Getting your living room lighting ideas right is crucial to making your space feel welcoming, relaxing and atmospheric from day into night.
The best lighting for living rooms can be used to highlight architectural features, provide dramatic decorative effects, create illusions of space and define zones in open plan areas. In fact, lighting is one of the most versatile design tools that can be used to enhance your living room – and can do so in so many ways.
Our ideas and expert advice on lighting your living room will help you to achieve a successful scheme. Put them to the top of your living room ideas list, alongside everything from color schemes to storage.
Living room lighting ideas
We have covered living room lighting ideas that are more than just about looks – they also encompass practical solutions, along with a ton of advice from top lighting and design experts.
1. Create intimacy with low hanging lighting
Adding a low hanging chandelier or pendant light to a seating area will help create a cozy sense of intimacy by lowering the visual plane. In this example, a simple six-branched light fitting acts as a centerpiece for a collection of armchairs and a sofa. Crucially, fittings that hang at head height or below should always be in areas where you aren’t planning to walk or stand – place them over a table to avoid any mishaps.
2. Experiment with contemporary LED lighting styles
Classic lighting structures like candle chandeliers, shaded pendant lamps and half moon wall sconces have stood the test of time, but don’t be afraid to embrace a brave new world. LED technology has made it possible for light fittings to come in a wider array of designs, including this hoop arrangement fitted with an LED bar. The artfully tarnished mirror also creates a visual contrast to the fitting’s slick lines, and will help bounce the light around the room.
3. Consider the color of the light your fittings shed
'It's important that you consider the color of the light shed by your fittings, whether that be the bulb color or the light diffused by the color of the shade,' says H&G's Editor in Chief Lucy Searle.
'In fact, if you are clever, you can alter the mood of a room, just with a bulb or shade color – here, in this beautiful space by Elicyon, the light given off by the table lamp will be muted and warm, perfect for a living room.'
4. Make space for task lighting in a living room
Now more than ever, our living rooms are having to multi-task, which means our lighting needs to, too. The newest addition to your living room lighting arsenal has to be light to work by. It needn't be purely functional, even a pretty table lamp like the one above will create a pool of light to work by.
5. Get textural with lampshades
As well as covering up unsightly bulbs and helping diffuse light around a room, lampshades are also a chance to inject extra personality into a design scheme. As well as thinking about color and pattern, consider texture too: in this living room, a wicker lampshade adds another layer of tactility to a fabric-centric scheme. As a fairly solid shade, it will keep most of the light pointing downwards, but breaks in the material will allow for a diffused glow above.
6. Blend lighting and artwork with neon
A light fitting can be so much more than a nighttime tool – chosen with a bit of creativity, it can double as a work of art. A cool, contemporary way to do this is to seek out neon pieces: lettering and line drawings in bright colors will add personality to a room, while also acting as a glowing light source for moody evenings. You can even go all out and commission a neon artist to create something bespoke for you, featuring a favourite quote or even your own handwriting.
7. Use lampshades to create decorative accents
We are big lovers of pattern at H&G, so it's perhaps unsurprising that we have picked out adding pattern as one of the bonuses that lighting can bring to a room. Our advice? Use it as an opportunity to add a new accent pattern in a different motif size to the others in your room – and of course, take the opportunity to add a new color, too.
8. 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 of Tollgård Design Group.
A traditional picture light can work well above a painting, but a directional LED downlight is a good choice for contemporary artwork or if there is insufficient room to fit a picture light.
9. 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,' advises Sally Storey, design director of John Cullen.
10. Think about lighting as a finishing touch
Matthew Williamson is renowned for a joyful, expressive style in his interiors and homeware collections. Here he shares insights on living room lighting.
‘I’ve always been a maximalist, a lover of ornamentation,’ he says, ‘I want to create things that make others feel happy. I’ve never been able to get my head around minimalism or flat color. When I start a room design, I always to think how I can make an empty space give joy and raise a smile.
'Table lamps complete a room in the same way that jewellery completes an outfit. They are relatively affordable and so even, if you are working to a budget, a few new lamps are a wonderful way to give a whole room a lovely lift.'
11. Light up a reading spot
Ambient or 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, although a table lamp at just the right height – so that light is cast downwards towards your elbow level – will do too.
12. Create areas of interest
Even if you are looking for small living room lighting ideas, you needn't dial down on choices. In fact, the more options, the more layered the room will feel. Add uplighters 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 around furniture for a theatrical effect.
13. 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.
14. Play with scale
The sense of scale is a key principle for successful interior design – when thinking about how to plan living room lighting, try mixing it up. This striking version of a table lamp throws in an unexpected change of scale, and injects humor into this space. It also adds impact and draws the eye to the couch it looms over.
Don’t shy away from adding a large piece to a room for fear of it being overpowering; in fact, a large-scale pendant, table 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 John Cullen Lighting's Luke Thomas.
15. Think about shade size
When choosing a shade measure the diameter carefully and if in doubt go bigger.
'A grander, broader shade will have more presence, like a wide-brimmed hat,' says interior designer Matthew Williamson. 'I often team contrasting colors for the base and shade. A color wheel is useful to choose colors that are direct opposites. I have a lamp with a dusky pink shade on a plain green base at home. Blue with orange or rust also looks fabulous.'
16. Highlight zones
When planning living room lighting, 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.
17. 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 a room that reflects the property’s existing architecture and natural light orientation’.
Try incorporating floor uplights to create interesting shadows and highlight artwork, and downlights to cast gentle scallops of light onto favorite pieces and to drop pools of illumination onto tables.
18. 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.
19. Have fun on the ceiling
'I love to add a big dramatic ceiling light – I don’t think I’ve ever done a room without one,' says interior designer Matthew Williamson. 'You should always hang a pendant light lower than you think – that definitely adds an extra dimension to the room.'
20. Add color with the right lamps
If you tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to using bold patterns in living room color schemes, 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.
21. 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. Alternatively, consider living room wall lighting ideas if you are short on space.
22. Craft a cozy 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.
23. 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. This lamp, from Ikea, is a smart light and speaker, in one.
24. Dramatize a large living room
There’s an art to choosing pendants that are the right size for a space, but if you’re in doubt – and if you have tall ceilings, like this room – 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 Design.
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.
What is the best type of lighting for a 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.
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 it 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.
How should I light 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 of 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 lamps be placed in a living room?
Lamps should ideally be placed near furniture to create a cohesive living room lighting scheme. Avoid just placing lamps around a room’s perimeter, which leaves a dark hole in the center. The key to a well lit living room is to introduce multiple layers that integrate both ambient, decorative and task lighting seamlessly.
Layers of light are the most effective way to illuminate a room that is likely to be used for different purposes, including entertaining, relaxing, reading a book or watching television. This can be achieved by combining 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 to the drop length from the ceiling.
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space.
Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.
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