Light It Up: Lighting For Interior Design

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interior lighting hero

Sources left to right: via HAUTE LIVING Pinterest; via Susie Potter Pinterest; via Hannah Cramb Pinterest

When professional interior designers go through their process on any project, a key consideration is lighting. From ambient lighting to directional and task lighting and more, there are plenty of factors to think about.

Award-winning Vancouver-based professional Interior Designer Patricia Gray had this say on the subject of good lighting tips and best practices.


One of the most important and most overlooked aspects of achieving atmosphere in a room is to use of a variety of properly placed lighting sources. Creating a totality means seizing a particular atmosphere and holding on to it. This atmosphere is what I look for when creating the design for a space and the perfect lighting is one of my tools.

Lighting is a discipline all to itself and often is one of the most important parts of an interior. Bad lighting can ruin a good interior; good lighting can almost salvage a bad one.

For example lighting in a bathroom and bedroom needs to make you feel refreshed and energetic in the morning, ready to face the challenges of the day ahead, but at night should engender a feeling of relaxation and harmony. In a bathroom good lighting for putting on make-up should come evenly from either side of the mirror so shadows are not cast on the face.

Light evenly with combinations of lighting

The rest of the room needs to be lit evenly from overhead, but be careful of placing recessed pot lights that are directly over your head when standing in front of a mirror or else you will have shadows under your eyes. I put the lights for the make-up lights and the overhead lights on different switches to further enhance the options to create different mood effects.

I like to use a combination of different light sources all controlled by dimmers. A combination of ambient lighting, mood lighting, task lighting and directional lighting should be used in every room.

Ambient lighting is a general illumination that lights up the whole room.  And can be in the form of recessed pot lights, ceiling mounted fixtures, or wall sconces that bounce light off the walls and ceiling.

Directional lighting can be used to highlight a feature wall, artwork, etc. in the form of recessed adjustable pot lights, track lights, and spotlights that are attached to the ceiling, wall, recessed in the floor, or sit on the floor.

Task lighting is lighting that is directed to a specific area to provide illumination for the performance of a visual task: for instance placing reading lamps beside a sofa, lamps on a desk, lighting above a work surface or island in a kitchen.

Mood lighting can simply be achieved with the addition of dimmers to any lighting source. In fact it is possible to radically change the entire mood of a room to suite the occasion by simply setting the dimmers at different levels. Fireplaces and candles are important features that add mood to a room.

Lighting as a defining interior design feature

Lighting defines an interior. It can turn a room into a small stage or highlight a cozy corner. In this living room the fireplace creates mood, the recessed overhead directional lighting accentuates the artwork and casts mesmeric shadows on the Venetian plaster wall, while the flicker from candlelight creates a warm intimacy. Floor lamps for task lighting were placed at either end of the sofa for reading and illumination at eye level. By using four different light sources this room can be changed to accommodate a variety of different functions by day or night.

In kitchens it is particularly important to get the lighting right as food preparation along with the eating and social aspects that go on in this room are a vital part of our lives and involve all of our senses. Kitchens need to be well lit with good overall ambient lighting, task lighting over islands and countertops. Add a little fun and pizazz with accent lighting.

In one en suite bathroom project, I placed long vertical lights on either side of the mirrored make-up area to create   a specific task lighting that would not cast shadows on the face. The rest of the room is now lit from overhead for ambient light. Directional lighting was placed to highlight artwork and accessories on the wall behind the vanity. All three light sources are switched individually as well as having the option to be dimmed.

Have fun with accent lighting. Finding just the right lighting is one of the most difficult things for me as an interior designer, but when it happens it is magic. I think of the room as the perfect little black dress with the perfect cut, the one that dresses up or down according to the occasion, and the perfect lighting fixture is the jewelry that finishes off and compliments the little black dress.

Candles can add to the mood and ambience in a room and make a dramatic statement.


Patricia Gray’s Vancouver-based firm is an international leader in interior design. For 30 years, Patricia has incorporated luxury, finely crafted detail and a contemporary vision to create timeless interiors that are not just beautiful and current, but liveable.

Patricia’s portfolio is comprised of award- winning interior design projects throughout Canada, the U.S., Asia and Africa. Her clients include John Travolta and Rob Feenie. With her creative spirit and talent, Gray is a visionary in today’s world of design.



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