​How to choose the perfect living room lighting

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Kingswood, Surrey Luke Cartledge Photography Classic style living room
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Think about an ordinary, everyday living room. It sounds like a simple concept – the room in which you “live” – however, it is the one space in a home that’s quite versatile in terms of uses and functions. 

Yes, the living room needs to be beautiful and comfortable, but it must also be practical. And therein lies the difficulty of styling it up, for no two living rooms are necessarily used the same. 

This issue of design is not only limited to a living room’s furnishings and décor, but also its lighting. We have all heard of layered lighting and how it is key in ensuring a space (from living rooms and kitchens to dining rooms and patios) is properly lit and, thus, practical. Well, when it comes to a living room, those layers are especially vital.

So, before we can determine what lighting fixtures you require for your living room, let’s first determine what you use the space for.

1. The importance of layered lighting

Georgian Country House Etons of Bath Classic style living room
Etons of Bath

Georgian Country House

Etons of Bath

Different activities require different types and levels of light. However, any well-lit space will need three different types of lighting: 

• Ambient 

• Task 

• Accent. 

Of course we understand that the chances of any living room being used solely for one function (i.e. watching television) are slim. But that doesn’t make the inclusion of layered lighting any less important. And also remember that different activities can occur at different times of the day (i.e. the kids doing homework in there in the afternoon, while you are enjoying a board game with the entire family after dinner at night). 

If your living-room habits seem too varied to specify, try sticking to a time-specific daily journal to give yourself a more objective view of what you do when in your living room. This will help establish the next step: choosing the right living room lighting. 

But before we continue, let’s quickly recap the three main types of lighting: 

• Ambient: The most important, as it is the general illumination of a space that stops you from stumbling over objects. This type of lighting is generally accomplished with overhead ceiling fixtures.  

• Task: The most common example of task lighting is under-cabinet fixtures in a kitchen to stop you from slicing your finger open. As the name suggests, this type of lighting is focused on highlighting specific tasks or activities and is applicable in any room of the home.  

• Accent: The one type of layered lighting that’s focused on prettiness instead of functionality. Examples include lighting fixtures above wall art to make those portraits more prominent, a chandelier over a bathtub to add some drama, etc.

2. Living room lighting for watching television

With a multitude of TV series and movies to watch, not to mention numerous streaming services available, most of us like to relax in front of the telly and escape to a different world. And seeing as not all of us are privy to gigantic homes with cinema rooms, most of us resort to plopping a television on top of a credenza in the living room. Nothing wrong with that, as people have been doing it since television was first invented!

If your living room also serves as a TV room, consider the following lighting layers:

Ambient lighting: Dimmable overhead lighting is the best option for generally illuminating a living room. This will help keep those distracting hotspots out of your eyeline. The best examples in terms of a low budget are offset wall sconces and floor lamps, but just be sure they don’t cause glare on the tube. 

Task lighting: Minimal is required, and a simple reading- or table lamp behind your sofa is more than adequate for navigating your remote control. This will often be switched off once watching the television gets underway. 

Accent lighting: This needs to be kept to a minimum because of the wall washes and shadow-casting that can become quite prominent.

3. Living room lighting for reading

White Living Room with wooden floors, brown sofa, carpet and purple accents Affleck Property Services Modern living room Purple/Violet
Affleck Property Services

White Living Room with wooden floors, brown sofa, carpet and purple accents

Affleck Property Services

Love stretching out on that sofa and getting lost in a good book? Then think about following this layered lighting approach:

Ambient lighting: As you don’t need to be concerned about TV glare here, your options for ambient lighting become much more varied. Don’t be scared to experiment with floor- and table lamps, or various wall sconces. Just make sure they are dimmable – regardless of what you’re doing, bright lighting can still overwhelm the eye. 

Task lighting: The most crucial type of lighting for any reader, regardless of the room. Thus, combine floor- and table reading lamps. Think about fixtures that will not only help to light up your book’s pages, but also offer a wider variety of adjustability in both positioning and lumen output. This will help style up a most comfortable reading environment for any book worm. 

Accent lighting: Unnecessary, but still welcome if you’re keen on including it. You can use it to illuminate your bookshelves in interesting ways to draw interest, but in the end it will do very little to make your reading more practical.

4. Living room lighting for entertaining and socialising

If you plan on hosting one killer event after another in your living room (from midday tea to evening cocktails), then be sure that you know how to layer those lights:

Ambient lighting: When it comes to social gatherings, all of the possible options are available, such as floor- and table lamps, overhead ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, etc. Our recommendation would be to keep your space’s vibe as warm as possible. Consider frosted shades and dimmable lighting. These will lessen hotspots and glare and make the entire room seem more open and welcoming. For an extra style touch, add a ceiling pendant or chandelier for a striking centrepiece (just make sure it offers warm and dimmable lighting). 

Task lighting: For socialising, task lighting is less crucial. However, it might prove beneficial to add a well-placed table lamp, a down-lit sconce, or a row of mini pendants to illuminate counters and select surfaces. Again, make sure your choices are either low-output or dimmable.  

Accent lighting: Here is where you get the chance to make select furnishings and décor pieces shine – literally. Show off that stunning new side table in the corner, a fabulous architectural feature (like a fireplace), or your wall gallery via some picture lights. Keep the lumens low and the hotspots to a minimum, and your living room is sure to become the ideal socialising space for any occasion. As long as the functional lighting layers (ambient and task) are included, the design layers are completely up to you! 

From inside to outside, let’s have a look at these Garden lighting ideas.

What is your living room mostly used for? And are the lights perfect for those activities?

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