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Decorator Guide to Living Room Lighting

How-to living room lighting tips that will bring out the best features in your home while making the room have just the right atmosphere for your needs.

Post updated: 10/8/2020

When it comes to decorating a home, what comes to mind for many is choosing furniture, fabrics and window treatments along with adding paint on the walls, or coming up with a color scheme.

But the one thing that most homeowners forget or don’t give much thought about is the lighting… and I am not talking about just the style of the light fixtures.

Lamps and light fixtures can completely transform a room all on their own, not only by their styling, but the type of light they emit and where they are placed.

Why You Should Care About The Right Lighting for a Room

Lighting a room is one aspect of decorating that many don’t place enough emphasis when planning out how to decorate a room.  I am a little obsessed with getting the lighting in every room right.

Many years ago, I did home decorating consults. I would spend a few hours in someone’s home and help them find the best ways to use what they already owned and if needed, then help them choose new furnishings.

I noticed early on that no one seemed to care about their lighting. What they did care about was only if they had a pretty chandelier or a trendy style of table lamp, but their rooms lacked ambiance, especially at night. They didn’t care that the chandelier’s light was glaring or if the shades looked orange when a lamp was on.

Talking about lighting became part of every consult I did. As it is much more than just a pretty light fixture.

The Different Types of Room Lighting

There are 3 different types of room lighting.

In this post I am going to show you easy ways to use these 3 levels of lighting in every room to create the perfect balance of Ambient(general)Accent and Task lighting. Each can effectively dramatically change the look and feel of every room in your house and making your entire home feel inviting and look better overall.

Accent lighting is the most overlooked element in most rooms, but always the most dramatic as it draws your attention to a particular element or architectural feature.

Decorative lighting tips

When adding the lighting to the rooms in your home, many of us simply pick out a pretty lamp or fixture, screw in a light bulb and leave it at that.

But…. is that lamp, the shade and the lightbulb you added right for the room?

When the lighting is good and well balanced throughout a room, it can make all your decorating efforts look their best which is why I think it is so important and something every DIY decorator should care about just as much as choosing the right paint color or furniture.

Trying Out Two Different Lamps in My Living Room

Lamps are definitely a great decorating accessory, but function of a lamp, the wattage, shade (opaque or transparent), height and placement all play a key role in enhancing the beauty and comfort of your home, creating a mood, and helping you perform tasks easier. 

  • Think function before form when it comes to lighting and adding lamps to a room.
What type of floor lamp looks best in a living room?

I bought two floor lamps to try out in my living room. I placed each lamp in the corner for a few days so I could see how it looked from all viewing angles and I also used them at night so I could see how much light each offered.

After seeing both in my room and the type of light each emitted at night made my decision easy. I liked the look and the light that the 71″ Adjustable Tripod Floor Lamp offered over the smaller swing arm floor lamp which looks OK from this angle, but is too small and low to be useful.

The swing arm lamp is not height adjustable and is too low and small in scale with the masculine recliner. Plus it can only take a 60 watt bulb which is too dim.

The tripod lamp is 71″‘ high and can take up to 100 watt bulb that provides ambient light to the room, plus its size fills the corner and is in proportion with the size of the recliner.

I also was able to change-out the bulb socket on the lamp to a dimmer socket so I can dim this light when not needed for reading or for adding overall lighting to a room. A dimmer socket turns it into a mood setting light with the turn of the knob.

Adding More Than One Type Of Lighting to a Room

The new floor lamp is not the only lighting in the room. It compliments the other sources and different types of light that are already present.

How to choose the right lighting for a room.

Like the overhead eyeball lights in the ceiling that can be either Ambient light that lights up the whole room in general when the eyeball is directed down.

If I change the direction of the baffle to face the fireplace, these ceiling lights become Accent lighting that brings attention to a focal point such as the decorations on the mantel.

These ceiling lights can also be dimmed from a wall switch dimmer to create a relaxing mood when needed.

Decorative lighting made easy.

In the opposite corner from the new floor lamp is a table lamp placed behind the sofa. It is on a dimmer, which makes it easy to read or can be dimmed when watching TV.

Ceiling fan lights can add to a room's ambiance.

The last source of light to the room comes from the overhead ceiling fan with a light in the dining area of the kitchen.

Since we removed the wall between the two rooms to make an open concept space, this fixture plays a part in the living room. It is also on a dimmer switch so I can vary the amount of light when needed.

Each of these four sources of light can also act as ways to divide a room into different zones. For instance a dimmer on the lamp by the sofa can be turned up so one person can read, while the dimmer on the kitchen can be dimmed for someone to be enjoying a candlelit dinner.

Pay Attention to the Color of Your Lamp Shades

What is the right lamp shade to use on a table lamp?

Make sure that all the white shades in the room cast the same color.

  • A mix of whites and ecru lamp shades in the same room can look off.  Make sure that all the shades omit the same cool or warm color of light. The only variation you should see is if you have a lamp with an opaque shade. These can be added to the room as accents as no light comes through the shade, it only goes up and down.
    • I am in search for a new lamp shade for the lamp in the above photo. I have had it for about 8 years. Notice the inside of the shade is becoming yellowed with age which is effecting the color when the light is on. I want it to be very white so the light it emits is soft white light.

Room By Room Lighting Examples

Here are a few of my favorite by room home lighting tips and tricks with easy to understand illustrations.

Bedroom lighting ideas shown on an illustration.

For instance, you may have a ceiling light in your bedroom that creates overall ambient light can sometimes be harsh. Try to create balance and a more cozy feel with bedside lamps that work as task lamps and may provide all the lighting you need in the room.

To add mood, add opaque shades to these bedside tables to cast the light down onto the table or your reading material.  

Children's rooms lighting idea illustration

In kids rooms you can accent their walls filled with their awards and such with a wash of light.  If it is on a dimmer, it can act as a night light, too.

Soffit and hutch top lighting idea illustration

To add drama to any room, place one or two can lights (uplights) on the top of hutches, shelving units or cabinets. 

Tv-and-game-room-lighting illustration

You can find them in the lighting department of any home improvement store for under $10.00.  They can make a dramatic difference and one of the least expensive ways to add interest. See resources for these at the end of this post.

Cabinet-Lighting-Ideas illustration

Inexpensive puck lights or stick on strip lighting can light up the inside of any cabinet.  If you have glass shelves you will only need to add the light to the top – the light will travel through the glass.

Designing-with-light-in-the-kitchen illustration

Have you ever been in a kitchen at night that has under the cabinet lighting?  It makes the kitchen seem so special and cozy.  Puck lights and the strips work well here also if you don’t have any electricity.  They make them for closets also.

Home Lighting Tips To Keep In Mind When Decorating

Ambient Lighting – Is general all-over lighting that has a shade to diffuse and soften the light.

Task Lighting – Task lighting does just that, it assists you while doing something. A reading lamp,  an under the counter kitchen light, a desk lamp that is focused on your work surface so that it clearly illuminates what you are working on.

Accent Lighting – Accent lighting highlights something in a room. Directional ceiling lights, wall scones and picture lights attached above a picture frame, a can light on the floor that accents a plant or a piece of art

  • Mix styles and heights – A center of the room overhead lighting fixture can cast harsh shadows around the room.
    • Instead of relying on it to illuminate a room, add another source of lighting, such a table lamp. Every room should have at least three sources of lighting which should come from varied heights (ceiling, table lamp, floor lamp, or task) to assist in evenly dispersing the light throughout the room.
  • Match shade color –  Look at what color your white lamp shades cast when the light is on. Is it more ecru or white?  Choose the color you like better and try to buy shades that will all cast the same color of light through the shade.
    • The only exception is of course if you have one shade that is a color and/or a metal or opaque shade where the light is cast up and down and not through the shade itself.
  • Use dimmers – If you are handy around the house and can install a dimmer on the wall switch that controls a light, do it. They are not expensive and allow you to vary how bright the light will shine with a simple dial, toggle or slide.
    • For instance when cooking in your kitchen you may need a lot of light to see what you are doing, but when you sit down to relax and enjoy your dinner, being able to dim that light to eat in a more relaxed state can create a more pleasurable meal, especially if you like to add candles to your table.
    • Same goes for a bathroom, having the light on a dimmer allows you to dim the lights to take a relaxing bath, but turn it all the way up when you are applying makeup.
    • No electrical skills? You can use a plug-in style dimmer for any lamp that is plugged into a wall outlet. They cost about $13.00 and are simple to install and use.

How to Place Lighting In a Living Room

Lighting-decorating-floor-plan diagram
  • Create a triangle when placing fixtures around a room –  When placing light fixtures in a room, I try to follow the triangle or square method of placement. For instance, in my living room I used a triangular pattern to disperse the light evenly throughout the space.
  • Try out different styles, wattages, and types of light bulbs –  I am a fan of 100 watt halogen light bulbs, but they are getting hard to almost impossible to find.
    • I have tried many different types, some emit nice clear white light, others can be too blue or yellow. The color can make a HUGE difference in how your room’s wall and fabric colors look at night. Experiment until you find what brings out the best in your decor.

Try This Tonight

Why not take a stroll around your house tonight?  Look to see if you have ambient, accent, and task lighting in each room.

Ask Yourself:

  • Is your light balanced throughout each room or is one corner or side in the dark?

Make Changes:

After Christmas decorating ideas for the kitchen. White kitchen with greenery and white plates and dishes on a counter.
  • Move your lamps around, change the shades from transparent to opaque, experiment with different types of bulbs and wattage, place a lamp on a pile of books to create more height.
  • Angle or adjust the height of your lamps to ensure you don’t get any glare.
  • Vary the height of the lights in each room to add feeling and depth. For instance, place on the floor, a low table, shelves, wall-mounted or hung from the ceiling.

Decorating Sources:

You May Also Like:

Lighting Tips you Should be Using in Every Room of Your Home graphic.

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36 Comments

  1. Wow, it’s interesting that each room should have three different lighting situations. Last month my wife and I moved into a brand new home and need to completely furnish it, which includes lighting and lamps. I’ll be sure to share these tips with her so we can get a better idea of what kind of lighting fixtures to get.

  2. I love your choice of lamps and your post will surely help lot of people to do the same to decorated their home.

  3. Very concise post!! Choosing new lighting fixtures for your home can be both fun and overwhelming at the same time. Thanks

  4. Diane,
    First of all, thanks for the definitive guide about the lighting. I like the tripod lamp which will try it out for my upcoming project. I’m going to pin of some of pictures in my pinterest page. :)

  5. Beautiful room! Love the new lamp! I’ve been looking for lamp ideas myself, and I really like the features of yours. Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. I LOVE lamps! Most are funky and from 2nd hand stores, a few I’ve bought new. I love the ambience from having any/all the lamps turned on at night. My husband on the other hand loves to have light from the overhead light fixture. Thank goodness for dimmers! I would have enjoyed pictures comparing the lamps at night with daytime pix. Just a thought.

    1. Hi Mick –

      I agree… dimmers are the best. I thought about trying to show how the lights look daytime versus night, but taking a good photo in a lit room is harder than it seems. They came out grainy and it is hard to get a feeling on how the light really looks. Maybe someday I will learn how to do get a photo at night that is clear and the lights are not blown out.

  7. Oh! You trouble maker you! I had recently gotten new furniture for our formal living room also known as “the pretty room” since we don’t use it often as we have a family room too, that we spend our time in. I have a space in a corner of the “pretty room” at one end of the sofa and was wondering if I should be on the hunt for a tall floorlamp to balance out the table lamp on a Ballard pedestal table on the other side of the sofa. Hmmm. You’ve opened THAT can of worms again with your informative post today! SO the quesion is this: do I really need a llamp for lighting and to fill the space even though we might rarely turn it on? (We do have overhead lighting over the wall unit that is perpendicular to the sofa and would provide lighting at that end of the sofa (you know- the sofa we dont’t even sit on! SEE!! I TOLD you you opened a can of WORMS! ) It’s a tight corner on that side between the end of the sofa (about 24″) and the wall unit that is perpendicular to the sofa. Would love to hear your thoughts if you have a minute to solve a tiny decor dilemma. Should I even bother since we don’t really NEED a light there? Right now the only lighting is from the table lamp on the one end of the sofa and the overheard above the wall unit near the other end of the sofa. Ugh! this question is similar to “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it still make a sound? ” (My head is spinning- is yours?)

    1. Hi Joanne –

      If you don’t use the room, then I would not worry one bit about adding a new lamp. The table lamp and overhead light will offer the needed light if you sit in there every once in a while. So no more head spinning. :-)

  8. Great post! Your home is so cozy and relaxing. :) I just want to sit and read, all cuddled up in that throw with the lights down low!
    My whole family is full of night owls. My parents work night shifts and my hours are normally late afternoon to daylight, so we do not underestimate the importance of lighting! My parents like night time and have lots of warm, cozy, little lights everywhere (with some fluorescent overheads to provide bright light) that provide great ambiance for movies and reading, which gives it a candlelit cabin feel. Ironically, I hate the dark and I hate night time, so all of my lighting is BRIGHT, white, and cool to mimic daylight, with one warm light to read by before I sleep. All of our lighting is positioned based on the atmosphere, shadows, purpose, etc… we have lighting to study by, read by, watch tv, and even do crafts by.
    You are too right, Diane–lighting cannot be underestimated!

  9. I like the tripod lamp better too. The other has an office, institutional look to it. You’re right it is too small in comparison to your other furniture.
    Thanks for the tips for lighting.

  10. Hi Diane, I just ordered a floor lamp today! I really like your tripod style and it looks great in your living room. My style is more traditional so i ended up with one that is in that style. Ordered it from Walmart with free shipping. Thanks for the helpful information. Vikki in VA

  11. Love your choice of lamps…color of tripod pole blends better with the tables, chair and basket behind it. The drum shade also adds the weight to blend with the large chair and fills the corner space better. I love floor lamps and have two in my living room where I couldn’t use a lamp on a table.
    I know I’ve seen the green grass/reeds on your mantle many times, and also the moss covered balls, but just now I need both of these and haven’t been able to find them the couple times I’ve looked. Home Goods or some store will have them one day but I always want things now. By any chance did you order them?

    1. Hi Lois – I just bought the moss balls last week at Pier 1. They were $2 each. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/2EoYTnt The faux grass planter is from Target. I saw one just a few weeks ago at the Target I shop at. Here is the link to it online: http://bit.ly/2DJankn It says it is only sold in stores, but since I recently saw it, you may find one at a Target near you.

      1. Thanks for links to moss balls and faux grass…my Pier 1 has the balls so I’ll head there shortly, but grass can’t be found at any store within a 100 mile and not available for shipping. Strange since there are three large Target stores near me. The grass was the best I’ve seen and was so hoping to get it. Maybe it will show up at a later date.

          1. Diane, you’re a jewel to shop for me! lol I really like the one at C & B because the pot is the color I need. My HomeGoods didn’t have one that I liked, but I could go back tomorrow and they would have one. Tks a bunch for your help. You have such great taste and ideas I rely on you for lots of my decor needs. Lois

  12. My choice also. Thanks for your great tips on lighting, lampshades and dimmers.
    I save these in a separate file. Couldn’t decorate without all your great ideas!

  13. We have no overhead lighting in our living room and 3 lamps with woven type shades. I love the woven type natural looking shades, especially during the summer months, but its just not working during the darker months of the year, we are not getting enough light in the room. I guess its time for me to look for some new lamp shades!

  14. Great choice, I love the tripod lamp.
    I am looking to upgrade some lampshades also – they are pleated in a cone shape and yellowed. I’d like to upgrade to the more current drum shape. If you have any tips on sizes or what to look for, that would be great!

  15. I like the design of the tripod lamp, and it certainly works well in there… but I know if I’d been at the store, I’d have picked out the other (bonk) lamp. See you have more design sense than I ever did!

  16. Love your lamp choice. I followed the link to when you took out the wall and see you also mentioned removing some of the brick hearth but it looks like you didn’t do that but rather painted it all white. Did you find that was too difficult a job?

    1. Hi Nancy –

      Yes, I painted the brick. I have painted brick in my previous house. It was smooth brick and was easy to paint. The brick hearth is made of very rough textured brick. The top bricks were easy since they exposed the smoother side of each brick. The bricks facing out to the room took effort to paint since they exposed the rough textured side of the bricks. It was not hard, but I had to pounce the paint brush to get the paint into all the grooves on each brick’s texture. Painting the mortar in between is easy to do with a 1″ – 2″ angled paint brush. I used a latex primer first, let it dry and then applied 2 light coats of white latex paint. I used the color Bistro White by Valspar.

        1. Hi Nancy – Removing the brick hearth along the entire wall would have been too hard and costly. As the contractor that helped us remove the wall between the kitchen and living room told us, “It would be opening up a can of worms to gain only a foot and a half of extra space.” Plus we would have had to add new flooring through the living room and kitchen, too costly since the flooring is in great shape.

  17. The tripod lamp is perfect… great choice! I have a lot of lamps because I enjoy the cozy, soothing ambience they provide. I have visited a few homes that only use overhead lighting, and it makes me feel fidgety and uncomfortable. You have done a FANTASTIC job with your home. Gorgeous, just gorgeous!

  18. Definitely like the tripod adjustable floor lamp! Thanks for sharing the design tips about lighting.