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What Provides More Light: Uplights vs Downlights

Not to be confused with ambient lighting that spreads light evenly in a room, these terms indicate …
Tersus LED Wall Sconces by Cerno
Tersus LED Wall Sconce by Nick Sheridan for Cerno 

When shopping for lighting fixtures, there are many references to uplighting and downlighting. Not to be confused with ambient lighting that spreads light evenly in a room, these terms indicate a directional light that provides focused light either upward or downward.  

This guide will provide more understanding on how and where these lights should be used and the amount of light they actually provide in a room.  

Uplighting 

When it comes to larger spaces with high ceilings, uplighting has the upper hand. Most uplight fixtures have wide beam spreads, creating a more ambient element when shining upward into a large space.  

Athena LED Floor Lamp by Artemide 
Athena LED Floor Lamp by Naoto Fukasawa for Artemide  

Throwing light upwards can help ‘raise’ a ceiling or enhance the architectural structure or interior design features; or it may be used to boost local ambient light levels. 

If the overall goal is a more general, ambient lighting, an uplit fixture will help.  

Downlighting 

Downlights, on the other hand, are excellent for task lighting, making them the ideal choice over kitchen counters or workspaces. 

Two Ziggy Pendants over a modern kitchen island.
Ziggy Pendant by Hinkley 

Downlighting can also be used when doing landscape lighting, by incorporating path and step lighting into an outdoor space. Not only do downlights invite you with a welcoming glow, they also offer a means of safety and comfort at night. 

Atlantis Path Lights by Hinkley
Atlantis Path Light by Hinkley  
Image courtesy of Studio Plumb 

Up and Downlighting Together 

When using the two lighting directions together, a nice layering effect can shine through. Bringing together both task and ambient lighting, you can achieve the best of both worlds, but be sure to watch for a shadowing effect, as that can be a pitfall when using up/down lights. 

Up/down lighting is especially prevalent outdoors. It plays up decorative elements and wall washing of a large exterior space with the uplighting, while also providing the visibility needed to navigate with the downlighting. 

Lab Outdoor Wall Sconce by Marset.
Lab Outdoor Wall Sconce by Fransesc Rife for Marset 

Often overlooked in DIY renovations—and underestimated in the grand scheme of a design plan—is lighting and how it can transform a space with a flick of a switch. Lighting can add depth and create a mood that was not there before, effects that are often dependent on where the lighting is focused. 

The renowned interior designer, the late Albert Hadley, once said: “Design is defined by light and shade, and appropriate lighting is enormously important.” With our tips and his wisdom in mind, experiment and discover which direction your lighting design is headed. 

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