Accent lighting enlivens space – The North Shore News 

By: Kevin Vallely,  Published on Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's Christmastime and the gloom of fall has been replaced with an explosion of festive luminosity.

Christmas lights show us how easy it is to transform a home from November-drab to December-exhilaration but where we understand the power of lighting as a celebratory splash we often fail to see it as an enrichment within our regular lives.

The light within a space profoundly affects the way we perceive it and can easily make two identical spaces feel worlds apart. Lighting design is as much an artistic process as any other in the creation of a home.

Every space within a home has its own unique requirements and the formulation of a lighting layout needs to be based on an analysis of those specific needs.

The fundamental rule when approaching lighting design is to think about it as a three-layered process: ambient, task and accent.

Ambient light is the general, overall light, or first layer of illumination, that helps define and articulate a space. It can be neutral, warm or cold and will be a mix of natural and artificial light depending on the time of day. Ambient light is the background wash of illumination that helps create an overall impression of a volume. Light fixtures best suited for ambient lighting are ceiling fixtures, pot lights and track lights that can throw a nice diffused light throughout a space.

Task lighting, as it suggests, illuminates activity areas - writing, reading, food prep, laundry, etc. - and constitutes the second layer in our lighting design process. A decorative pendant light over a dining table, an adjustable floor lamp in a den or a mirror light in a powder room are all good examples of task lights.

The final layer in a lighting composition - accent lighting - creates mood and atmosphere within a space and draws attention to objects of interest such as a painting, a sculpture or an architectural feature. An accent light can direct attention away from a less visually interesting area as well. Typical accent lights are pot lights, up-lights, wall sconces and directed track lights.

There can be a blurring of these specific layers, of course, with an accent light helping with overall ambient light and so on or dimmer switches being added to various fixtures to give them multi-functionality, but recognizing the differences between layers is an important first step.

In a new home I'm designing in North Vancouver, coined the Butterfly House because of its inverted roof, we're having fun with the lighting design and in the powder room have had the opportunity to illuminate the Opal white stone vanity with a backlit Nu-World LED light panel. The effect is astonishing with all the unique characteristics of the Opal stone being drawn out by the light behind it while allowing the countertop itself to become an accent light within the space.

Next time you're in a well-lit room take a look around and see ambient light filling the volume with task and accent lighting bringing it to life.

Kevin Vallely is a residential designer in North Vancouver. Follow along Kevin's "small house" design at

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