A good living room lighting design is a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting; which essentially means a mix of ceiling, table, and floor lights. This type of well-thought-out scheme is particularly important in a space like this which is frequently used, and serves many purposes, such as relaxing, socializing, reading to even napping.
‘Light has a huge influence on our well-being, the atmosphere, and how it makes people feel,' says Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, co-founder of Norm Architects. 'Just consider the power of the sun. A well-designed room with poor lighting design just doesn't work.’
A good lighting scheme can hugely improve the look and feel of a room, and a poor one can break it. You'll be surprised how much of a difference, say a floor lamp with warm lighting can make to the mood of the space.
It is for this reason, that we spoke to top interior experts from the industry to gather living room ideas on lighting, that are effective, functional, and mood-boosting.
Take a look and really, follow the light!
8 living room lighting ideas
'When it comes to the living room, the fixtures you use are crucial to the overall design scheme and should be planned at the beginning of the design process,' says Emma Deterding, founder and creative director of Kelling Designs.'This will ensure you have switches, wiring, and light fixtures in all the right places to create the perfect, layered lighting scheme.'
‘The living room is where you want to spend your time after a long day; somewhere comfortable and cozy to entertain friends, have a glass of wine, or read a book on the sofa,’ says Fiona Blanchot, director at Studio Ashby. ‘It’s so important that the light level supports you in winding down from the day.
1. Consider a chandelier as the centrepiece
Deciding upon the feel and tone you want for the living room at the beginning of the process will give you a clear direction for planning the room’s lighting and overall design. A chandelier has always been a key living room trend, and apart from its glam and eye-catching aesthetic, it plays a valuable role in an interior. Chandeliers produce ample light (often quite flattering), provide an anchor and a focal point in a room, and can make a room feel intimate.
‘I always start with the mood,’ says Clare Turner, owner and creative director of CTO Lighting. ‘A showstopping chandelier can be dramatic and add glamour and a sense of opulence, or if the living room is more of a family room, I like to go for something playful. All options should be dimmable so that the ambiance can be altered for day and night to support the right mood.’
2. Add a dainty touch with a thin pendant
Pendants are those charming fixtures that hang from a ceiling via cords, chains, or poles, and are essential to a well-layered lighting plan. These not only double as task lighting when needed but also offer a prime opportunity to put a decorative flourish to a space.
‘There are many ceiling-mounted fixtures that are decorative and can work well over a sofa or coffee table,’ says Clare. ‘Don’t be afraid to add drama by having a long drop rod. If you don’t walk under it, it’s not an issue. Support the decorative piece with concealed architectural lighting that will make the room feel larger.’
‘Always install dimmer fittings where you can – they’re a fantastic tool to have in every room but particularly key for your living room, to give you options for every occasion as it’s such a multi-functional space,’ advises Rohan Blacker, founder of lighting brand Pooky.
3. Try wall lamps for light layering in your living room
‘Accept any constraints of your living room and select lighting that helps overcome these issues,’ says Massimiliano Tosetto, managing director of lighting brand Lodes. ‘For example, if you have a very small living room, don’t overpower the space with a large statement piece. Instead, opt for subtle wall lamps that don’t obstruct the room to diffuse light evenly.’
‘It’s best to consider how each different type of light can work together to produce the amount of brightness you need in the room,' says Rohan. ‘Wall lights in particular are a stylish and flexible option for a living room, great if space is at a premium and a perfect additional light source for layering with the ceiling and mid-level lighting.’
This lamp with a swivel arm & rotatable shade offers flexibility and can be used in any room of the house. The fixture is designed in black-finished steel and perfectly combines a modern and industrial vibe.
4. Sculptural wall sconces can add the much-needed sparkle
Wall sconces do not get enough credit. Did you know that these small yet highly effective pieces can offer the perfect balance between form and functionality while demanding very little? And, these can help design an elegant living room, one that looks fresh out of a magazine.
Unlike other large or heavy lighting fixtures, these can be used in any part of the home with ease. Due to their relatively smaller appearance, they merge into the existing style of the room and add a wonderful ambiance. From a long entryway, and a narrow hallway, to the patio or the bathroom and laundry space, wall-mounted scones can alter the appeal of any setting in an instant.
When it comes to the number of wall lights in the living room, however, do keep a few things in mind. 'I think the number is dependent on the size of your room,' says Emma. 'There are no hard and fast rules, but be careful where you put them and at what height. The objective is to light the room and not the ceilings – many people install them way too high. Consider whether the wall light points up or down, and then decide on a height. We tend to put them between 1600mm and 1800mm at the highest (consider higher if you have massively high ceilings, but this is very rare to do).’
‘The number of wall lights in the living room can be determined by the furniture placement as well,’ says interior designer Joy Moyler. ‘Take into account where people will be talking – during the conversation you want to see the person's face and be able to look into their eyes. If the space is too dark, it feels intimidating.’
‘Consider the light’s ‘temperature,' says interior designer Emma Stevenson. 'We talk about the light temperature being 'cold' or 'warm' referring to how blue or yellow it is. Candlelight is described as being warm or yellow and is what most people find pleasure in a living room setting. Think of it as that Instagram filter that makes even your worst pictures look magical at the flip of a switch.’
5. Don't forget to add task lighting with table lamps
In a living room dominated by chandeliers or pendants, and wall sconces, you may think the need for a table lamp is low. But don't underestimate what this piece can do for a room. When used right, a table lamp can bring symmetry, color, contrast, and texture and offer focused illumination. Plus, a fabric, patterned or woven table lamp can add plenty of style to a modern living room.
‘The more sources of light you have, the more moods you can create,' says Rohan. 'Cluster a few small lamps to add impact to an alcove or mantelpiece, or if you have the space use pairs of lamps to create some formality and frame pieces of furniture or art.’
‘Mix floor lamps with table lamps and sconces,' says Joy. 'Choose table lamps that are 27-30 inches high to provide a good light wash, and think about using a shade with a gold interior/liner to create a warm, flattering light. In darker spaces, use a natural or white lining to add more light.’
One thing to keep in mind before buying a table lamp is its scale. ‘Check the table lamp – is it proportional to the side table and/or armchair?' says Fiona. 'Lighting more than anything can catch you out when it comes to scaling.'
If you have converted your living room corner into a reading spot, a table lamp can provide ideal task lighting. ‘A reading corner necessitates task lighting which is a little brighter than the rest of the room and in the form of directional light,' says Emma Stevenson. ‘Adjustable height and a lamp shade that you can rotate is great, as not everyone holds their reading material in the same way. Having some background light is also helpful, and a wall light or natural source is a bonus.’ If you are coordinating open plan lighting, a table lamp is also important in zoning spaces.
6. Highlight a special feature with recessed lights
Use recessed lighting to draw attention to a particular area of the living room. Say you have a wonderful artwork, a gallery wall, a sculpture, or a ceiling molding you want to spotlight, you can do so with recessed lights that throw a soft yet attention-grabbing illumination at these elements.
‘Recessed lights are perfect for creating a sleek, streamlined look, and opaque glass shades can gently diffuse light, helping to soften any harsh lines,’ says Claire Anstey of Heal’s.
7. Walk the green path with LED bulbs
There are many benefits to swapping out your incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs. Not only will you be saving money on your electric bill, you will also receive superior light quality that has less impact on the environment, and you will need to replace these bulbs once every decade or two instead of every few months.
If you are going the LED way, consider smart light bulbs that are easy to use and make the home an automated miracle.
‘Use indirect light to avoid harsh glare and use the ceiling and walls to bounce soft light into the space rather than directly lighting,' says Will Earl, design director of lighting brand J Adams & Co. 'Go for high quality, warm white LED bulbs which are dimmable, preferably with a high CRI value. Allocate a healthy budget to the lighting as it can make or break a living space.’
8. Bring in spotlights on dimmer
Another subtle yet important lighting element is spotlights that throw general illumination in the room, and when set on dimmer can be brightened up for tasks, and dimmed to create a moody interior. Due to their tiny size, these can be installed anywhere around in the room; on the walls, ceiling, or even on a wall-to-wall living room wallpaper.
‘Decide how you want to accessorize the room with lighting – identify main feature lights by wall washes or architectural spots, then any surfaces that can take a table or floor light,' says Clare. ‘Like jewelry, each piece should complement the other without being too matchy-matchy.’
How to layer lighting in living rooms?
It feels like the phrase ‘layering light’ has been around since shortly after the fire was discovered. But what does it mean? And how to make the most of those layers in the living room? If you are redesigning your living room, these below tips are a must for you.
‘Layering is about combining different kinds of light to create a particular mood or feel,’ says Claire. ‘By adding depth and drawing your eye around the scheme, layering lighting is a great way to make the scheme feel bigger or cozier and bring your decor to life. It’s also a great way to give your room versatility, changing its purpose from functional to practical to decorative.’
‘Layering light helps make a space flexible for different uses and creates visual depth,’ says Will. ‘Think about the different heights of your light sources, and various zones and surfaces – use a mixture of light sources at multiple levels, and different types of light (direct and indirect light sources; ceiling and floor, wall and table lights) to create an ambient background light level which you can then layer on top of by highlighting features and surfaces to create drama. Finally, add a layer of low-level lighting to balance the room.’
‘It’s important to consider the various functions of the room and layer both ambient and punctual lighting to cater to different needs – ambient light sets the mood, punctual light serves reading and working purposes,’ says Massimiliano. ‘Ambient light can be generated through wall sconces, ceiling fixtures and spotlights, while suspension, reading and table lamps can respond to direct light needs.’
‘You should always supplement your main light source with an array of table and floor lamps for that all-important layered lighting scheme,’ says Emma. ‘Make sure you have ample light for various tasks, for instance by an armchair to create a reading nook or on a desk for work, and you’ll ensure all of your lighting needs are fully covered.’
Should living room lighting be practical, or ornamental?
We’d be lying if we said we select our lighting purely on how well it brightens our living rooms. Good light has to multitask, ticking both the practical and beautiful boxes. Doesn’t it?
‘Living room lighting should most certainly be practical, of course. Ornamental? why not!’ says Joy. ‘There are such beautiful fixtures out there, and lighting elements play a major role in a well-designed space. It’s a great focal point.’
‘There’s less need for practicality in a living room but it’s still important that the room is well-lit for a dark or dreary day,’ says Fiona. ‘By mixing ornamental and decorative lighting, you can create something flexible and therefore practical, with the addition of more technical reading lamps where needed.’
‘Living room lighting should tick both the practical and decorative boxes,’ says Terence Woodgate, founder of Studio Woodgate. ‘Practical in that you need to be able to see when working or cleaning, and decorative for when you want the lighting to highlight a feature like a sculpture or a painting.’
‘Practical and ornamental aspects should be considered together to ensure that lighting serves its purpose switched on but still delights as a piece to be admired when switched off,’ says Rohan.
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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.
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