How to Choose Living Room Lighting

By Jan Soults Walker

Whether you're geared up to gather or just relax, the right lighting in your living room can enhance decor and make the space all the more livable.

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Alissa Stuart

The secret to a successful living room lighting plan begins with three layers:

  • General, or ambient, lighting provides allover illumination for the space. You may opt to achieve an even level of light throughout the room with fixtures on the ceiling. For a small living room, a centralized fixture, such as a lighted fan, can work. You may want a less obtrusive look using recessed lighting around the perimeter of the room and in strategic central locations. Be careful that you don't over-light the room and make it harsh. Put recessed and central fixtures on dimmer switches so you can brighten the room for activities, such as playing board games or cleaning, or dim the lights to create an environment for relaxing, listening to music, or watching a movie.
  • Task lighting targets an activity. In a living room, you might have a chair where you like to read, for example. You can install a recessed fixture above the chair but your head might create a shadow on the page. To eliminate shadows, position a table or floor lamp or adjustable-arm reading lamp right where you need it. A lamp equipped with a three-way bulb lets you choose the desired brightness to suit the activity.
  • Accent lighting can make your living room more beautiful by drawing attention to its best features or simply by setting a mood. Use recessed directional fixtures to graze light onto a fireplace or set of bookshelves. Install an uplight on a floor to cast soft light on a textured wall surface or even a potted plant. Small fixtures are also available for illuminating single pieces of artwork. Install wall sconces to add a pleasing glow to an area that might otherwise go unnoticed. You can also tuck soft lighting into ceiling coves, behind glass cabinet doors, or on top of cabinets or within toe kicks.

Shades of Light

A light source can serve as a beautiful design element in your room, such as a shapely pair of table lamps or an elegant floor lamp, chandelier, or wall sconces. When choosing and positioning light sources, be sure that the light won't glare directly into someone's eyes. Think about the shade too—a translucent shade allows more light into the room and onto a specific task, while an opaque shade casts light up and down making it more suitable for setting a mood.

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