Lighting a Living Room

Published By: Shades Of Light

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Last Updated: May 26, 2021

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Living room wall light and lamp

For many families, the living room is arguably the most important room in the home. Host to a versatile range of activities from entertaining guests to spending quality time with family or unwinding after a long workday, the living room should be designed to meet all your family’s needs in both comfort and style. Living rooms need careful considerations for functional lighting as poorly placed lights can impede even the most basic living room activities, like watching TV or chatting with friends. To keep this room comfortable and tailored to your needs, you will have to create layers of light that can be easily adjusted depending on whatever you are using your living room for at the moment. Layering lighting refers to the practice of lighting a space using fixtures that fulfill one or more of the following types of illumination: ambient, task, decorative, and accent. Missing any one layer of light as you design your living room can leave things dim, gloomy, and hard to work with. As you plan how to light your living room, use these tips, tricks, and recommendations to avoid common mistakes and create a swoon-worthy room you’ll love to show off!


Types of Lighting for the Living Room

Living room table lamp and chandelier


Because the living room is so versatile, it is particularly important that you use multiple types of lighting throughout the room. There are four different types of living room lighting and truly spectacular living rooms use all four in personalized configurations to keep the room stylish and easy to use.

Four Types of Living Room Lights: Ambient, Task, Accent & Decorative

What is ambient lighting? Ambient lighting is the base layer of light and brings a diffuse, all-over glow to the room. It accents natural light and illuminates the spaces between other lighting layers to eliminate dark areas and unflattering and distracting shadows. Generally speaking, living room chandeliers, living room table lamps, and living room ceiling lights are used to create this base lighting layer.

What is task lighting? Task lighting is the lighting layer that addresses the specific needs of any work you and your family do in the living room. Reading, knitting, crafting, and game night with the family are all examples of tasks you may perform in your living room that requires extra directed light. Living room floor lamps, swing arm wall lights, hanging pendant lights, and living room desk lamps are all fixtures that are specifically designed to shine light onto your work surfaces, and many of them are adjustable so you can tuck them out of the way when not in use and reposition them when you start to work.

What is accent lighting? Accent lighting emphasizes your personal style by illuminating wall art, family photos, architectural details, and other decor elements of your living room. Living room wall lights, amiable living room track lights, some recessed lighting, and LED strip lighting can all be used to draw attention to unique design elements of your room. Accent lighting can serve functional purposes as well as decorative—for example, LED strip lights positioned behind your television can help reduce eyestrain on movie night!

What is decorative lighting? Decorative lighting mixes lighting and decor to create your unique living room style. Lights that serve ambient, task, or accent functions can also serve as decorative lighting decor, making it easy to find fixtures that fulfill this need while addressing other illumination concerns. Colorful art glass pendant lights are a beautiful example of one-of-a-kind decorative lights.


As you examine a particular light for your living room, consider if it provides task, ambient, accent, or decorative lighting; some lights will fulfill more than one illumination need, like a floor lamp with a moveable reading arm which can function as both ambient and task lighting.


How to Improve Living Room Lighting

If your goal is to improve upon your existing living room lighting rather than design a new layout from scratch, there are a few easy adjustments you can make to drastically improve the quality of your living room illumination.

The simplest change you can make is to swap out your living room lightbulbs. Making the switch from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs is a good way to get brighter light in your room since LED bulbs have higher lumen outputs at lower wattages than incandescent bulbs. You should also pay attention to the color temperature of your bulbs—the ideal color range for living room bulbs is between 2700K and 3000K, often called soft white. If you tend to like cooler, whiter light, lights between 3000K and 4000K, usually called warm white, appear less yellow than the ‘soft white’ range but still give a warm, cozy ambiance to the room.

If you have shaded lamps in your living room, new lamp shades can go a long way to sprucing up your decor. Lighter colored shades will let more ambient light out into the room, while darker shades will help to dim the lighting output of your lamp. As a bonus, new shades can also update older table lamps with a trendier aesthetic that helps you match existing fixtures to your current decor.

As you reposition the lighting in your living room, be aware of creating glare and blocking views through the room. Move any fixtures that cast light directly on your television. Make careful adjustments, so table and floor lamps don’t interfere with the lines of sight between your living room seating. Don’t shine light directly on top of seating (where it will cast a spotlight on anyone sitting below it) and instead angle lighting on coffee table tables tops; you can also shine light directly on the walls to aid in ambient illumination.

Finally, install dimmers so you can cater your light to the mood no matter what you are using your living room for in the moment.


Living Room Ceiling Lighting Ideas

To kick your living room lighting project off right, start with a living room ceiling light. For the purposes of this guide, ‘ceiling light’ will refer to any fixture mounted on the ceiling, including hanging fixtures, flush mounts, and semi-flush mounts—but as you search for the perfect living room light, be aware that the phrase ‘ceiling light’ typically refers to flush mount and semi-flush mount style fixtures.

Living room ceiling lights and table lamp

Living room ceiling lights often serve as stunning centerpieces and focal points in lighting decor while filling much of a room’s ambient lighting needs. Living room chandeliers or large pendant lights make gorgeous living room statement pieces, especially in rooms with high ceilings. Living room flush mount ceiling lights are slimmer, subtler fixtures that can bring streamlined style to smaller spaces or rooms with low ceilings. You can also use recessed living room lighting or track lighting to add extra oomph to your ambient lighting and supplement your decorative fixtures.

Remember to install these fixtures on dimmers for max adjustability, and refrain from mounting ceiling lights directly over chairs and sofas. Pendants, chandeliers, and lanterns should be mounted, so the bottom of the fixture hangs roughly seven feet from the ground—but don’t be afraid to bring the fixture higher if there is a risk of the light creating a hazard, such as if you or your family are tall or the light is hung over an area that sees heavy foot traffic. Also be aware of the lines of sight in your room—hanging fixtures shouldn’t impede the view to the television or any artistic focal points or block the view between rooms in an open concept space.


Ceiling Light Styles for the Living Room

The right light perfectly accents your living room style in addition to bringing the right type of illumination. As you search for living room ceiling lights, consider how each fixture will affect the vibe of your room.

• If farmhouse chic fashion speaks to you, chose a rustic living room chandelier to make a big statement.

Glass pendant lights accent a sleek, minimalist aesthetic gorgeously and give rooms an open, breezy feel. You can make a small room feel larger or underscore a spacious design by using clear glass fixtures.

• Classic decor is classic for a reason; if elegant traditionalism is your style, hang a glamorous living room crystal chandelier to make your home the talk of the town.

• Accent bold, rugged rooms with wrought iron ceiling lights or cage ceiling lights and bring an industrial flair that imparts a striking ambiance.


Wall Lighting Ideas & Tips for the Living Room

Living room wall lamps can fulfill multiple lighting needs depending on the design of the lamp. Swing arm sconces provide ideal task lighting for your favorite reading chair. Picture lights illuminate artwork or family photos. Shaded sconces add ambient lighting to supplement your central ceiling fixture. All of these living room wall lights can also serve as decorative fixtures to accent the decor of your living room.

Living room chandelier and mantle sconces


When planning the layout for any living room wall sconces, keeping function and balance in mind is incredibly important. As you decide where you will hang your wall lights, make a note of how a light mounted in this area will affect the symmetry of the room. Sconces look particularly stylish hung in pairs, for example, on either side of a fireplace or mantel. If some design element of the room prevents you from mounting two matching fixtures, you can still achieve a balanced look by filling the corresponding space in another way. For instance, if you have a sconce mounted on one side of your sofa, you might place a table lamp at the other end to fill the empty space. A swing arm in your reading nook can be matched to a mirror, or a small bookshelf hung on the other side of the chair. Matching the right sized fixture to your room is also important for maintaining that illusion of balance. Larger lamps work best in large rooms and more petite fixtures fit into smaller rooms.

Living Room Wall Sconce Hanging Tips

How high to hang sconces: When positioning your sconce on the wall, ensure the bottom of the sconce hits at roughly eye level, which keeps the bulb from shining directly at your line of sight. In most cases, this will be around 66-72 inches above the floor (keep to the lower end of the range for living rooms with low ceilings and the higher range for living rooms with high ceilings). Don’t mount sconces where they will impede walkways—or chose sconces with slim designs for high traffic areas.

How far apart should wall sconces be?: For most rooms, position sconces about six feet apart. However, this suggestion can be tailored to your personal taste, preference, and space—if the layout of your room necessitates mounting fixtures slightly closer together or farther apart than six feet, use your best judgment to personalize your look.

How far should sconces be from the fireplace?: The distance of your sconces in relation to your fireplace will be largely dependent on the size of your mantel. Aim to mount your sconces about eight inches from either end of the mantel—however, if you have a large mantel, you can mount your sconces closer than eight inches since the longer mantel will create more space between the lights themselves. As always, personal taste is important here—don’t be afraid to adjust the distance if the eight-inch guideline doesn’t seem to suit your room.

Best Lamps for the Living Room

Living room arc floor lamp


Adding living room lamps is the best way to supplement the ambient lighting in your living room. These fixtures are portable and easily positioned in areas that need an extra brightness boost, either because your hardwired fixtures aren’t bright enough alone, or because architectural or electrical features prevent the installation of a ceiling or wall light.

Place living room table lamps on matching end tables to create balance and a more intimate light source for your living room seating. Two table lamps positioned at either end of a buffet is also a stylish and timeless option.

When choosing your living room table lamps, find lamps that are no more than 1.5 times the height of your end table (so if your end table is 30 inches tall, your table lamp, including the shade, should be 45 inches tall or less.) The table and lamp together should be around 54 to 64 inches tall. Look for lamps with shades that do not overhang the tabletop the lamp will be placed on— if possible, find a lamp with a shade that is 2 inches less in diameter than the width of the tabletop. These measurements can, of course, be tweaked to fit personal preference, but choosing lamps that are too tall or shades that are too wide can create uncomfortable hazards or a poorly weighted design aesthetic.

Living room floor lamps are wonderful for bringing light to dark, shadowy corners that your ceiling light might not be able to reach. Additionally, Floor lamps are stellar options for fulfilling more than one decor need. Many have adjustable arms so you can aim the light where you need it. Some floor lamps feature an ambient uplight as well as an adjustable swing arm. Others have built-in end tables for areas where space is a concern.

The height of your perfect floor lamp will depend on you and the decor you’ve chosen for your room. Generally, living room standing lamps will fall between 58 and 64 inches tall. The bulb of a properly sized lamp (or the bottom of the shade) will be above eye level of a seated person—so if you have a low slung couch, choose a shorter lamp, and if you have high seating, look for a taller lamp. If you’ve chosen to mix and match different floor lamps in your living room, choose lamps that are roughly the same height.


Living Room Lighting Ideas for an Apartment

Living room chandelier and wall lamp


Lighting an apartment living room comes with its own challenges concerning space and style. And renters will often have to adhere to guidelines that homeowners may not regarding the installation of new fixtures or the replacement of old ones. These tips are perfect for small spaces and any rooms where installing a permanent fixture isn’t feasible.

• If space is a concern, a small chandelier, lantern, or oversized pendant can make a gorgeous statement without making the room feel too cluttered or close.

• A well-placed living room wall mirror (hung facing a window if possible) helps reflect light throughout the room and makes the area appear bigger.

• If your living room doesn’t have a hardwired living room ceiling light, use oversized arched floor lamps to supplement overhead lighting or find corded pendants that can be swagged to an outlet.

• Cord-and-plug swing arms and wall sconces are easy to install and great for conserving floor and table space.

• The right light bulbs also make a world of difference, so make sure you choose bulbs that fall into the right color range (2700K-3000K for a warm, cozy feel, or as high as 4000K if you prefer cooler light).


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