Ambient and Task Lighting: Color Temperature in Interior Design Skip to main content

Ambient and Task Lighting: Color Temperature in Interior Design

Light brings to life colors, textures, and geometry. It is the magic that illuminates our reality. 

When it comes to interior design, lighting has an incredible influence over how we see and interact with a space. When selecting lighting for interior designs, it is important to start with an understanding of color temperature.

Color temperature describes how the light produced by a light bulb appears. It is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. You can find this number on the bulb’s packaging.

  • Less than 2000K — dim light, similar to candlelight
  • 2000K to 3000K — warm light with hints of yellow
  • 31000K to 4500K — bright white light
  • 4600K to 65000K — bright blue-white light

The behavior of color temperature inside a room is described in three categories: warm lighting, cool lighting, and blue lighting. Warm lighting is welcoming and relaxing. It makes us feel sleepy and calm. However, cool lighting is more stimulating. It makes us feel alert, focused, and productive. Blue lighting reduces melatonin, the sleep hormone, making us feel more awake. Though blue light isn’t a large part of interior design, warm and cool lights are often used to set a room’s mood, either for relaxation or for productivity. 

Achieving Ambient Lighting — A Cozy Living Space

In living spaces, ambient lighting is the goal. This type of lighting seeks to provide enough general illumination in a space where people can see and move around freely. Ambient lighting should remain consistent and establish the tone in a place. It is typically soft, diffused, and warm. Here are three ways you can achieve ambience in your living spaces:

  • Ceiling-mounted lamps and chandeliers — Create a focal point in your room by adding an attention-grabbing lamp or chandelier to your ceiling. Make sure that the bulbs in both produce soft warm light. The design of the chandelier can also help you kickstart ideas for designing the rest of the room.  
  • LED strips — Low-wattage or dimmable LED strips placed on your baseboards, under toe kicks in kitchens and baths, and in the risers of your stairs will lessen harsh direct lighting and rest your eyes. 
  • Wall and floor lamps — Wall and floor lamps add a jewelry-like effect to living areas by creating pockets of light. They also add some form to the room, enhancing visual character with their scale, contrast, materials, and color. 
  • Remote-controlled lighting — Lighting with different intensity settings is not only great for adjusting the mood, but it is also healthy for your circadian system, the part of the brain that regulates sleep patterns. Preferably, the lighting should have high, medium, and low settings. 

Ambient lighting should be mostly warm white light. It may be different colors, if the light is still soft and diffused. Ambience is all about the big picture—creating a serene, bright environment that is easy to live in. 

Achieving Task Lighting — A Productive Living Space

Lighting for specific tasks, such as reading, writing, and dining, should be brighter than ambient lighting. This type of lighting is known as task lighting, or rapid lighting. The idea of task lighting is practical. It meets people’s needs by allowing them to feel motivated, awake, and ready to complete their chores. Below are several examples of task lighting that you can use in your interior design. 

  • Track lighting — This type of lighting is typically installed along a track in kitchens and living rooms to illuminate specific areas. The track should be installed 20 to 40 inches away from the wall. This lighting is particularly useful because it allows for multi-directional capabilities. When needed, aim the light at your cutting board or your favorite book. 
  • Pendants — Pendant lights may be used for ambience as well, depending on the temperature of the light. However, they also work well for track lighting when placed above workspaces. This directional light provides a wide area of illumination. 
  • Table lamps — The most well-known form of task lighting, table lamps shed light exactly where and when it is needed. They illuminate workplaces to help you get your work done without struggling to see.  

  • Vanity lights — Focused illumination in the bathroom helps people see themselves in the mirror and get ready in the morning. Fixtures should be mounted on either side of the vanity mirror, 36 to 40 inches apart. You may decide to install the lights facing upward or downward. 

If you’re drawing, sewing, reading, or even playing a board game, task lighting can help you see exactly what you’re doing without straining your vision or overwhelming the room. Since the light is focused on one thing, it can help to keep you focused as well. Task lighting is a great motivator of productive work. 

Striking a Balance

When designing, you should seek to strike a balance between ambient lighting and track lighting. Ambient lighting helps to soothe and relax, while task lighting helps you get your work done. You should include at least three sources of light in each room, and vary each between rooms since too many of the same can result in a flat design. 

To play with the light already present in your rooms, consider adding mirrors or other reflective designs to bounce the light around. In a small room, such decor can make the room appear more open. 

Lighting is an important feature of your design. Different lighting can change the appearance of objects in your room and even affect mood. With a grasp of how to use ambient and task lighting, you can create a home design that looks appealing and suits your needs. 


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