Since relocating from California to Atlanta for her husband's job, Marty Webb has made plenty of changes to her home -- with lighting options never far from her mind.

"Lighting is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to update a room," said Webb, who found her fixtures, from formal to "fun," at Redefined Home Boutique in Atlanta.

Good lighting also is important to a room's functionality, said Jim Howard, owner of James Michael Howard Interiors in Atlanta. The right lighting does more than illuminate; it allows you to perform a variety of activities.

A lighting fixture, such as a chandelier in the bedroom or bath, also adds drama or a pop of color to a room.

But before you shop for lighting fixtures, do some homework and consider these tips from the American Lighting Association, a Dallas-based trade group.

Determine your needs

Identify the activities that occur in each room. Consider food preparation, grooming, reading and homework.

Identify which rooms will serve more than a single purpose. Those areas will need more than one type of lighting.

Identify the mood or ambience that you want to create.

Keep in mind that dark colors absorb more light. You may need to provide additional light in rooms with dark wall colors.

Consider your style. You want the lighting's shape, color and size to complement the room and your home's style.

Before you buy, shop lighting showrooms, shops and online for styles, shapes and ideas. If you need help selecting the right lighting, check the American Lighting Association's website for a list of retail showrooms, designers, consultants and manufacturers.

Lighting basics

A good lighting plan involves three types of lighting: ambient or general lighting, task and accent.

Ambient lighting provides the room's overall illumination. It allows you to see and walk around safely. It can include chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures. Ambient lighting also can include recessed or track lighting. Have a central source of ambient lighting in all rooms.

Consider adding dimmers, which some designers consider a must-have update, especially in the kitchen. Dimmers allow you to adjust the intensity of the light or to strike the right mood.

Task lighting helps you perform specific tasks, such as preparing food or reading. Task lighting includes pendants, floor and desk lamps and under-cabinet lights.

Accent lighting creates visual interest in a room. It can be used to focus on a painting or sculpture or highlight a wall. Track, recessed and wall-mounted fixtures provide accent lighting.


Joe Rey-Barreau, an architect and lighting designer in Lexington, Ky., and an education consultant for the American Lighting Association, discussed lighting trends at the recent International Lighting Market in Dallas. Today's trends include:

• Fixtures with fun and whimsical design characteristics.

• Modern-style fixtures using crystal with unexpected details.

• Increased use of energy-efficient lighting, such as LED lighting.

• Chandelier designs based on strong geometric shapes, including circles, ellipses and squares.

• A style that some might call "exotic traditional," which incorporates unusual details with a traditional style.

• Retro lighting -- with simple forms and chrome finishes -- that evoke images of the 1950s and 1960s.

• The use of delicate jewelry-quality chains draped over unusual frames.

• Variations on traditional lantern-style fixtures, which are commonly used in foyers but now are being used throughout the house.

Where to place lighting

Lighting can go on the ceiling or on a wall or table.

Ceiling: If you prefer light from above, your options include chandeliers, flush-mount fixtures, pendant lights, track and recessed lighting. A combination will give you the light you need for general lighting and tasks.

Walls: Wall lighting provides indirect light and adds a decorative touch. Wall-mounted fixtures, or sconces, light a wall area and can be used in most rooms. For a functional reading lamp near a bed or sofa, swing-arm lamps are popular.

Lamps: Floor, desk and table lamps allow you to move your lighting and place it where it is needed.