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Serious Question: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Layered Lighting?

Neutral, sophisticated living room with overhead lighting and side table lamp.

Kate Hodges Design

Trends might come and go, but one thing always stays the same: the power of good lighting. It never ceases to amaze us how a harsh, overhead light—or worse, not enough lighting—can throw off our space’s entire vibe. If you want to create a home that’s warm and inviting, layered lighting is a go-to solution. A floor light here and a table lamp there can make any room feel undeniably homey. 

But, have you ever wondered if there’s such a thing as too much layered lighting? For designer Kevin Dumais, who also makes handmade lamps, there’s more to the answer than a simple yes or no.

“It’s not really the layers that you can go overboard on, it’s the amount of sources,” he says.

According to Dumais, there are three key types of lighting: ambient, task, and eye-catching. Ambient light is known to fill up the room, bringing brightness to those dark nooks and crannies. More times than not, this is a room’s overhead light.

If you want to bring an extra glow to concentrated space like a reading nook or desk, enlist some task lighting, which Dumais says focuses on table and counter surfaces.

Of course, lighting doesn’t have to be strictly practical, which is where eye-catching light comes in.

“That’s the personality, the single moment or series of elements of light in a room that set the tone,” Dumais explains. “Shimmering pendant, an artful wall sconce, or even a grouping of candles.”

Since most lights fall into one of these categories—ambient, task, or eye-catching—incorporating all three into your space can give your home an inviting, cozy effect. But while you’re free to incorporate all three layers into a room, you might have overdone it if you pile multiple types of lights into one concentrated space. As with most design rules, it’s all about balance.

Soft pink living space with overhead lighting and corner lamp.

House of Chais

“If you find the right desk lamp, you don’t need a recessed spotlight over that desk,” he explains.  “If your kitchen cabinets are lit underneath, you can use less ceiling lights to highlight the counters. If you always set candles out during a dinner party, perhaps your pendant doesn’t need to carry as much weight in the room.”

Whether you’re fine-tuning your work from home nook or yearning to create good vibes, it’s only natural to want your home to feel bright and airy. After all, nobody wants to sit in darkness. But according to Jessica Shaw, interior designer director at Turett Collaborative, too much light can make your home feel scattered. 

“When color temperatures begin conflicting, that is a sign you have layered too much,” she says. “You want your lighting choices and placement to punctuate ascertain areas of your space.”

Mastering the layered lighting look is a nuanced, complicated matter, and it can feel almost impossible to feel like you’re doing it right. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make this design trick easier. For decorator Liz Caan, layered lighting should be limited to three switches or less.

“I usually combine dimmable recessed and overhead on one switch,” she explains. “Then, add a pendant or decorative surface mount also dimmable on a different switch. Sconces or picture lights should be on a third switch. I also layer in lamps in the room so you have an option to only have lamp light if you wish.” 

Or, if you want to make most of your current lighting setup, Dumais recommends experimenting with lamp wattages and dim settings.

“All hardwired fixtures should be on dimmers, and if your lamps aren’t dimmable, play with the light bulbs, and wattages,” he says. “You should always have a variety at hand.”

But, just because you have multiple light sources doesn’t mean you have to use them all simultaneously. If all else fails, you can always turn one off and experiment to find the right combination. Talk about a lightbulb idea.