The Best Ambient Lighting
Ambient light is the soft, general illumination that fills the volume of a room with a glow of light and softens the shadows on people's faces. It is the most important of the four functions of light, but it is often the one element that is left out of the design of a room or space.
The best ambient light comes from sources that bounce illumination off the ceiling and walls. Such light fixtures as opaque indirect wall sconces, torchères (floor lamps), opaque or semi-opaque pendants, and cove lighting can provide a subtle general illumination without drawing attention to the source. You could call it the “open hearth effect,” where the room seems to be filled with the light of a roaring fire.
Keep in mind that filling a room with table lamps does not provide adequate ambient illumination. These are decorative fixtures that can double as task lights when needed, but they cannot provide ambient light, although they can provide ambience. This is what helps people form an impression of a space, but using them alone in a space creates blobs of uncomfortable illumination that can overpower the environment. Let these portable lamps act a true decorative source, creating welcoming little islands of light instead. Utilizing other sources to provide the necessary ambient light lets the decorative luminaires create the illusion of illuminating the room without dominating the design.
The inclusion of an ambient light source works well only if the ceiling is light in color. For example, a richly hued eggplant colored ceiling in a Victorian dining room or a dark wooden ceiling in a cabin retreat would make indirect light sources ineffective, because the dark surfaces absorb most of the light instead of reflecting it back into the space.
One viable solution to this situation is to lighten the color of the ceiling. Sometimes the best answer to a lighting problem is to alter the environment rather than change the luminaire. Instead of the whole ceiling being dark colored, how about a wide border in that color with the rest of the ceiling done in a cream color or similar light hue? A wooden ceiling could be washed with a light-colored opaque stain, giving it a more weathered look without taking away from the wood feel itself, as simple painting would.
If you are dead set against changing the color, a light fixture could be selected that can provide its own reflective surface, essentially providing its own ceiling.
Using a traditional chandelier or pendant with a hidden incandescent or fluorescent source could complement the design while adding a subtle layer of ambient light. Sometimes fixtures can be multi-functional, providing either task and decorative light or task and ambient light from the same fixture. This multifunctional type of fixture is good to use when you want to create the illusion of a secondary ceiling level in a vaulted space to create a more human scale to a room.
There are many ways of getting ambient light into a room. Ambient light, just like the other three functions, should not be used by itself, because you end up with what is known as the “cloudy day effect,” where everything in a given space appears to have the same value, without any depth or dimension. Here again, ambient illumination is only one component of well-designed lighting. Light layering is always the way to go.
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The best ambient light recommendations means you'll always have the right mood in every room of your home. The best low voltage lighting softens shadows and leaves the room feeling like it has the light of a roaring fire.