What Is Accent Lighting, and How Do You Use It? Answers from interior designer Lesley Myrick

We’ve talked before about the three types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent as used in a kitchen. While that info is a great starting point, it’s pretty kitchen-specific (obviously). So let’s dive into what is accent lighting and how do you use it in the rest of your home.

Disclosure: Some of the products featured were sponsored by a brand I use and love for myself and for my clients, Lamps Plus. Thank for your support!

Mother-of-pearl accent lamp with a teal sofa

According to my friend, Wikipedia, “Accent lighting focuses light on a particular area or object. It is often used to highlight art or other artifacts. Common types of accent lights include wall sconces, floodlights, recessed lights, torchère lamps, or track lighting. The brighter light from the accent lamp creates visual interest to a room.

Eclectic living room with a teal sofa and cool accent lamps

Did you get that? Basically, accent lighting highlights particular areas or items in a room that you want to draw attention to – even artifacts, if you have those. (WTF?) I also like to use it to illuminate dark corners and help bring a cozy vibe to a space. Accent lighting is what gives a room alllll the feels.

Ambient lighting ‘brightens things’ overall, task lighting is used to illuminate areas for ‘specific purposes/periods/actions,’ and accent lighting is all about good vibes.

How do you use accent lighting in your home?

Let’s take a look at how I used lamps in our Texas home. The mother-of-pearl table lamp (similar) on the console table above lights up the dark space behind the sectional, and the Seeded Glass Edison Bulb Accent Lamp on the bar brings attention to that area of the room where there’s no overhead ambient lighting.

A living room seating area with leather wing chairs and a funky Mid-Century accent lamp

Clearly, I’m a fan of lamps and use them everywhere. There are four in the living room alone! I actually prefer to not use overhead lighting when I can, and I rely on multiple accent lamps to provide most of the light in my home.

This Mid-Century ceramic lamp (similar, in white) lights up the seating area and is essential when the sun goes down, since sunlight takes care of illuminating the room during the day.

A surveyor-style floor lamp from Lamps Plus creates a cozy living room reading nook

To the left of the leather wing chairs is another accent lamp (shocker!) that does the job of casting light into an otherwise dark corner. I love the wood and brass combo on this Surveyor Cherry Wood Floor Lamp.

Got it – Lesley loves lamps. Now what?

It’s time for a trick question: is the chartreuse table lamp pictured below in my former office considered accent lighting or task lighting?

Is a desk lamp considered ambient lighting, or task lighting? Learn the basics of choosing lighting from interior designer Lesley Myrick

Answer: it’s both. While I used this hip oversize ceramic lamp as a desk lamp, it does double-duty as both task lighting for my work and accent lighting for the entire office.

Love this brass accent lamp in a navy bedroom!

Same goes for a table lamp on a nightstand. It crosses over from accent to task lighting, and I’m not mad about that.

Here’s what I want you to know about accent lighting:

It is the secret sauce that takes a room from mediocre to magazine-worthy. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous your furniture is, if you have crappy lighting, you have a crappy room.

Let me say that again: if you have crappy lighting, you have a crappy room.

Layering lighting is key to a kickass designer look, so if you’re relying only on overhead ceiling lights, it’s time to go shopping for some statement-making lamps. (Lamps Plus is one of my fave secret sources – not so secret anymore, I guess.)


WHAT’S YOUR TRUE DESIGN STYLE?

We know you’re not just modern or traditional – you’re way more stylish and interesting than that! So what’s your true design style? Take our fun quiz to learn what your true design style is (and get a shoppable style board to help create a kickass home you love!)

How to Choose Lighting for a Kitchen - tips from Atlanta interior designer Lesley Myrick

Your kitchen lighting – just like your diet – needs balance to be healthy, happy, and functional. If you’re wondering how to choose lighting for a kitchen, there are 3 types of lighting your kitchen requires, and I’m going to give you the scoop on all three.

Disclosure: Some of the products featured were sponsored by a brand I use and love for myself and for my clients, Lamps Plus. Thank for your support!

We do a lot of stuff in our kitchens,

from cooking to cleaning to homework to entertaining to eating ice cream out of the carton in front of the freezer late at night. (No? Just me?) And one of the BIGGEST differences between an average kitchen and a phenomenal one is lighting.

Nope, not cool backsplash tiles or cabinet knobs – it’s lighting.

So, what are the three types of lighting your kitchen needs?

Ambient, task, and accent lighting.

Ambient lighting, like this track light,  is the first step in choosing lighting for a kitchen. Learn more about kitchen lighting selections in this useful post from interior designer Lesley Myrick.

Ambient lighting…

…is the main source of light in a room, and it needs to cast general light everywhere. In modern kitchens, ambient lighting is most often seen as recessed lighting (also called can lights or pot lights), but since my Texas kitchen was built in 1959 and had no recessed ceiling lights (UGH!) we chose this cool industrial-inspired 4-light oil-rubbed bronze track fixture instead.

I don’t love the look of most track lights – I find them too modern and sterile – but I loved the warmth of the oil-rubbed bronze and antique brass. Plus, give me an Edison bulb any day of the week! I love the cozy, vintage glow.

Task lighting, like this Sputnik-style chandelier,  is the second step in choosing lighting for a kitchen. Learn more about kitchen lighting selections in this useful post from interior designer Lesley Myrick.

Task lighting…

…is designed to bring extra illumination to areas where specific tasks happen (like chopping food or eating ice cream standing in front of the freezer). Ambient lighting is a great start, but doesn’t cut it on its own.

We installed an antique gold Sputnik-style chandelier to light up the table in our eat-in kitchen, and also a Kichler wood and iron mini-pendant over the sink. Pendant lights over an island are also a great example of kitchen task lighting.

Task lighting, like this Sputnik-style chandelier,  is the second step in choosing lighting for a kitchen. Learn more about kitchen lighting selections in this useful post from interior designer Lesley Myrick.

Finally, accent lighting…

…brings that little extra bit of zhush to a room. To continue with talk about ice cream, think of it like you’ve got the sundae (ambient lighting) covered in whipped cream (task lighting), and now it’s time to add the cherry on top (accent lighting).

Accent lighting creates a magical glow that makes a space more special. In a kitchen, you’ll often find accent lighting as under-cabinet lighting, above-cabinet lighting, toe kick lighting, or even in accent lamps. While the under-cabinet lights are off in these photos (because natural light is where it’s at for interior photography), know that I love and use under-cabinet lighting all the time.

Now that you know about the three main types of lighting a room needs, it’s time to talk about:

how to choose lighting for a kitchen.

Love the lighting from @lampsplus in this teal and white kitchen!

First, I refer to my Essential Kitchen Design Checklist! Having this checklist as a guideline helps me start and manage a kitchen design with confidence, and I hope it will do the same for you. Download it totally free, right here.

Overwhelmed by choosing lighting? Learn all about kitchen lighting selections in this useful post from interior designer Lesley Myrick.

Second, I take inventory of what lighting I have that’s working, what fixtures need to be replaced, and what additional lighting needs to be added by an electrician. While keeping in mind that I need all three types of layered lighting – ambient, task, and accent – I make a list of all the light fixtures I’m looking for, from recessed lights to pendants.

I don’t start my search in the dark (LIGHTING PUN!). I make sure I have a list and a plan so that I can get the best result – and the best-looking kitchen – possible.

Not sure what lighting your kitchen needs? Find out all about kitchen lighting in this useful post from interior designer Lesley Myrick.

And last but not least, I go shopping! I’m a big fan of sourcing online, and Lamps Plus is one of my fave secret sources for cool, affordable lighting.

FYI, I pay really close attention to customer reviews to see if there’s anything I need to be aware of (like, if the fixture looks more brassy in person than in the photos) and I also carefully check the dimensions of the fixtures before ordering. Those measurements are essential when ordering online – you might end up with a chandelier that’s way smaller (or way larger!) than you expected if you’re not carefully checking dimensions.

If you’re thinking about updating your kitchen lighting,

or if you’re considering a full remodel, be sure to grab the FREE Essential Kitchen Design Checklist to help get you started.

Who doesn’t love a good before-and-after? Get ready, because all month long I’m sharing a tour of our Texas home, including the living room, master bedroom, kids bedroom, my office, my husband’s office, and the kitchen. Finally – the dark teal kitchen!

Before and After: A Dark Teal Kitchen with Funky Lighting

Disclosure: Some of the products in this before-and-after were sponsored by brands I use and love for myself and for my clients, including Sherwin-Williams, Metrie, Lamps Plus, House of Antique Hardware, and The Findery. Thanks for your support!

The 1950s were great.

Sure, they were great – like, 70 years ago. But kitchens do not usually stand the test of time, and our Waco kitchen from 1959 was no exception. While there was an attempt to update this space by a former homeowner in the 1990s, it wasn’t exactly a home run.

Here’s what the kitchen looked like the day we moved in:

Check out the before and after of this  Waco, Texas Mid-Century kitchen
You've gotta see the "after" of this  Waco, Texas Mid-Century kitchen!
You won't believe the "after" of this  Waco, Texas Mid-Century kitchen!

The cabinets were original to the home and had been painted white at some point, which certainly isn’t terrible, but they were definitely dingy. The flooring was awful ceramic tile made to look like slate, with grout lines a mile wide. (Ugghhh it got so dirty!) The wallpaper? Yeah, I could’ve lived without that. And that fluorescent faux-skylight light fixture? That needed to be ripped out, like, yesterday.

But the absolute worst part about this kitchen? The countertops. I’d have loved something as retro chic as Formica, but nope – these countertops were made of 4×4 white square tiles.

Tiles.

With grout.

As a countertop.

So. Gross.

So what improvements did we make to this kitchen?

Love this before-and-after of a dark teal kitchen!

As with the rest of the house, the flooring was the first major change. We ran the same vinyl plank through the entire house, which was such a needed update. The only flooring we kept as-is was the cool herringbone brick in the front entry, which you can see a snippet of in the photo above.

Lighting was next on the list, and boy did a couple of new fixtures update the look of this kitchen! We replaced the outdated fluorescent box with a cool industrial track light, and updated the chandelier in the dining area with a funky brass Sputnik-style pendant, thanks to Lamps Plus.

Love this kitchen cabinet dark teal paint color - Sherwin-Williams Cascades

After we added crown molding and new baseboards from Metrie, everything got a fresh coat of my favorite crisp white paint, Sherwin-Williams Extra White. Everything, that is, except the lower cabinets, which we painted DARK TEAL! I loved Sherwin-Williams Cascades so much in this kitchen that I used the same color in my new office.

A dark teal kitchen had been my dream like, forever, and I’m so happy with how it turned out. Especially when we added this orange and fuschia wool runner which made the teal really pop.

Cool backsplash stickers in this before-and-after kitchen makeover

The boring white cabinet knobs were replaced with distressed antique brass knurled knobs, which brought a lot of texture and vintage character. And the backsplash was an awesomely easy DIY update – because it’s not tile. I tried out Quadrostyle Stickers because I’ve been so curious about peel-and-stick backsplashes, and this one was a smashing success. (Even my contractor didn’t realize it wasn’t tile until he looked closer.)

Since we kept the original cabinetry,

we were able to splurge on new countertops, and I have to tell you, concrete countertops are the bomb-diggity. Since our dining table was zinc and looked a little like natural concrete, we chose white concrete for the counters. Twisted Concrete in Texas totally made my countertop dreams come true. No more grout lines to clean!

 A modern dark teal kitchen by interior designer Lesley Myrick
A funky, eclectic dining room by interior designer Lesley Myrick

In the dining area of our dark teal kitchen,

we kept the mismatched chairs that we had collected over the years, and had a reclaimed zinc-top table custom made by The Findery in Waco, Texas. We loved the vintage iron bases, and were able to keep the same bases (but add a new, larger butcher block top) in our new home.

Love this modern kitchen before-and-after by interior designer Lesley Myrick

The oversize abstract art was made by me, inspired by Atlanta artist Britt Bass Turner. (Her paintings are waaaay better than mine, btw.) And the draperies are from World Market, but sadly, are no longer available.

Thanks so much for following along with the before-and-afters of my Texas home, including our dark teal kitchen. This was such a special house since it was the first home Nate and I bought, and the first house we were really able to put our stamp on. We were truly able to bust this home out of boring (and bust it out of ugly!) and I’d love to help you bust out of your boring home too. Let’s talk.


WHAT DOES IT REALLY COST TO DECORATE A HOUSE?

Get ready to kickstart your interior design project and plan your budget like a boss! Download our FREE super helpful guide with room-by-room furnishing budgets and printable worksheets.