Small living room lighting ideas aren't just about picking light fittings with the right proportions: lighting can make or break a scheme, and as stylists and interior designers will often explain, there’s no space where it matters more than in multi-tasking small living rooms.
The key, when you're looking for small living room ideas that are well-lit is to introduce multiple layers that integrate both ambient, decorative and task lighting seamlessly – and here, we show you how with our expert tricks of the trade.
How do you light a small living room?
Getting the balance right between lighting types, sources and styles can be tricky, especially in a small living room. ‘Lighting helps create the atmosphere in a living room,’ says interior designer Amy Jones. ‘It’s the space where a multitude of activities take place from entertaining friends and bingeing on box sets to reading – so you need a carefully considered lighting plan that facilitates all of those things.’
Simon Wallis-Smith, director and designer at Fritz Fryer Lighting, add: ‘A well-conceived lighting scheme can enable you to highlight a small room’s architectural features, as well as proving task lighting where you need it most, and set the right mood. Without a good lighting scheme, it’s all just a guess.’
It’s not always about the quantity of lighting fittings in a compact scheme. It depends on the space you have and what it’s used for. The best small living room lighting schemes layer different types of light, allowing maximum flexibility within the room. Lighting can help you visually divide or zone an open-plan space, as much as furniture can, by illuminating each part differently.
For more lighting advice, see: Living room lighting ideas – clever ways to light your living space
Small living room lighting ideas
These are our favorite small living room lighting ideas – and we've added lots of useful advice, too.
1. Use living room lighting to enhance mood
Changing just a few light fittings can have a huge impact on any interior. The easiest way to update your scheme is to add floor and table lighting. Not only are they visually appealing but, when placed carefully, can help enhance the atmosphere of a room making it warm and romantic, crisp and bright, or cool and sophisticated. A bit of imagination, a modest budget and a plug socket are all that is needed. Although it might seem more complicated, changing pendants needn’t be daunting – and needn't cost much.
2. Put downlights on a separate circuit
‘Put all lights on dimmer switches and have a variety of circuits in each room – usually one for downlight, one for table lamps and one for the central light,’ advises lighting specialist, Lucy Vaughan. In a room with a lower ceiling like this one, a statement chandelier might be too imposing, but it’s still important to get some light into the centre of the room. Use downlights, controlled separately, to illuminate the coffee table.
3. Make a statement with living room lighting
Creating a statement lighting scheme is a big trend right now. Decorative shades, such as patterned options in linen, are easy updates and great for adding bursts of eye-catching color to a room, day or night, without having to change your wall color or furniture.
- See: Lighting trends – to illuminate your space throughout the year
4. Be sure to have enough light
Layers of light are 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. ‘It’s important to create layers for practicality and ambience; a mix of downlights in the ceiling, tasking lighting for work or to ready by, and decorative lighting,’ explains lighting specialist Lucy Vaughan.
5. Highlight important details
Give your eye something pleasing to focus on when entering your living room. More directional LED downlights can be used to illuminate a bookcase or curtains, while others can be used to highlight the coffee table and provide a central focus. A traditional picture light can work well above a painting, but a directional LED downlight is a good if there is insufficient room to fit a picture light.
6. Go for movable or wall hung living room lights
Traditional decorative table and wall lamps create the general light, and can be switched on and off according to mood. Table lamps are are brilliant choice for small living rooms as they can be moved around easily when not in use.
7. Invest in a large living room light fixture
Don’t be afraid to go big. Oversized pendant lighting is a surprisingly wonderful option for small living rooms. It takes a little bravery, but you can afford to use larger lights than you might at first think sensible. Big chandeliers, drum pendants and giant floor lamps are all very much in vogue for those who like their lighting to make a statement. Try making a similar splash by choosing large-scale pieces that will anchor a scheme.
Ultimately, your lights will spend more time off than on. They have to sit well within your scheme and look great all the time – not just when they’re on. Remember that you can change a lampshade quite inexpensively, so don’t be afraid to be bold.
8. Think about materials and texture
‘Effective lighting can transform your home, defining space, highlighting design schemes and creating atmosphere and interest,' advises Peter Bowles, MD, Original BTC. 'Consider materials and function – bone china gives a gentle, ambient glow, prismatic glass exaggerates and intensifies light, while aluminum and other metals bring a more industrial flavor and greater visual impact.’
9. Utilize every light source
Be generous with your living room lighting. The more sources of light you have, the more moods you can create. Small living rooms can often feel cramped, dull and dim, so you want to make the most of every element of light available. Clustering a few small lamps is a great way to add impact to an alcove or mantelpiece. A handful of small pendant lampshades over a coffee table will have a bigger visual effect than using one alone.
10. Create symmetry in a small living room with lighting
If you want to create a smart, designed look then go for symmetry – paired lamps on matching console tables or at either end of a mantelpiece will frame whatever is between them and give a structure to your scheme.
12. Use light fixtures to add color and intrigue
'Creating the right ambience is essential within any space,' advises Claire Anstey, Lighting Buyer at Heal’s. 'Lighting is becoming more decorative; it’s a brilliant way of injecting color or personality into any room, at minimal cost. Whether it be a statement pendant in a living room or a classic reading lamp in the corner, using lighting to refresh a space is a really easy but affordable way to update your home.’
12. Make it match
It is often said that sticking to neutral color scheme will help to create a simple, bright scheme, and that certainly rings true for your light fixtures, too. Add a sense of harmony to your scheme by matching accessories and soft furnishings to the colors of your lampshade,' says Sophie Amini, Designer, Pooky.
13. Position furniture first
Consider the layout of furniture first and then plan lighting to suit. Incorporate floor sockets that can be hidden under sofas and wiring that can be hidden behind objects. The light fittings in the basement living room visually blend into the scheme for an uncluttered, minimal aesthetic.
14. Factor in a functional, family-friendly scheme
With clever lighting, the same scheme can create many different settings, from cosy dinners and family homework sessions to late-night movie watching. Banish the overpowering light hanging from the centre of the room and go for layers, up and down, so you can adapt to different moods and activities.
This means a mixture of overhead lighting, pendants, floor-standing lights and table lamps. Task lighting is essential of course, but one glaring light doesn’t make for a relaxing or pleasant chill-out.
15. Highlight selectively with clever small living room lighting ideas
Avoid lighting every picture or feature in a room; instead decide at the outset which will be the main points of focus. Too much accent light will lessen the impact and create only general background light. In this room, the fireplace is gently lit with uplights for a subtle highlight, leaving some shadow elsewhere.
16. Use mirrors to double lighting effects
This small living room has an extra trick up its sleeve: the symmetrical table lamps in the alcoves sit in front of twin mirrors. In daylight, the mirrors make the room feel larger and brighter – and create wonderful double views of the furnishings, including the lights.
At night, the soft, warm glow given off by the table lamps is doubled, enhancing the depth that the mirrors give the room still more.
See: Small living room storage ideas – 16 ways to clear clutter in a compact space
What kind of lighting is best for a living room?
Rapid changes in technology combined with an ever-increasing array of finishes, styles and shapes have made lighting one of the most exciting areas of contemporary design.
In a living room, you need to split your lighting into task, accent and ambient, and they each require very different lights. Desk and floor lamps, with their directional lights are best for task lighting; while accent lighting is useful to illuminate artwork, furniture and features (think picture lights or recessed spots on a tall wall to highlight its height); and ambient, which should be considered last in a scheme, adds atmosphere and creates mood. It’s a combination of all there that makes for a comprehensive and considered scheme.
Good quality LEDs will provide a more attractive quality of light and color rendition - discreet, low glare fittings work best. Ultimately, your lights will spend more time off than on. They have to sit well within your scheme and look great all the time – not just when they’re on. Remember that you can change a lampshade quite inexpensively, so don’t be afraid to be bold.
How can lighting make my room look bigger?
It’s all about illuminating the corners or a room,’ says Simon Wallis-Smith. ‘And layering light. The trick is to incorporate as many layers as possible, so that no one light source is trying to do too much in your room.’