Types of Lighting Fixtures (Design Guide)

Welcome to our guide of the types of lighting fixtures including design styles guide and how to choose the right light for your space.
Kitchen with box pendant lighting wood cabinets marble countertops Having the right lighting in your home can make a huge difference to how the space looks and feels. Lighting is crucial in a home for it to be inhabitable, and the style and fixtures that you use are important to get the design style you want. Before you choose a fixture blindly, it’s important to make sure you understand the type of light you need and what you’re options are.

Three Primary Types of Lighting

The first thing to know is that lighting isn’t a singular idea. Instead, lighting can be broken up into three categories; ambient or general lighting, accent lighting, and task lighting.

Before we get into what types of light you can use for each category, it’s important to clarify what each of these lighting types means. We’ll take a look at some of your options for lighting fixtures to fit these types later.

Ambient or General Lighting

Living room and kitchen with recessed ambient lighting Ambient lighting, also known as general lighting, is the lighting that is meant to light up an area in its entirety. This is probably the most common type of lighting when it comes to design.

Ambient lighting isn’t focused on making sure you can do specific tasks such as reading in your favorite chair. Rather, this type of lighting is used to make sure your room is well-lit enough to make sure that you can generally see and safely navigate the rooms in your home.

One of the main goals of indoor ambient lighting is to utilize light that bounces off the walls to provide illumination.

This type of lighting is one of the main ways to set a tone for a room. If the general lighting is too bright, you might end up with a harsh environment. On the other hand, toned down ambient lighting can create a cozy atmosphere but too dark if you aren’t careful.

The most common types of lighting fixtures used to create ambient light are recessed, pendants chandeliers, track and flush and semi flush ceiling fixtures.

Outdoor ambient lighting is used for a few purposes. Aside from providing enough light to see when it’s dark out, ambient lighting might be used to provide security. Outdoor ambient lighting can include small lights such as a porch light or streetlight or even something as large as stadium spotlights.

Accent Lighting

Contemporary living room with recessed tray ceiling lighting and chandelier Accent lighting is used to draw the eye to a piece of design. Unlike general lighting, accent lighting focuses on the use of concentrated light to create contrast. Generally, accent lighting holds about three times the light of general lighting on a focal point.

In other words, accent lighting is used to brighten up the focal point you want to draw attention to while casting shadows on dull areas. For example, think of the lighting on an art piece in a gallery.

Accent lighting is a great way to add a little flair to your decor. You can use it to draw attention to decor pieces you’re particularly proud of. This can be a display you set up, art, certain furniture, pieces of architecture, or anything you love in or about your home. They can also be used to illuminate tray ceilings or accent walls with dramatic affect.

Accent lighting is also sometimes used in exterior design as well. While general outdoor lighting would be used to light up a walkway, for example, outdoor accent lighting would draw attention to a decor or landscape piece such as a plant or sculpture.

Examples of types of accent lighting are wall lights, sconces, torchère lamps, LED string lighting for accent ceilings and walls, track, focused recessed down lights and outdoor landscape lights. When it comes to accent lighting, it’s a great way to add an elegant or sophisticated touch to your home.

Task Lighting

Kitchen island with stainless range hood with task lighting Task lighting is exactly what it sounds like: lighting that is meant to help you better see a task you are doing. A hood light over a stove, a desk lamp for working, focused lighting on a bathroom vanity and a light beside a chair to read at are all examples of task lighting.

When it comes to intensity, task lighting should sit at a happy medium between ambient and accent lighting. You want your task lighting to be brighter than general lighting so that you can better see the task but you don’t want a light harsh enough to cast the drastic shadows that accent lights use.

Much like accent lights, though, task lighting depends on contrast to be effective. If an entire room is bright and you turn on a desk lamp, that task light is less likely to be helpful and might even cause a glare. However, if a room in its entirety is dim, then a desk lamp will work well to offer you the bright area you need to work.

Task lighting is also meant to be rather stimulating. Since it is concentrated on what you’re doing, it’s meant to help you focus on the task at hand. For instance, when you can see more detail, you are likely to pay attention to it.

Unlike accent and ambient lighting, task lighting isn’t often employed in outdoor settings.

Choosing the Right Light Fixture

Dining room with linear chandelier, recessed fixtures, wall lighting and gray accent wall When it comes down to choosing the right light fixture, the choices can seem a little intimidating. However, there are a few factors you can look at to decide what type of light fixture is best for you.

First, you’ll want to determine what type of lighting – ambient, accent, or task lighting – that you are looking for. Different light fixtures offer different levels of illumination. We’ll take a closer look at specific lighting fixtures in a minute.

You’ll also want to consider design. A big draw of all the choices you have in light fixtures is that you are able to find one that matches your home decor perfectly. The best way to go about this is to decide the type of light fixture you want (i.e. a chandelier or pendant light) and then take a look into the different styles of that type of light are available.

Different Types of Light Fixtures

When it comes to choosing a light fixture, your choices can seem overwhelmingly endless. You can narrow down this choice and choose the perfect light for you by understanding what each light fixture is and what type of lighting it provides.

Recessed Lighting

Kitchen with recessed lighting, white quartz seating island and two tone cabinets Recessed lights, as the name suggests, are installed so that they are “hidden” within the ceiling they are used in. To put this another way, the wiring and mechanisms of the light are tucked away within the ceiling so that the light itself is recessed into or flush with the ceiling itself.

This can make these light fixtures a little more difficult to install than some other choices. They require around 4 to 8 inches of space above the ceiling to house their mechanics.

These lighting fixtures are versatile as they can be used for ambient, accent, or task lighting depending on where they’re installed. When installed directly into the ceiling, they often make for a great ambient choice. They can also be installed directly over desks or decor pieces to create task or accent lighting as well.

Pendant Lights

Contemporary kitchen with chrome pendant lights, white cabinets and blue island with quartz countertop Pendant lights are lights that hang from the ceiling usually by a simple cord, cable, or pipe. They typically draw their design style from their shade which usually provides a statement for your decor as they tend to draw the eye towards them.

These lights can provide ambient or task lighting depending on what type you use. Using inverted pendant lights can make them interesting ambient lights. On the other hand, using pendant lights that hang lower over a table can provide you with task lighting.

Kitchen with drum pendant light above island A drum pendant light has a ring shaped design that surrounds the bulb. This typically acts as a diffuser to tone down the glare and intensity of the light.

Contemporary bathroom tub with pendant lights A tub with bathroom pendant lights are used to achieve a contemporary or modern design and are not often used for a traditional style home.

Inverted pendant light Inverted Pendant Lights

With a traditional pendant light, the shade of the light hangs down over the bulb. An inverted pendant light, alternatively, uses a shade that comes up over the light.

Standard pendant lights are better suited to task lighting while inverted pendant lights are the choice for ambient lighting with a pendant fixture.

Flush Lights

Flush light Flush lights are a type of ceiling mounted light. They derive their name from their position with little or no gap between the light and the ceiling. In other words, they are lights that place “flush” against the ceiling.

The variant of these lights that offers a gap are also known as semi-flush lights. Even with semi-flush lights, the gap between the ceiling and the light fixture is rather small – usually a few inches at most.

These light fixtures offer ambient light rather than a focused task or accent lighting. They are often used in areas such as hallways and kitchens. The lights may use one or multiple bulbs and the more bulbs the light uses, the brighter the light it will give off.


Foyer with large double ring chandelier Chandeliers have rightfully made a name for themselves as a gorgeous and highly decorated choice as a light fixture. Even the most basic chandeliers offer a fancier feel than a ceiling fan or recessed light. These lights are designed to be a focal point themselves and draw attention to them.

Since chandeliers steal the show themselves and don’t offer focused light, they aren’t a great choice for accent lighting. They also don’t provide a focused enough light to provide task lighting. Chandeliers are reserved for ambient lighting.

Luxury dining room with arched exterior french doors and chandeliers A very common choice for chandeliers is to use them over a dining room table. You’ll want to be sure to find a chandelier that fits your decor. The chandelier, as already noted, should be the focal point so the decor of the room should complement it. The best dining room lighting fixtures include chandeliers, semi & flush mount lights, pendants and sconces.

Kitchen with globe chandeliers above island This kitchen has a globe chandelier above its island that provides a contemporary design style.

Living room with chandelier and fireplace A living room chandelier can act as a central focal point in which you can frame the furniture around within the space

A linear chandelier is another way to bring a contemporary feel to a space. These can be used effectively in bedrooms and above kitchen islands with great results.

Ceiling Mounted Fixture

Living room with ceiling fan with light There are a variety of ceiling mounted fixtures; many of which we have and will continue to look at here. For instance, pendant lights and chandeliers are both ceiling hung fixtures.

Since we’ve covered these, we are going to take this section to look at one of the most popular choices of ceiling mounted fixtures: ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans use a central light or lights shaded in some fashion to provide ambient light to the room. In addition, this light is surrounded by fan blades that can be turned on at varying speeds to cool the room down.

This dual usage makes ceiling fans a good choice for homeowners looking for light and comfort. We’ll take a closer look into the details of choosing and buying a ceiling fan in a bit. See more types of ceiling lights on this page.

Downlights and Spotlights

Kitchen with cone pendant lights When talking about pendant lights, we discussed uplights and downlights. These terms have to do with how the light is directed.

With a downlight, the shade of the light comes down around the bulb to direct the light below the bulb. With an uplight, the shade starts below the bulb and comes up around it to direct the light upward.

Spotlights use these directive styles to offer concentrated light straight onto an object or area. This often has the effect of a bright focal area with deep shadows around the area the spotlight is focused on.

As this definition suggests, spotlights are best used for the most common form of obvious accent lighting. They are more often than not pointed directly at a point of focus to draw attention to it.

Under Cabinet Lights

Open concept kitchen with under cabinet lights, white cabinets and island with legs Under cabinet lights are lights that are installed to the bottom of kitchen cabinets. These are usually in the form of a linear fixture or hockey puck-shaped light. As to not take up cabinet space and offer ease, these lights are sometimes attached with adhesive rather than traditionally installed.

These lights are used pretty much exclusively for task lighting. This is because they offer direct, concentrated light to the counter space below the cabinet allowing you to have the light you need for jobs such as preparing food.

Kitchen Island Lighting

Kitchen with pendant down lights above island On the topic of needing light for cooking and preparing food, having ample light over a kitchen island is important. Under counter lighting isn’t always an option when it comes to kitchen islands because they usually don’t feature cabinet space.

Kitchen islands also don’t benefit the most from ambient lighting such as high ceiling lights. Rather, kitchen islands need task lighting for work.

A great option for kitchen island lighting is pendant light fixtures positioned directly above the island. Depending on the size of the island, a single or multiple pendant light fixtures may be used.

While pendant lighting is the most popular, any ceiling mounted task lighting fixtures such as track lights will do the trick.

Track Lights

Kitchen with modern track lights above island, high gloss white cabinets and black tile backsplash wall Track lights get their name from their installation on a linear track. These lights can usually be slid along the track to allow for lighting to be aimed in different directions. The tracks also typically feature several heads on a single track.

Because these heads can usually be moved along the track and pointed in different directions, these are often used as task and accent lighting. They also offer a lot of concentrated light which also lends these lights to accent and task lighting.

To be used as accent lighting, these lights can be installed around the piece you want to draw attention to. By installing them over a work area, though, you can use a set of track lights as task lighting.

Wall Sconces, Cove Lighting, and Wall Mounted Lights

Formal living room with wall sconces and wainscoting There are a few types of lighting fixtures that work as wall mounted lights. Two of the most common choices are wall sconces and cove lighting.

Wall sconces are considered rather decorative among lighting fixtures. This is because rather than being installed high up, they are typically installed at eye-level.

As such, they are typically dim as to not hurt the eyes that they are level with. So, while they can be used as ambient lights, they aren’t often used on their own as such. Wall sconces can be either uplights or downlights and as downlights, they are often used for task lighting.

Cove lighting is typically mounted higher than wall sconces on the upper wall or even the ceiling. These uplights are considered a rather elegant choice for ambient lighting. These lights are installed as a strip of lights along a cove that a room naturally has.

LED Lighting

Kitchen and living room with ceiling LED types of lighting fixtures LED lighting is often used because it is more environmentally friendly than traditional incandescent lighting. There are a few different ways it can be used other than simply in the form of LED light bulbs.

LED lighting is often what is used in cove lighting. These LED lights, whether they be standard or hued, shine light up onto the ceiling which reflects the light back into the room. It’s not uncommon for these lights to be uniquely colored for a custom appearance.

While this type of lighting is ambient lighting, LED lights can be implemented in almost any light fixture, making this type of light rather versatile when looking for ambient, accent, or task lighting.

Wall Grazers and Wall Washers

Bathroom with wall grazer on accent wall above tub We’ve already looked at some fixtures that operate by directing light towards the ceiling for it to reflect off of it to offer ambient light to the rest of the room. Wall washers or wall grazers use the same approach but rather than reflecting off of a ceiling, they “wash” the wall in ambient light.

These lights can be recessed or fixtures that protrude slightly outwards. Oftentimes, they are either mounted to the wall itself or near the edge of a ceiling to direct light to the wall below.

Swing Arm

Home office with desk and swing lamp Swing arm lamps are typically used as a type of desk lamp or wall mounted light. No matter where or how these fixtures are installed, they have in common the fact that the light is attached to a hinged arm.

This allows users to pull the light out or over where they need it to go. Some swing arms offer multiple hinges on its arm to offer more flexibility.

Since these are easily directed lights and offer plenty of direct light, they are almost always used as task lights. They are particularly convenient options because they can be turned on and positioned where they need to go when needed and when they aren’t, they can be both turned off and easily pushed out of the way.

Desk and Table Lamps

Bedroom with table lamps recessed lighting and modern sputnik style chandelierDesk and table lamps are most often used as task lighting. This is because their light is limited and easily directed. Unlike accent lights, though, they aren’t so powerful as to cast deep shadows around them.

These are popular as task lights because they can be easily positioned. Unlike a variety of other light fixtures, these need only to be plugged in rather than installed, making them easy to set up on a desk or side table. They also illuminate directly, giving users the light they need to read, write, and work.

These lights cast a downward, general glow. Because of this, they aren’t generally used as ambient lights.

These are also very visible as opposed to fixtures such as recessed lights. As such, they are often chosen based on their design as well as their purpose.

Floor Lamps

Contemporary living room with large floor lamp Floor lamps are tall lamps that are reminiscent of their table lamp cousins but don’t need the dedicated space of a table to offer extra light. They are easy to tuck into a corner or behind a piece of furniture to add a little extra light to a room.

Floor lamps also have large, heavy bases, so you don’t have to worry about these lamps being easily knocked over. This makes these a still viable choice for families with pets and children.

These type of lamp fixtures add a good deal of light to the home. Since it isn’t focused or directed, it usually isn’t used as task lighting or accent lighting but as ambient light. For large rooms, it might be used with additional floor lamps or other types of ambient lighting to ensure the whole

Utility Lighting

House backyard with built in step lights Utility lighting is a form of task lighting that exists to do a job. For instance, the hood light above your stove is an example of utility lighting. Some lighting fixtures we’ve looked at such as under cabinet lighting or swing arm fixtures can be considered utility lighting. Outside of the home, utility lighting examples would include path or street lights.

These lights don’t prioritize appearance but rather the job they do. Because of this, utility lighting can be very simple or even utilize a single recessed bulb. They often include adjustable features such as being able to tilt, readjust, or otherwise direct the light onto the job at hand.

Naturally, you can find utility lighting that is beautifully designed but that design utilizes purpose. You won’t find utility lighting that is decorative without features such as mobility and direction like you might find with ambient lighting.

Landscape Lighting

Modern home with desert landscape lighting Earlier, it was pointed out that accent and ambient lighting especially are sometimes used in outdoor settings. Ambient light might be used to light walkways or doorways while accent lighting can be used to draw attention to architectural or landscaping pieces.

First, let’s look at ambient light. When it comes to lighting a deck or porch, the light fixture is typically positioned high up either on the ceiling when one is present or installed near the top of the door. When lighting walkways, lower lights are typically used to cast light near the ground.

Accent lighting might come from the use of spotlights or even the same type of lights you are used to seeing near a walkway.

Lower lights can be used to draw the eye to, for example, a pond in the yard. Wall mounted lights similar to porch lights can be used around the house to draw attention to specific architectural features.

It’s rather common for landscape lighting to be solar powered. They gather light from the sun during the day to offer an energy efficient glow at night when they’re needed.

Types of Materials Used for Interior Lighting

Contemporary living room with custom tray ceiling and led lighting There are a variety of materials that can be used to create a light fixture. The three most often used are glass, fabric, and metal. Once again, before you decide what’s best for your home, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all your choices.

Edison style glass pendant light Glass Lighting

Glass lighting fixtures are a popular choice for manufacturers because they offer both beauty and good light diffusion. As a material, glass a very versatile when it comes to design.

Anything from different colors to different shapes can make a glass light fixture one of a kind. Pendant, recessed, flush, and semi-flush light fixtures are often glass.

Ceiling light fixture with fabric drum shadeFabric Fixtures

Fabric fixtures use a fabric shade to control the intensity of a light’s glow. Almost any light can be done as a fabric fixture. Pendant, flush, semi-flush light fixtures, as well as table and floor lamps, utilize fabric frequently.

Because they tone down a light’s intensity to a calmer level, fabric fixtures are popular in bedrooms. This intensity can be changed depending on the what fabric is used and the color of that fabric.

Metal pendant lightMetal

Metal light fixtures are often used in modern design and are even used in vintage-inspired fixtures.

These fixtures offer unique shapes usually in geometric forms when used as more decorative lighting statements. You can see them used in track lighting as well.

They can be in the form of a pendant, drum, linear light.

Lighting Accessories

Along with your lighting fixtures, there are a number of accessories you can use to determine the type of light, the intensity of the light, and even accessories to offer dual usage such as the aforementioned ceiling fans.

Bathroom with tub white rock surround and modern chandelier with dimmer Dimmers

Lighting is something that, as we’ve covered, that can set the atmosphere of a room. However, rather often, homeowners don’t want the same mood for a room every time they occupy it. Sometimes they might want a bright room while other times they may want a room more calmly lit to relax in.

This is where dimmers come in. Dimmers can be installed to allow you to control the intensity of the light or lights in a room.

The cost of dimmers can vary. They can cost within a range of around $13 to $40 per unit depending on factors such as the quality and manufacturer you choose. Installations cost within a range of approximately $58 to $135. This depends on the difficulty of the installation and the cleaning and touch-ups needed once the installation is done.

Ceiling Fans

We touched on ceiling fans earlier when we discussed ceiling mounted light fixtures. Here, we will take a look at some aspects of choosing the right ceiling fan.

As for size, the width of your ceiling fan will depend on the length of the longest wall in your room. If the longest wall is less than 12 feet, you’ll want a ceiling fan of 36 inches or less. For 12 to 15 feet, 40 to 48 inches and for 15 feet or more, 52 inches or more.

For downrod length, this will depend on your ceiling height. The following measurements will show the appropriate ceiling height to downrod length measurements.

● 10 feet; 12 inches
● 11 feet; 18 inches
● 12 feet; 24 inches
● 13 feet; 36 inches
● 14 feet; 48 inches
● 15 feet; 60 inches
● 16 feet; 72 inches

Types of Light Bulbs

Contemporary kitchen and dining area with modern chandelier recessed and pendant lighting There are a variety of types of light bulbs you can choose from. While many types of lighting fixtures call for light bulbs of different shapes and wattage, we are going to look at some of the most basic options here. As far as wattage goes, it’s imperative that you use the light bulb wattage that your fixture calls for.

Incandescent light bulbs are thought of as the most “traditional” option. These are the least expensive option and offer a warm light that is made to compliment skin tones. They aren’t the most energy efficient option but they will last around 700 to 1,000 hours.

Halogen light bulbs are a type of incandescent light bulb and offer “white light” which is much like daylight. They are slightly more energy efficient, a little more expensive, and burn hotter. Don’t handle these with your bare hands because the residue from your hands will cause the bulb to heat up too fast and burst. These are commonly used with under cabinet, pendant, and recessed light fixture.

LED lights are fairly expensive but they are very energy efficient and they’ll last a long time. They’re rather bright but can be dimmed with shades if desired. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are also energy efficient while being slightly more affordable. These bulbs can be recognized by their unique spiral shape. Standard fluorescent bulbs -the long, cylindrical bulbs – are also sometimes used to light large areas.


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