Table Lamps as Ambient Lighting

Table Lamp Ambient LightingAmbient light is one of the most fundamental types of lighting available. Unlike spotlights, for example, ambient light seems to come from everywhere at once, and depending on the brightness used, can be very practical (suitable for when you’re cleaning the house, for example), or very subtle (like a cozy background light that works well when you’re watching TV).

One of the characteristics of ambient light is that the light source itself often isn’t immediately obvious. It doesn’t add drama to a room, because the shadows it casts are very soft, but it does set the tone. To achieve such an effect relies on technical sounding terms like diffusion and reflection. Don’t be put off though, because in practice, it’s quite simple really!


If you have a table lamp sitting in the center of a room, with no lamp shade, and a standard light bulb, it would likely draw a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. A stark, glaring light source is uncomfortable to look at, but difficult to avoid. The rest of the room would be filled with high contrast light and shadow, which is hardly an ideal environment to relax in!

To improve things somewhat, the light needs to be diffused. By the simple addition of a translucent lamp shade, light from the bulb is partially subdued, then scattered (or diffused) more evenly throughout your room.

By toning down the source of the light, and spreading out its effect, your room instantly becomes more comfortable to be in. But the light source is still the center of attention, so another factor has to be considered: Reflection.


Light doesn’t just stop when it hits a physical object. It always reacts, usually through diffusion, or reflection. Although the level of light diminishes, a certain amount will bounce off surfaces and continue to light other objects. If it didn’t do this, it would never reach our eyes!

This type of reflection can be used to our advantage when planning a lighting scheme for our home. By placing a table lamp close to a large surface, like a wall, or on a high shelf near the ceiling, the surface becomes a secondary light source too, softening any hard shadows caused by the original light bulb.

Using a table lamp gives you the luxury of being able to try out different locations and effects. A wall with a matte surface will scatter the light nicely, while a colored surface will add a distinct character to the overall atmosphere. Experiment and see what works best for your home.

The Table Lamp Advantage

Table lamps are great for ambient lighting, as they are so easy to move around. You can change the ambiance of a room simply by moving it away from a white wall, and placing it beside a burgundy curtain instead.

The important factors, I believe, are the position of the light, and the lamp shade you choose. Many table lamps have opaque shades, which is more difficult to use for ambient light, as you have to rely on reflection. However, attractive translucent shades are abundantly available these days, made out of paper, fabrics, ground glass, plastic and other materials.

For a complete lighting design, ambient light is often complemented by other, more dramatic types of lighting. It is the bedrock upon which other lights can add their dramatic effects, as we’ll be discussing in other articles. Be creative with ambient light, as table lamps allow you to be, and your rooms will be all the richer for it!

Image Credit: stock.xchng

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