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Every Kind of Lighting You Need in Your Living Room

Designing your living room is no easy task, but finding the right lighting can change everything

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By House & Garden | February 27, 2024 | Living Room

Designing a living room is a very important job to get right as we spend so much more time in them than most rooms in the house. Add in to the mix that we'll use them at various points of the day and the question of how to light your living room becomes something of a conundrum.

How to light a living room

There are many (many) options for lighting a sitting room but you'll want to consider various options for all manner of occasions. Family movie nights need minimal lighting, bar a soft glow to allow everyone to locate their glass of wine and snacks, but a dinner party with drinks on the sofa beforehand will want some soft, glowy lighting. Reading happens in living rooms and will require task lighting and if you have a young family, you'll need better lighting in the day for playtime, homework and the like.

Ceiling lights

First things first, there is not really any need for overhead lighting in a living room, unless you plan on using it a lot in the daytime with children or it's north facing and you want to work in it and need an abundance of light. Of course, you can add in a statement lighting piece in the centre of the ceiling if you'd like, but for actually lighting the room, it won't be pretty. However, one thing you can do, as Andrew Molyneux, co-founder of art lighting specialists TM Lighting, explains “is use directional downlights in the ceiling set around the perimeter of the room to shine light onto walls, paintings or curtains and minimise glare.” This will cast a softer light than anything directly overhead, and can be seen in the Rachel Chudley-designed living room below, where four brass lights point into the corners of the room to diffuse light.

Find the Best Lamps

In a living room, lamps are where to focus your attention. Lamps are the most useful type of light source for any sitting room, as they can be placed strategically – and moved – to light distinct areas, such as by or behind a sofa, or over a reading chair. Most sitting rooms on the pages of House & Garden will feature a plethora of lamps in different spots and there is one crucial thing you'll need for this sort of lighting scheme: a 5 amp circuit. “For a lighting scheme that uses a lot of lamps a 5-amp circuit is vital,” confirms Clare Gaskin. She continues that “having one wall switch to control all your table and floor lamps gives the option to adjust the mood. Dimmer switches allow you to have a well-lit space for a task and low-lit spaces for relaxing.” If you need further convincing, Philip Hooper agrees in his dos and don'ts of decorating column.

If you already have your electrics sorted and can't get an electrician in to rewire your living room onto such a circuit, Octavia Dickinson has a workaround: “often for clients who don’t have a 5 AMP circuit and who don’t want to do the rewiring, I buy these amazing lamp remotes from Amazon – you plug each lamp into them (they are numbered) and use the remote to turn them on and off, so you don’t need to go round each lamp.”

From the Windows to the Wall Lights

The other option to consider are wall lights. These make most sense when framing something – a fireplace, mirror or large painting all work – but that doesn't have to limit you. You could choose to use wall lights on each side of the sofa, layered with table lamps for different circumstances, or, as Henriette von Stockhausen has in the example above, choose wall lights on extendable arms that can act as reading lights when pulled closer to a chair. Wall lights can also be wired onto bookshelves, a nifty trick, as Jo Mann, founder and design director at Light House Designs, explains: “lighting joinery, such as bookshelves, looks lovely and brings a different dimension to a scheme.”

If you have many lamps in your living room already but want the decorative touch a wall light offers – or simply do not want to rewire the room to chase a cable into the wall – then opt for candle sconces. These cast the prettiest, most dynamic light in the evenings and are the prettiest light source there is.

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.