How to Apply Architectural Lighting Concepts to Your Home

The right lighting can make the most of architectural design and details in your home, and help shape a space that you love. Use our tips to explore ideas and find the perfect lighting for your project.

What is Architectural Lighting? 

From the outside to the inside, lighting plays a huge part in how we perceive a home. Architectural lighting accentuates and showcases the architecture of a space, working together hand in hand. With a bit of planning and budget, you can emphasize one of a kind architectural details to create new levels of ambiance. Outdoors, lighting can highlight the facade and bring curb appeal; inside, it can call attention to key design elements and even enhance the sense of a room’s depth and size, influencing the feel and functionality of every room. 


“Light, materials and atmosphere are the most important aspects of architecture.”

– Swiss architect Peter Zumthor

Some Common Myths About Architectural Lighting

Let’s start with some preconceived notions about architectural lighting, that simply aren’t accurate anymore and shouldn’t hold you back when you’re making plans. 


It’s only for commercial spaces

Architectural lighting is commonly used in large commercial projects, to create a sense of grandeur or intimacy in everything from hotels to restaurants, corporate offices to museums. But the same principles can be applied at a smaller scale to homes, leveraging architectural features to create dramatic, intimate, and beautiful effects.


It’s too expensive for residential use

Here at Visual Comfort, we have a wide variety of options available at a range of price points, to make architectural lighting affordable and achievable for home design.

It can’t be artistic or decorative

We disagree completely! Not only does the right lighting improve illumination, it can also add style, an elevated feel, and a sense of uniqueness to a home. 

It requires excessive maintenance

Cleaning of all Visual Comfort lighting is simple: all you need is a soft, dry cloth. And our exceptional customer service and design insights team is always available to answer any questions you might have.

How does architectural lighting differ from other lighting types?

Simply put, it’s a design feature that is often integrated into the structure of the building. Outdoors, permanent fixtures utilize durable and weather-resistant materials and are designed to last for years. Inside, unlike floor or table lamps, it requires installation, which means that it also requires careful planning and coordination with other elements of the structure. 

How to incorporate architectural lighting

Where in your project are some examples can you incorporate architectural lighting? A lot depends on the design of the home, from its master plan to all of the little details that make a space special. We’ve put together a hit list of ideas for you to consider. 

Outdoor architectural lighting

For outdoor spaces, floodlights and spotlights for facades come to mind. But don’t stop there! Also think about lanterns and wall lights – as well as lights for entryways, pathways, and bollard lights for pedestrian illumination and safety, especially in areas that are damp or have potential trip and fall hazards.


Step inside and feel the difference 

Indoor spaces benefit from recessed and track lighting, wall sconces, pendants and chandeliers. And, for homeowners who are sustainability-minded, LED lighting can be integrated into almost every room, from kitchens to bathrooms to living rooms. 


Let’s go a step farther into interiors. How can lighting set a mood as well as achieve practical effects? Integrated dimmers allow you to control the brightness in a room by adjusting it up or down, making it perfect for bedrooms. Bathrooms with exterior windows benefit from bright lighting that is window-oriented, increasing privacy. In living rooms, installed lighting can highlight particular features or help set a mood. The list goes on and on. 

Looking for inspiration? Start here.

Wall grazing

Wall grazing has become very popular in recent years, for good reason. It’s a beautiful way to use LED lights to enhance textured surfaces, by positioning lights close to the wall (typically from the floor or ceiling) to force a beam of light to hit the wall at a narrow angle. This creates shadows that draw the eye to the wall’s texture, to great effect. 

Backlighting and light channels

Create dramatic silhouettes with this creative and versatile technique. By placing a light source behind a foregrounded subject – a work of art, a mirror, or much more – you can frame a stunning silhouette that highlights its outline and shape.

Recessed lighting

Recessed lighting, or grouping lights within insets to create uninterrupted surfaces of ceilings and walls,  is tailor made for pathways indoors and out, but it can be used in many other ways. For ambient light, recessed lights illuminate an entire room with evenly dispersed glow, without being overly bright. Accent lighting can be used to draw attention to a specific feature, such as illuminating a piece of art with a wall wash of light. 

The Art of Layering in Ambient Lighting

Task lighting is used in areas where you work, to direct light where it is most needed while reducing eye strain – for example, under kitchen cabinets or in a home office. 

Tips for integrating light with architecture to shape a space

Use upward-oriented lighting to make rooms appear larger

Stretch out and elongate walls and corridors visually with linear lighting

Strategically plan fields of light to create wayfinding, pathways, or “invisible wall” divisions in large and open spaces

Play with shadows to add depth and intrigue. 


When is the right time to upgrade or retrofit architectural lighting systems?

Architectural lighting planning is not only for new construction. Renovations, aesthetic updates, and extensions to existing architecture are a great time to reconsider lighting and its effect, but there are other reasons to think about making a change. Technological advances ranging from LED lights to panel lights, strips and ribbons open up new possibilities. So do costs: sometimes, the old ways are not the best ways because they drive up electricity bills! An investment in new architectural lighting can lead to big savings, over time. 

Sustainable architectural lighting practices

The way we light our spaces makes a big difference in how we feel when we inhabit them. It also makes a big difference for the environment – today’s smart technologies, bulbs, fixtures, and habits surrounding lighting can all add up to a greener lifestyle. 

Did you know that standard incandescent light bulbs convert only around 5-10% of their energy into light, while the rest is released as heat? LED (light emitting diode) bulbs have completely changed the game, providing warm or cool light while emitting very little heat, using up to 90% less energy, and last much longer – many do not have to be changed for more than a decade, making them an excellent choice for installed applications.   

Of course, bulbs are only part of the equation. A great architectural design will plan for daylight and artificial light to work collaboratively, maximizing the experience of every room. Use of timers and mindfulness about turning off the lights when they’re not in use can help reduce your environmental footprint. And don’t forget about dimmers and motion sensors, which can give just the right amount of light when it’s needed, without unnecessarily wasting energy and driving up your electricity bill. 


Tomorrow’s lighting, today

Even more advances are available today, with others on the near horizon. Biophilic lighting is a concept that mimics natural light patterns and cycles found in nature, in indoor settings – helping boost mood, productivity during work hours, and rest when work is done. And integrating your lighting with the Internet of Things gives you greater control over customization of your lighting experience, through smart apps that put light at your fingertips. 

Ready to explore options? 

Visual Comfort’s Architectural Lighting Collection is designed to help you highlight key areas of focus, create visual interest, and make a space comfortable. Check out some of our most popular architectural lighting fixtures.