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Learn 8 excellent tips for getting ambient lighting just right in your home. Discover how to create the perfect warm, cozy atmosphere with these ambient lighting ideas.


Ambient lighting can make a huge difference in the overall feel and mood of a room. When done right, it creates a warm, inviting atmosphere that encourages relaxation. But getting the perfect ambient lighting can be tricky. Should you use lamps, sconces or overhead fixtures? What types of bulbs are best? How bright is too bright?

The good news is that with a few guidelines, you can easily create an ambient lighting scheme that is flattering, functional and enhances your décor. Here are 8 great ways to get ambient lighting just right in your home.

Layer Lighting for Maximum Effect

Don’t rely on a single light source to provide all the ambient lighting for a room. Layering several different lighting elements creates depth, dimension and visual interest.

Combine overhead fixtures, table and floor lamps, wall sconces and even flameless candles. Mix different bulb types such as incandescent, halogen and LED. And don’t forget to incorporate lighting on dimmer switches. Being able to adjust the brightness allows you to set the perfect mood for any occasion.

Choose the Right Bulbs

To create a warm, inviting ambient glow, choose bulbs that provide soft, subtle light. Halogens and incandescent bulbs radiate a flattering light, while CFLs and LEDs tend to cast a harsher glow. Reserve those for task lighting over workspaces.

Go for bulbs in the 25 to 40 watt range. Anything too bright will overpower a space. Opt for bulbs with a warm white or soft white glow rather than cool white or daylight hues.

Illuminate With Multiple Table and Floor Lamps

Strategically placed table and floor lamps are an easy way to provide soft, ambient illumination. Opt for versatile models with adjustable heads and arms so you can direct the light where needed.

Make sure lamps are properly sized for the space. A lamp that is too large or small will look out of place. Place lamps in areas that will benefit from additional lighting but avoid cluttering a room.

Take Advantage of Wall Sconces

Sconces are ideal for delivering ambient lighting without taking up tabletop or floor space. They’re commonly used to flank beds and accent seating areas.

Position sconces approximately 60 inches from the floor for ideal illumination. As with table lamps, look for sconces with adjustable arms and heads. Go for models that project light both upwards and downwards.

Use Overhead Fixtures Creatively

While they’re not always thought of for ambient lighting, overhead fixtures can be used to great effect. Choose fixtures that have multiple bulbs or multiple arms so light is spread around the room.

Opt for drum or semi-flush mount fixtures that don’t hang too low. Place them on dimmers so you can control the brightness. Avoid large chandeliers which tend to provide more localized task lighting.

Take It Outside

Don’t forget ambient lighting for porches, patios and other outdoor living spaces. Strategically placed lanterns and post lights create an inviting glow.

For safety, make sure paths and steps are well illuminated. Use LED or solar-powered fixtures for brightness without high energy bills. Place lights on timers or photosensors so they turn on automatically at dusk.

Dim It Down

One of the keys to perfect ambient lighting is placing your fixtures on dimmers. Dimmers allow you to easily adjust the brightness and set just the right mood.

Use dimmers with movable sliders rather than preset settings. That way you can fine-tune the exact light level you want. Install dimmers on multiple circuits so you can control lighting in one or more areas.

Enhance With Accessories

Creative accessories like colored light bulbs, lamp shades and reflectors allow you to further tailor your lighting. Use warm-hued smart bulbs to change the mood at the touch of a button.

Drum and empire lampshades direct light upwards or downwards. Light-colored shades also soften and diffuse illumination. Mirrors, glass vases and reflective trays bounce and amplify lighting.


Getting ambient lighting right comes down to choosing the proper fixtures, bulbs and accessories and placing them strategically throughout a space. Layering multiple elements creates depth and dimension. Keeping things dimmed and softened enhances the overall cozy feel. Be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a scheme that sets just the right mood. With the proper ambient lighting, your home will always feel warm, inviting and comfortable.


What are some good rooms for ambient lighting?

Living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, and home offices are all excellent rooms for installing ambient lighting. Bathrooms and kitchens benefit more from task lighting.

Should ambient lighting be bright or dim?

Ambient lighting should provide a soft, subtle glow, not harsh or glaring illumination. Dimmer switches allow you to easily control the brightness as needed.

What are some ambient lighting options for renters?

Renters can easily add ambient lighting by using table and floor lamps. Battery operated string lights also create a nice glow. Just be sure not to overload electrical circuits.

Is ambient lighting expensive to run?

Not necessarily, especially if using energy-efficient LED bulbs. Ambient lighting is mainly created through reflected and indirect light which takes fewer bulbs than direct overhead lighting. Using dimmers also helps reduce energy costs.

Should all overhead lights be on dimmers?

It’s not essential, but dimmers allow the most flexibility and control. At a minimum, put fixtures in main living areas and bedrooms on dimmers for ambient lighting ability.

What color temperature bulbs are best for ambient lighting?

Look for bulbs in the range of 2700K (warm white) to 3000K (soft white). These emit a flattering, inviting glow. Avoid cool white or daylight 5000K+ bulbs.