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As part of the process of setting up and organizing our new home office, we've learned a lot about how to light the room. Proper lighting makes a huge difference in productivity, energy and mood. Here's a primer with the tips and tricks we've learned along the way, along with some images of the lighting in action and tips for cubicle dwellers.

When setting up an office area, you'll want it to be pleasant, functional and free from distraction. These tips are designed to help you achieve a "layered" lighting look, and though you can pick and choose which ones appeal to you, when put together they form a lovely, cohesive whole.

Natural light

Julie's Jubilant Loft, via Desks In Front Of & Next To Windows

Start out by considering natural light. Where is your desk situated? If you're lucky enough to have a sunny window, it's a good idea to park your desk nearby it, or if there are no distractions, facing it. There's something to be said for gazing out of a window while your brain is processing things at full speed.

For more inspiration, check out our post How To Work From the Brightest Room in the House.

Overhead/built in light

Intrinsic Complexity: Modern Hacked Lighting

Built in light sources are often the bane of the room. If you're renting there's not much you can do to alter them, and they often cast unflattering or inadequate light. But in combination with the other light sources, an overhead light does a good job at "filling in" the places the lamps won't cover.

Two Great Lights To Change Your Home Office has a couple of funky choices.

Dedicated task light

Colorful Task Lights to Brighten Up Any Home Office

A dedicated task light is essential for avoiding eye strain and keeping focused, so if you choose only one of these options, go for this. We love our post Clip-On Clamp Lamps Save Desktop Space, which has a ton of stylish, low-profile options.

Ambient light

Using Simple Table Lamps As Ambient Lighting

Ambient light is a great stress reliever. It's pretty lame to look up from a long day of work and realize you're sitting alone with only the light of your desk lamp for company. Ambient light fills the area with a soothing glow, for a warmer, more comfortable atmosphere.

Our post Using New Lights & Smart Ideas to Spruce Up Your Desk shows off a desk that uses rope lights to create an ambient glow, and anything with a shade that diffuses light is a good option.

Don't forget to consider placement, and whether a low, desk height or high light will work best with your setup.

Corrective Light

Using LED Lighting Behind Workstation Monitors

Eye strain and migraines are two common ailments that come with working at a computer all day. Corrective lights, placed behind a monitor or screen setup, can help ease the bright glare emanating from that screen. It's also possible to combine corrective and ambient light, as demonstrated in our post Using Simple Table Lamps As Ambient Lighting.

Here's how it looks in practice, when all elements are combined.

Start with overhead light


Our willing victim's desk is shown illuminated with only the room's overhead light, leaving the space drab and unappealing.

Add dedicated task light


The task light helps bring things into focus, but the contrast of the bright lights and the darkness outside can bring on eyestrain very quickly.

Add ambient/corrective light


The office is finished with a desktop lamp and an upright lamp with a shade (not pictured). The office is cozy, more comfortable and less stressful.

Working at a desk or cubicle? Here are some quick tips to adapt the list above:

  • If your desk isn't near a window, take time during the day to walk around outside, even if it means taking the elevator down to the parking garage and having a stroll.
  • Fluorescent lights? We feel for you. (The one in our old office even made a constant ticking sound, argh.) There's not much you can do to combat them directly, but see if it's possible to have them turned off during the day, or add a shield to the fixture covering the bulbs. Fluorescent lights are a migraine trigger and we've seen several offices that simply forgo overhead lighting completely.
  • The task and ambient lights will probably be the easiest to integrate into a public office environment. See if you can get a minimalist lamp or one that clips onto a surface, to save desk space. Ambient lights should sit low to the desk so they don't disturb people around you; the rectangular paper-covered lamps common today are an aesthetically-pleasing option.
  • Some offices don't allow modifications to equipment or spaces (in the case of moving desks or shifts), but if you can, it's worth sticking an LED strip or puck behind your monitor. If you're not allowed, try to reposition the screen so there's no glare, or add a glare screen or hood to block light from hitting it. This will significantly reduce your eye strain.