast a bright, direct light onto a surface that you need a little extra light for.

Direct task lighting is primarily used for a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, work environments like a home office space or commercial areas.

Some examples of fixtures for direct task indoor lighting would be:

Direct lighting for accent lighting is lighting that will shine a bright light or a light beam for direct illumination onto a particular object for display. You would use this type of lighting for something that you want to call attention to.

Accent lighting for interior design can be used to highlight artwork, indoor plants, or even to cast harsh shadows onto a ceiling or wall for a dramatic effect. You can accomplish this by using directional uplights or downlights to shine on your object.

accent lighting on a red wall showing direct vs indirect lighting

This image above shows a great example of wall sconces being used as accent lighting. Notice how it casts a pattern on the wall creating a dramatic shadow effect in the room.

You can also use direct outdoor lighting by shining directional spotlights to highlight architectural features on your home or to show off beautiful landscaping.

Some examples of direct accent lighting sources are:

How to use both indirect and direct lighting in a room

Any lighting designer, or interior designers will tell you, that in order to make your room come alive using lights, the secret is to find the right balance of general lighting and accent lighting for detailed tasks.

You should evenly distribute the lighting around so you don’t have dark areas in the room. You can achieve this by using both indirect and direct lighting. Use your indirect lighting to soften and brighten the whole room and give you visual comfort and general uniform lighting. Then use direct lighting for tasks, accenting areas, and to fill in any shadows or dark areas of the room.


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Wanna learn some tricks and ideas for decorating for the men in your life? Check out my post Decorating for Dads.

Need to hire a lighting designer? Check out this designer finder from Houzz

kitchen with three types of lighting.  Direct task, direct accent, and ambient indirect lighting.

This image above is a perfect example of using all three types of lighting. They’ve used recessed cans for indirect lighting, a chandelier for accent lighting, and pendants over the island for task lighting. Notice how the use of all three moves the light around the space beautifully and allows the owner to perform tasks easily in the space.

You should make sure to use task lighting wherever you need it so that your room will function for you. Then finish off with accent lighting to highlight any areas of interest and bring your eye to something your love and want to show off.

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