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    Combine layers of lighting to give a room the perfect ambiance. Photo: Christopher Lowell.

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    Design expert Christopher Lowell identifies lighting as "Layer 7" of his Seven Layers of Design philosophy.

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Design expert Christopher Lowell identifies lighting as "Layer 7" of his Seven Layers of Design philosophy.


7 Layers of Design

Christopher Lowell is author of several popular design books, including Seven Layers of Design. Here's a peek at the 7 key layers he talks about:

  • Layer 1: Paint and Architecture (moldings, mantel)
  • Layer 2: Installed Flooring (any floor surface that is wall-to-wall)
  • Layer 3: High-Ticket Upholstery Items (sofa, loveseat)
  • Layer 4: Accent Fabrics (area rugs and drapes)
  • Layer 5: Non-Upholstered Furnishings (the workhorses of the room: end tables, chairs, coffee tables)
  • Layer 6: Accessories (pictures, mirrors, candlesticks)
  • Layer 7: Plants and Lighting

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  • Let There Be Light

    Practical insights for improving this often-overlooked area of home design.

    by Christopher Lowell

    Lighting is one of the most overlooked and underrated elements of interior design. The right lighting can make or break a room. That’s why lighting is the final (and critical) “Layer 7” of my design philosophy and popular book: Seven Layers of Design.


    Why Lighting Is Key

    The way you light a room is the finishing touch to your décor scheme. Good lighting can transform a space into one that is sexy, dramatic, inviting and warm. And since most of us spend the greatest amount of our time in our homes at night, lighting is a key part of the environment.


    Layers of Light

    Good lighting is achieved in layers; which means using a combination of different lighting sources. Understanding the types of light available will help you create your own winning lighting scheme. Start by evaluating your room for its style, size and function, and then combine light sources to create your ideal lighting plan.


    Types of Lighting

    Fill lights: often created by recessed ceiling fixtures.

    Make sure fill lights, like all the lights in your room, are on dimmers. You should have sufficient, overall fill light to take the volume of light up just enough to dimly see the entire space—so no one’s bumping around in the dark. Frankly, the only time lights should be on full blast is when you’re giving the room a good cleaning.

    Ambient pools of light: often created with pin spotlights.

    Every good room needs drama. Drama is created as much by shadow as by the light itself. Shadow is what brings intimacy to rooms. Pin spots can showcase rich wall color with focused arcs of soft light. They can showcase key focal point objects—or with back-lighting, simply show their form in silhouette. Pin spots are great for creating pools of light over coffee tables and key pathways to define seating areas and traffic flow.

    Task lights: usually created by floor lamps and table lamps.

    Lamps are the new room accessory. They bring focused light to the mid-range of a space and are the most visible light source in a room. Lamps often connote the very style and mood of a room. From lamp bases to shades and finials, well-designed lamps often become the focal point of a room. For this reason, it’s best to stick to a single theme versus mixing and matching styles, especially with lampshades. They should remain as uniform as possible and be placed strategically near seating furniture.

    I suggest using dimmers and three-way bulbs to give you more light control and allow you to control a room’s mood. When not using them for reading, I recommend a lamp’s bulb wattage be no greater than 35—keep in mind the wattage adds up quick with multiple lamps.

    Up-lights: usually positioned on the floor.

    Up-lights add the final theatrical drama to a room. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes—from straight cylinders to focusable heads. I like to link these with interior trees (another part of my “Layer 7” of design). An up-light on the floor shooting through a palm tree will cast shadows on ceilings and add an overhead texture of pattern. This brings intimacy to a space.

    Candlelight: animation for the room.

    Candlelight should not be ignored. It offers the same dynamic as a fireplace. The flicker of flame adds great mood and animation to a space and can be placed anywhere. Without cord-management issues to worry about, votive candles can be grouped into clusters on a tray or lend a small touch of romance to a coffee table or dining room.


    Observe and Learn

    So the next time you’re in a quandary about how to implement lighting in your home, look to a chic restaurant or boutique hotel for inspiration. And when you’re in one of these beautifully designed public spaces, look around and learn from the pros.