What actually is task lighting? Designers explain, plus offer their best advice so you don't get it wrong

Task lighting is a valuable element of any scheme that makes work easier to see and do. Here's everything to know about it

A bedroom with a standing lamp next to a chair
(Image credit: Noa Santos)

Task lighting is that fixture that helps you read, write, cook and clean better. Remember the time you sat down in your favorite chair with a good book and found yourself straining to see the page? And then the addition of a simple lamp made your life easier? This is that fixture that complements your need for bright, functional light. 

In the larger scheme of your home's lighting, task lighting makes up a small yet significant chunk. By learning more about its purpose and types, you can make your kitchen, bedroom, or living room lighting better. Take a look at what our experts had to say.

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari
Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi is a homes writer and editor with several years of experience. Her articles, backed by expert insights, offer suggestions aimed at helping readers make the best home design choices. For this article, she spoke to top interior designers and industry experts to find out everything about task lighting. 

What is task lighting?

A bedside light

(Image credit: Hudson Valley Lighting Group-1)

Largely, task lighting is the type of light you use when you read, write, cook, or study something up close. It’s an important fixture to get right so you can avoid eyestrain and keep processing the task at hand. These types of lights can be flexible pieces, like lamps or swing arm scones that can be moved around to throw better light.  

'Task lighting is specifically used to increase visibility, illuminate small areas without straining the eyes and for the ease of performing tasks such as reading, writing, cooking, sewing, or other intricate work in interior spaces,' says Aryaman Jain, CEO, Innovative Lighting Designs Limited.

'It is an essential element in every interior space – from living rooms and bedrooms to kitchen and study areas – as it aids the user in performing their day-to-day tasks. Task lighting when paired with ambient lighting helps maintain an adequate amount of illumination in a space.'

Why is it important?

A bathroom with pendant task lights

(Image credit: Studio Goya)

Task lighting serves not only an aesthetic purpose but also a health and well-being one. This type of lighting is important for your eyes, as inadequate lighting can cause eye strain and lead to eye problems. This makes sure you can work safely and comfortably, in the kitchen when you're chopping, slicing, or cooking, or as a bathroom mirror lighting idea so you can apply your makeup without any worries. 

'Unlike ambient lighting, task lighting does not brighten the rest of the room,' says Meenu Agarwal, founder & interior designer at MADS Creations. 'It is more functional than decorative, and is used for activities that require closer inspection.'

Types of task lighting

Bedroom lights

A bedroom with bedside lights

(Image credit: Weespaces)

If you love to read in bed, you can’t always count on natural light. You need a good, effective fixture. While planning your bedroom lighting ideas, choose lamps, nightstands, or sconces fixed within the headboard to make reading time easy. 

'Task lighting as the name suggests illuminates a specific area for a task,' says Akshita Mehra, principal designer at Studio Goya. 'Some of the most important pieces of task lighting are reading lights in a bedroom.'

'In case all lights in the room are switched off one can use the reading light to focus on a novel to improve visibility,' says Akshita. 'The second type we find effective is table lamps for a study table as it helps focus on any tasks conducted on the table. The third type we love is pendants on either side of the bathroom mirror to help illuminate the vanity top.'


Red and Blue home office idea

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

If you have a small home office with a computer, you don’t want a bright source of light right next to the sides of your screen. Also, you should avoid having a window directly behind the screen or a bright lamp shining from behind the screen or on it. This can create a glare on the screen and cause eye strain. Instead, a standing lamp placed on the desk or beside you can help you out.

These are easy ways to add task lighting to work desks, bedrooms, reading nooks, living room corners, or even in the bathroom. Standing lamps can be used to illuminate a wall, a chair, or paneling, while desk lamps are great for table-tops or work desks. This style of task lighting is the simplest to install since lamps only need an outlet to plug into.

Cabinet lights

a kitchen with lit glass fronted kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Caple)

Kitchen cabinet lighting makes it easy to find things that can otherwise be lost forever; whether it's a corkscrew, a can of sauce, or a spoon. Under-cabinet or above-counter lights not only add a decorative element to the kitchen but also double as the ideal task lighting, making cooking, chopping, or baking an easy task. 

The under-cabinet lights are small, round lights, known as puck lighting, or in long strips or ropes. These can be affixed inside walls or storage units so they don't take up space in the room.

Pendant light

A living room with a pendant above the coffee table

(Image credit: Norm Architects)

Task lights can also be suspended from the ceiling, and are as effective and useful. Pendants can be used as a kitchen island lighting idea, hung above a coffee table (if hung low), or over a dining table. Large and small pendant lights are available in all sizes, shapes, and materials, depending on your aesthetic and requirements. 

'The shape of the pendant mimics the architecture of the Archipelago House, with its high and triangular shaped roof construction,' says Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, partner at Norm Architects. 'The light is being spread not only down, but also up and to the sides. The bottom of the lamp has been covered with a single piece of Washi paper, which is cleverly held in place by a few magnets, making it easy to disassemble, should you need to change the bulb.'

'The bottom furthermore acts as a screen, hiding the light source and creating warm and indirect light,' says Jonas. 'Small details like the paper cord create subtle references to the furniture in the Karimoku Case Study collection but is also inspired by the ropes and lines found on the nearby small fishing harbor, somehow adding a maritime feeling to the product'

Keep in mind

three pendants lighting up a kitchen island

(Image credit: Original BTC)

Before you jump into installing these beauties at home, our experts outline some tips to keep in mind. 

'When installing these lights, first, consider additional light sources in the room,' says Meenu. 'This will allow you to install task lighting in a complementary location while maximizing the use of any current light sources. A reading chair or a window seat on the left, for example, might benefit from a task light on its right to help reduce shadows and more uniformly illuminate the room.'

'Place the task light where it will be most effective,' says Meenu. 'Although it may appear simple, positioning is critical when it comes to effective and comfortable job lighting. Reading lights should be set to the side and behind you so that they may beam straight onto the page. This will equally illuminate your environment without being too direct or producing harsh shadows.'

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Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast).  Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.