How do you brighten up a home — even one as beautiful as this penthouse at Waterfront Tower? Simple. By adding ambient, task and accent lighting

Last week I introduced you to Catherine Lin’s Waterfront Tower penthouse apartment and the idea of creating a sense of flow with color and style. Now I’ll take you into other rooms and show you what we did with Catherine’s lighting.

There are three kinds of lighting: ambient, task and accent. Each serves a different purpose, and for a truly complete space, you want to consider these three forms.

Ambient or general lighting can be overhead fixtures, canister lights and yes, even those unattractive fluorescent lights. These illuminate the overall space.


Task lighting illuminates individual areas. This includes desk or reading lamps, and pendants over a kitchen island.

Regarding accent lighting, some are decorative, while others accent things such as art on the wall or add a bit of light to a dark corner. This is where you can truly go wild with shapes, colors and forms, since the main purpose here is to add personality.

Some fixtures cross over. Pendants can be task lighting as well as accents. Chandeliers can serve as the main or ambient lighting for a room, and also as fabulous focal points. Wall sconces in many instances are beautiful accents, but are often used as task lighting, for example, to gently light hallways.

I wanted the lighting in Catherine’s office to do double duty. She needed general lighting at night to work by. This room had wallpaper that needed to stay, meaning we couldn’t add pizzazz through new paint colors, but it definitely needed some spicing up. It has a fantastic view, with lots of windows and natural light. But at night she needed additional lighting and a focal point to replace the view.

If you read last week’s column, you’ll remember that in keeping with her feminine yet dynamic personality, I was going for a Mediterranean-meets-Hollywood decorating style, full of glam and drama. The home office would be no different.

A beautiful drum chandelier from Honolulu Lights did the trick. It provided more ambient lighting when Catherine worked at night, and the bonus was it looked beautiful even when the switch was off.


Glam and drama were the same concepts I had in mind when changing out the fixtures in the upstairs sitting area. Overall lighting was provided by track lights in the ceiling that needed to stay, but the wall sconces could be replaced. I love wall sconces because they provide an opportunity to add personality to a room, and certain fixtures can cast shadows on walls to add even more interest.

The old light fixture was brass with frosted glass lights. The new one added the style we were going for, with crystals that kept with our Mediterranean-Hollywood flair. Nearby we placed three Hollywood-style mirrors to reflect even more light and give the room some sparkle.

Finally, in the adjoining family room, we placed a pair of new floor lamps and beautifully upholstered wingback chairs to provide balance in the room, with the lamps adding light and sculpture to the space.

Ambient, task and accent lighting: They’re all important to a space. If you find you’re only using one of these in your room, take a look around and think about it. Who knows? A light bulb may go off!

Cathy Lee is president and designer of Cathy Lee Style and Cathy’s Marketplace, a furniture and accessories showroom with design services at 1110 University Ave. She recently opened reStyle Hawaii, an affordable, style-conscious consignment warehouse with upholstering and repurposing services at 420 Keawe St. in Kakaako. Lee’s interior design work has been featured in local and national publications, on HGTV and in her DIY design workshops that teach homeowners the basics of style. To find out more, go to