Lighting is a versatile design tool that can be used to enhance your home in many ways, by highlighting architectural features, providing dramatic decorative effects, creating illusions of space and defining zones in open plan areas. Read on forexpert advice on lighting the interior of your home, with the latest living room lighting ideas and tips on achieving a successful scheme.
WHAT LIGHTING IS BEST FOR THE LIVING ROOM?
Living rooms tend to be one of the most sociable rooms in the home, used for relaxing, entertaining, watching TV or reading, so lighting needs to be flexible, with each effect controlled separately to change the mood.
Avoid just placing lamps around a room’s perimeter, which leaves a dark hole in the centre. The key to a well lit living room is to introduce multiple layers that integrate both ambient, decorative and task lighting seamlessly.
Currently, the most popular modern lights are actually re-workings of traditional fittings. One of the top selling light bulbs over the past year has been the squirrel cage lamp. The filament in the bulb gives a soft warm glow and is designed to be seen directly. The lights can either be suspended from the ceiling as naked bulbs in clusters, or used with spun steel pendants for an industrial look.
Recent advances in technology have provided several new lighting opportunities, and in turn, broadened our horizons when it comes to fittings. A single pendant light can add wow factor, as can a cluster of etched glass bulbs hanging at different lengths. In other areas, discreet lighting creates a coolly contemporary touch – small 1-watt uplighters for example will add drama to elements you’d like to highlight.
Try to combine ambient, task and accent lighting instead of relying on just one type of light in a room, which can result in a flat effect. Instead, put picture lights, shelf lighting, lamps and downlights on different dimmable circuits to create a layered effect with plenty of flexibility and control.Bear in mind that classical rooms often benefit from being offset by very modern fittings, while contemporary schemes are frequently enhanced by traditional or retro-style lighting. Try to avoid grids of downlights as their beams can be too harsh, and don’t neglect darker areas. Lighting corners can often help maximise a sense of space.
LIVING ROOM LIGHTING IDEAS
1. PLAY WITH SCALE
Depending on ceiling height, a feature light fitting always strikes a great balance in a small living room and adds a little coolness or grandeur to a space. Don’t shy away from adding a large piece to a room for fear of it being overpowering; in fact, a large-scale pendant or floor lamp often makes a space feel much bigger. Playing with light and shadows is a good way to create a visual impression of additional space. In very few instances does bigger mean better, but in lighting that is quite often the case. 'When pondering the size of a decorative light, bigger is generally better – anything too small tends to look mean,' explains designer Luke Thomas.
2. MAKE A FEATURE OF WALL ART
A contemporary living room needs a very layered approach to lighting as it has many functions. ‘Downlighters should be nearly invisible, their light picking out art on the wall or shining directly down onto a central console table,’ explains interior designer, Staffan Tollgård. A traditional picture light can work well above a painting, but a directional LED downlight is a good choice for a contemporary artwork or if there is insufficient room to fit a picture light.
3. USE A DIMMER
Lighting creates mood and atmosphere, and it needs to be versatile, so that it works on a dull day just as well as it does for an evening party. 'If you have a large living room with three or more lighting circuits, it’s worth considering a control system to avoid the need for a big bank of dimmer switches,' advisesSally Storey, design director, John Cullen.
4. LIGHT UP A READING SPOT
Ambient or good general lighting is usually provided by table lamps, so make sure you have sufficient power points, including some in the floor if the room is large. A floor lamp, ideally with an articulated head that can be angled to direct light, is useful for reading.
5. CREATE AREAS OF INTEREST
Add uplighter in corners to add drama to modern schemes. They are often used to create pools of light and shadow. You can also place them behind sculptures and furniture for a theatrical effect.
6. GO FOR GRANDEUR WITH A CHANDELIER
A chandelier or hanging light will add a decorative flourish to any interior. A striking chandelier increases the light levels in the room and acts as an elegant statement piece; consider hanging it as low as functionally possible.
7. GO LARGE WITH LIGHTING
The sense of scale is a key principle for successful interior design – try mixing it up to have fun with your living room scheme. This striking, giant version of the iconic Anglepoise lamp throws in an unexpected change of scale, and injects humour into this space. It also adds impact and draws the eye to the couch it looms over.
8. HIGHLIGHT ZONES
When devising a living room lighting scheme, consider the different zones and features you would like to highlight. ‘Use accent lighting focused on a prized possession or artwork above the mantlepiece, while table lamps dotted around the room on shelving and console tables diffuse light across the space, ensuring a cozy effect’ says co-founder of OKA, Lucinda Waterhouse.
9. WORK WITH EXISTING ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES
A living room is a fun space in which to create lighting scenes. According to interior designer, Rebecca Leivars, you should ‘aim to design room that reflects the property’s existing architecture and natural light orientation.’ Try incorporating floor uprights to create interesting shadows and highlight artwork, and downlight to cast gentle scallops of light onto favourite pieces and to drop pools of illumination onto tables.
10. THINK IN THREE WHEN IT COMES TO LIGHTING
Try to incorporate three layers of lighting, including floor, wall and ceiling, which will allow you to create different atmospheres at different times of day. Combine them with localized lighting, such as decorative table lamps, which add warmth.
11. ADD COLOR WITH THE RIGHT LAMPS
If you tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to using bold patterns, lampshades and bases are a good way to experiment with print and color. A simple lamp base can be transformed into a focal point with the addition of a patterned lampshade, but don’t allow your chosen shade to compete with your base; an elaborate base requires a more subdued lampshade.
12. MAKE SURE TO LIGHT A SEATING AREA
Ensure that each seating area has its own lighting. While a floor lamp may be best placed by an armchair, a couch better suits table lamps at either end, or wall lighting if you are short on space.
13. SPELL IT OUT WITH NEON SIGNAGE
Good lighting makes all the difference to the style of a room, but give it an extra boost with a neon letter. It gives a living room a warming glow and set against a dark wall is guaranteed to stand out. Reminiscent of cityscapes, neon gives an urban edge to your interior.
14. CRAFT A COSY CORNER
Go for low-level lighting, with table, wall and picture lights. Use lights that are dimmable and with a very warm white color temperature. By this, we mean a yellow rather than blue undertone. A dimmer is the quickest and easiest way of changing the atmosphere.
15. THINK ABOUT TECH WITH A SMART LIGHTING SYSTEM
Smart lighting is growing, especially controlled through an app. These smart systems allow you to set lighting scenes for the room. For instance, you could tell the app that you’re now working in the space so need a brighter light, which can then be changed again later when you’re relaxing.
16. DRAMATISE A LARGE LIVING ROOM
There’s an art to choosing pendants that are the right size for a room, but if you’re in doubt – and if you have tall ceilings, like this entrance – it pays to err on the larger side. ‘Overscaling is a secret trick of the interior design trade,’ says Philippa Thorp, director of decorating firm Thorp. This black wire chandelier is expansive without feeling heavy, echoing both the proportions of the table beneath and the mirror on the wall opposite. Filigree designs such as this Ligne Roset Parachute light can cast complex shadows around the room, but if you want to soften the effect, take another tip from Thorp. ‘I tell all my clients to use pearl bulbs in order to create a gentle glow,’ she says.
HOW CAN I ADD MORE LIGHT TO MY LIVING ROOM?
'Aim for a mix of traditional and contemporary styles within a home. In a period drawing room with decorative cornicing, for example, why not consider a very modern chandelier, rather than a classic option,' advises Luke Thomas, John Cullen Lighting. 'Discreet, low-glare, architectural style lighting can work well with most schemes, as it will subtly enhance your chosen style.'
To make a bold statement, either use a really decorative light fitting which is a feature in its own right or opt for much more discreet lighting to highlight an architectural feature. Another easy way to create drama and add more light is to use recessed uplights to skim light over a textured wall, the jambs of a fireplace or even columns.
WHERE SHOULD I PUT LIGHTING IN MY LIVING ROOM?
Layers of light make the most effective way to illuminate a room that is likely to be used for different purposes, including entertaining and relaxing, reading a book or watching television. This can be achieved with a combination of decorative wall and table lamps with architectural lighting, so that you can switch between them as required.
Every fitting is different, so working out exactly where to position a light should be considered on an individual basis. However, as a general rule, wall lights are best positioned around head height, while pendants hanging over a coffee table, can be lower. But take care that they do not cause obstruction. Opt for those that allow adjustment on the drop length from the ceiling.