choosing light fixtures for home guide

Choosing the right light fixtures is crucial to good room design for two primary reasons. First: It ensures that you get the appropriate lighting—that is, the ideal light level, angle and type of lighting—for your space, providing comfort and functionality. Second: Light fixtures serve as décor, helping to tie your room together and honor your home’s interior design and architectural style. The trouble is, understanding lighting styles is no effortless task. Here, we’ll help you understand how to pick the right fixtures for any and every room in your home!

Pro Tip: Need help? You can always reach out to Hansen’s lighting experts for bespoke lighting advice. Call us today at 1-800-201-1193. We love talking to our customers!

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Before you jump into the great, big world of light fixture shopping, it’s a good idea to jot down a little bit about what you need in a fixture. Forge a general idea of how bright you want your lighting to be, where you would like to install it (i.e., will you need a ceiling fixture or a wall fixture?), whether you’d like the option to dim and some basic idea of aesthetic and finish. Every room has a different purpose, and the kind of lighting required will help to serve that purpose. Here are some ways to narrow down which type of lighting you need.

General Lighting—General lighting, otherwise known as ambient lighting, is the lighting style used for all-over illumination. Typically, general lighting will need to be bright enough that you can walk around comfortably, but usually casts a soft glow over everything in the room. Here, the goal is to create safe, natural and even lighting. You can, and should, complement general lighting with other kinds of lighting for the best functionality.

  • Best For: Anywhere you relax, read, talk with friends or watch movies. We recommend general lighting for the living room, den or outside where you need to ensure safety at night or in low-lit conditions.
  • Look For: Chandeliers, wall-mounted fixtures, recessed lights, track lights and outdoor-rated wall lights and lanterns for the exterior of your home.

maxim glimmer chandelier

Task Lighting—Task lighting is just how it sounds—it’s lighting designed specifically for tasks. The American Lighting Association (ALA) defines task lighting as “lighting that helps you do what you want safely without eye strain.” Any focused task—cooking, working, getting ready or reading, for example—requires more even and bright lighting, free of glare and shadows that can cause you to squint or strain your eyes.

  • Best For: Anywhere you perform tasks such as reading, cooking, homework, hobbies, paying bills, playing games or sewing.
  • Look For: Task lighting can be achieved with lamps in the living room, home office or den. In the kitchen, you might consider under-cabinet lighting to help illuminate the countertop for focused food prep.

Accent Lighting—This kind of lighting is less about function and more about using light to highlight, style and complement its surroundings. If ambient lighting is general, then accent lighting is specific. Accent lighting can be used to highlight any item of visual interest, such as a piece of artwork, an architectural feature, a piece of furniture or, when used outdoors, a plant or a section of your landscape.

  • Best For: Any room that already has general and task lighting but has some sort of special feature that you want to highlight. The hallway, living room, dining room, home gallery and garden can always use a little accent lighting.
  • Look For: Many people use track and recessed lights to achieve accent lighting in the living room, bedroom or gallery space. Wall-mounted fixtures are also an excellent choice, especially picture display lights.

LED flush ceiling light

Pictured: LED Nexus Ceiling Flush Mount in Brushed Nickel by SeaGull Lighting

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Once you understand a little bit about the kinds of lights you need in your space, you can start to get specific about subcategories of lighting. Although there are no hard and fast rules to where and how you can use these kinds of lights, understanding how they are generally employed will help give you a better idea of what kinds of lights to buy and how to achieve your specific lighting goals.

  • Ceiling Lights—Ceiling lights include chandeliers, pendant lights, recessed lighting, track lighting and island lights. Chandeliers and pendant lights are often employed in the foyer, porch and dining room for a grand feel. For utility and in rooms with limited ceiling heights, you may want to consider flush-mount and semi flush-mount fixtures.
  • Wall Lights—The majority of the time, when we talk about wall lighting, we’re talking about sconces. Often employed in the hallway, entryway or to flank the bed in the bedroom, sconces deliver soft accent lighting. Other kinds of wall lights include picture frame lights and wall lamps. Outside, wall lights may be referred to as wall lanterns.

fixture types graphic

  • Free-Standing Lights—This category is made up of lamps and torchieres, which can be used as task or accent lighting in the living room, bedroom, home office or reading nook. Although not technically light fixtures (they don’t affix to anything and are therefore not permanent and require virtually no installation), lamps and torchieres are still an important consideration in your lighting design plan.
  • Outdoor Lights—Outdoor lighting is meant for…well, you know where. This category includes outdoor ceiling fans, porch lights, post lamps and even outdoor chandeliers. As obvious as it may seem, it’s very important that you choose outdoor-rated lights (typically designated with a “wet location” or “damp location” rating) when illuminating both covered and uncovered exterior spaces.

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We can’t talk about types of lights without discussing the type of bulb. The light bulb, also known as a “lamp” when referring specifically to lighting fixtures, can affect the quality, efficiency and performance of the light design. In general, we recommend buying LED light fixtures as much as possible. At this point, we’re sure you already know that LED lights run longer, cooler and much more affordably than their energy-hogging predecessors.

maxim linear bathroom LED

Unfortunately, it isn’t just as simple as adding an LED light bulb to your regular old fixture. Not all fixtures are designed for LED lights, so you should choose fixtures made for use with LEDs. That leads us into the world of color temperature and lumens: two factors that designate the hue and brightness of your bulbs. Make sure that you understand your needs and how to achieve them with LEDs before upgrading your home’s light fixtures. Also, know that you will need to choose dimmable LED bulbs if you want to use them on a dimmer.

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Now for the fun part! You know which type of light and fixture you need, now what about style? Although we can easily classify light fixtures by décor style, there are no hard and fast rules about style in terms of where you can install what. A mid-century modern light fixture is just as much a statement in the bedroom as it is the foyer, for example! Look to your architecture, interior finishes and personal preferences to determine style.

The most popular light fixture styles, and coordinating brands, include:


  • Casual—Casual lights are marked by laid-back finishes, utility and ease of matching many surroundings. Just because it’s casual doesn’t mean it’s plain or devoid of personality! Brands such as Craftmade, Progress, Maxim Lighting and Kichler excel in the casual lighting department.
  • Contemporary—Modern lighting is more daring than casual or traditional lights, with less conventional finishes, materials and shapes. It will suit Scandinavian, mid-century, minimalist and urban spaces. Top brands in this arena include Elk Lighting, ET2 Lighting, Murray Feiss, Access and Progress, among many others.
  • Traditional—Traditional lights include opulent chandeliers featuring crystal, dark finishes, fabric shades, frosted glass and other classic appointments. They work well in foyers, kitchens, dining rooms, living spaces and bedrooms with a traditional flair. The best traditional lighting designs come from Seagull, Progress, Minka Lavery, Kichler, Crystorama and Maxim Lighting.
  • Mission and Craftsman—The mission, craftsman or arts and crafts lighting style is especially popular in outdoor lighting to complement coordinating architectural styles. These fixtures are marked by a warm, handsome and American aesthetic. The most popular mission and craftsman lights are made by Meyda Tiffany, Savoy House, Designers Fountain and Kichler.
  • Rustic—Rustic lights are all about complementing woodsy, earthy and Americana design styles. With plenty of burnished finishes, wooden accents and maybe even an antler or two, rustic lights look right at home in country estates, farmhouses and cabins. We’d recommend checking out rustic fixtures by Meyda Tiffany, Vaxcel and Kichler for an authentically rustic feel.


popular light fixture styles quote

Note: There are hundreds of design schools that have inspired their own lighting niches, including transitional, European, Tiffany, industrial, Asian, colonial and country. Be sure to browse all of our lighting styles for more inspiration.

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The perfect lighting designs provide the look, feel and function you desire all at once. But your lights will only serve you if they have the extra features required to create a comfortable, enjoyable ambiance. One of the final steps of your lighting design journey should be to narrow your search by specific codes and features pertaining to performance, efficiency and convenience. Here are some essential extras you should consider when dreaming up lighting for specific rooms.

  • Dimmability—An absolute must-have for the living room, bedroom and home theater, dimmable lights allow you total control over your environment so that you can adjust the light levels as needed. Make sure that you choose dimmer-compatible fixtures if you intend to leverage this option.
  • Energy Star—There’s no room in your home that wouldn’t benefit from an Energy Star rated light fixture. These lights are manufactured to meet specific energy efficiency standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Energy Star lights use less energy, which means a lower bill for you.
  • Dark Sky—Dark Sky lights are specifically designed for outdoor use. They ensure that the light doesn’t seep into the surrounding area—usually by creating a more targeted light source—to keep light pollution at a minimum. While Dark Sky compliance is often required in commercial environments, it’s still something to consider in residential spaces to ensure that you don’t emit needless light pollution at home.

chelsea wall sconce

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Getting the right-sized light fixture is important to creating good balance in a space. There’s no trick to sizing your lights, but there are a few important things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about size:

  • Know Your Ceiling Height—The length of the fixture or its suspension—usually a pole or chain—should not extend so far that it could be a hazard for tall visitors. Clearance is key!
  • It’s All About Proportion—Have your room measurements in hand when shopping for light fixtures. The last thing you want is to order a light that feels overbearing or diminutive in the room. Finding good balance and proportion is vital!
  • Think About Shape—If you’re looking for a light to illuminate a rectangular dining room table or a billiards table, trust your instinct and go for a linear light. For round rooms, entryways and lighting over round tables, globes and circular fixtures are ideal.
  • Talk to An Expert—Sizing is certainly one of the more challenging aspects of light selection, so we always recommend getting in touch with our lighting pros for personalized sizing advice.

person measuring ceiling

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As you can see, there are hundreds of considerations that go into designing a lighting scheme for your room. Sometimes, you just need the help of an expert to get you through the process. Hansen Wholesale is one of the few lighting retailers that specializes in providing each and every customer personalized lighting advice, if requested. Give us a call at 1-800-201-1193 to get started designing your brand-new lighting scheme with the help of an experienced lighting expert!