• Wei Shen

About residential interior lighting design (1)

"When, in the evening, from the top of a tram car, you look into all the homes on the first floor, you shudder at how dismal people's homes are. Furniture, style carpets, everything in the home is unimportant compared to the positioning of the lighting. It doesn't cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture."

-Poul Henningsen

Interior pendant light PH5

Images from

PH5 pendant lamp designed by Poul Henningsen. The lamp design is based on the principle of a reflective three-shade system, which directs the majority of the light downwards without revealing the light source so it's 100% glare-free.

In the residential interior design field, lighting design is the most specific area that requires a high level of expertise. It encompasses both manipulations of light as well as the design of the light fixture's aesthetics which is perfectly exemplified in the design of PH5.

Non-professionals can easily get lost in overwhelming technical terms such as color temperature, CRI, efficacy, beam angle, downlights & spotlights, just to name a few. Lighting designers also believe that lighting design should be highly personalized therefore each residence requires a specific lighting design team.

As an interior designer, I cannot claim that I am able to do the job of a professional lighting designer, but I have some different opinions on residential lighting design. By acquiring certain knowledge and principles, most people will be able to understand how to get their home well-lit, as long as they are passionate to pursue a pleasant living experience with artificial lighting. Because unlike commercial lighting, residential lighting is something that has simpler rules to follow and that eventually can create a comfortable lighting environment. It's not as hard as one may assume.

Generally speaking, a well-functioning interior lighting system should accommodate different activities by providing a full hierarchy of different layers of lighting. There are 3 basic types of lighting methods: ambient/general lighting, task lighting, and decorative lighting. Today we are going to talk about the first type-ambient lighting and how to apply it in your home properly.

Ambient/general lighting

As its name suggests, ambient lighting is to provide general and basic light to supplement the lack of natural light. Ambient lighting needs to be well planned prior to the construction or renovation because the main light source is in the ceiling, otherwise, it would be troublesome adding it after the construction has finished. Without sufficient ambient lighting, most likely your place won't be bright enough at night or during the day when lacking natural light, even if you add wall scones, floor lamp or table lamp, trying to compensate for it, the result won't be ideal.

Images from

In the images above, what immediately draws our attention are those suspended lamps which have strong visual characters, but what provides ambient light are those downlights in the ceiling. When not having any specific activities like dining or reading to light up the corresponding area, ambient lighting creates a relaxing vibe that makes you feel well accompanied.

Nowadays, the most commonly used ambient lights are downlights, spotlights, and cove lighting.

1. Downlight

Downlights are usually recessed in the ceiling to accomplish a sleek and holistic architectural appearance. They are actually spotlighting with a diffuser to make light softer.

Image from the internet

Compared to the spotlights, the light that downlights emit is less sharp and more diffused, which lights up space more evenly. They are not used for lighting up specific operating surfaces which require a certain level of brightness, like the ceiling pendant as task lighting in the image below in which the general lighting of the kitchen is provided by those downlights recessed in the ceiling:

Downlight as ambient/general lighting. Image from

If your home doesn't have the luxury of a high ceiling, e.g. higher than 9 ft, using surface mounted downlights would save you the height of a dropped ceiling. When choosing surface mounted downlights, the aesthetics of the form are important factors to consider because they are now playing a big role in decorating the room when exposed. They mostly come in a cylinder or a square/rectangular tube.

Surface-mounted downlighting.