Ambient lighting - the general illumination of a room - sets the stage and forms a backdrop for the other, more specific types of lighting such as task and accent.
Adequate ambient lighting depends on the natural light available, the time of day and the activities of people in the room. Although a single, large overhead fixture may provide enough ambient lighting, incorporating light from multiple sources offers more flexibility and a better lighting strategy.
Glare is the main enemy of good ambient lighting. Two excellent ways to produce glare-free light are with indirect lighting and with wall-washing techniques.
- Indirect lighting uses the room's surfaces - the floor, ceiling, and walls - to reflect ambient light produced by hidden light bulbs. These are usually encased in a fixture (such as a sconce or a soffit) that points light upward or delivers lighting downward (in this case, recessed downlight). Indirect lighting is a must when a room has appliances such as computers or televisions that depend on a glare-free environment to work best.
You can enhance the effect of indirect lighting with light-colored room surfaces; however, to avoid glare, use non-glossy paints. When thinking indirect, consider wall-mounted sconces or recessed downlights.
An interesting choice might be a torchiere, which directs light upwards and reflects it off the ceiling and walls for a softer, warmer effect. New super-efficient, low-wattage compact fluorescent bulbs produce the same amount of light as a 300-watt halogen bulb, but without the 1,000-degree-plus temperatures and the potential fire hazard that halogens can generate.
Linear fluorescent, compact fluorescent and low-voltage halogen bulbs are good, energy-efficient choices for indirect fixtures.
If you choose recessed downlighting, try using wide flood halogen PAR bulbs to replace incandescent reflector shaped bulbs. PAR (Parabolic Aluminized Reflector) bulbs can be either low-voltage halogen or incandescent. They are designed for track or recessed lighting, where the extra-tiny bulb's specific shape and coating make the light exceptionally controllable and far-reaching.
- Wall washing provides soft, glare-free and effective ambient lighting. By placing lights on the floor or ceiling at regular intervals, the walls appear to be gently "washed" and evenly illuminated.
Just as with indirect lighting, light-colored walls enhance the effect of wall washing. Recessed directional downlights and sconces that use compact fluorescent, halogen and low-voltage halogen are perfect for this lighting technique.