How to Light Your Living Room

The five layers of light are as follows: Light for “doing” helps you read magazines and play games. Light for “knowing” helps you carry on conversations and move through the space. Light for “feeling” makes it easier to relax after a long day at work. Light for “changing” helps you adjust to the time of day and the task at hand. And light to help “tell your story” highlights your personal style and the items you cherish most.

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Layer 1: Light for Doing

We all use our living rooms differently, and that means you can benefit from carefully considering what common tasks you and your family perform in the living room before choosing lighting. Do you like to read? If so, good table lamps or floor lamps are a must. Prefer to watch television? Lamps might reflect on the screen, so dimmable downlights might offer a better solution. Playing games with friends? A brighter living room illuminated with both lamps and downlights can make interactions more enjoyable.

Layer 2: Light for Knowing

It’s important to know where you are and where you are going, and general ambient light can help. If you live with other people or have company in your living room, it is equally important to be able to see their faces. In a living room, good ambient light can come from wall sconces, which help define the scope of the room, from a few well-placed lamps at head-level to better see faces and from a ceiling cove overhead that diffuses light throughout the room.

Layer 3: Light for Feeling

During a sunny day, a living room with abundant natural light flowing through windows can help us feel good. At night, however, we need to replace daylight with a layer of light that will make our space feel more comfortable and relaxing. Light for feeling can come from accent lamps, wall sconces, recessed downlights that highlight stone features, fireplaces and even from table lamps with soft, glowing shades. Sit in your favorite chair and look straight ahead of you. Is there an accent light in your line of sight? If not, consider adding it to make your living room more inviting.

Layer 4: Light for Changing

We watch movies, read books, play games, work on our laptops, enjoy a fire and converse with friends in our living room. We keep the lights low for movies, higher for playing games and in between when relaxing with friends. Light for changing helps us adapt to tasks, the location of the sun and aging eyes. This might mean different lamps for different tasks and different times of day, or it can be achieved by adding dimmers that allow you to customize light from moment to moment.

Layer 5: Light for Telling Your Story

Finally, the lights in your living room can help tell your story, revealing your style and the items you cherish most. A spotlight on a painting by a friend lets everyone know you value both art and friendship, while a beautiful Tiffany lampshade might tell of your appreciation for artistry and color.

Choosing the style of decorative fixtures that fits you best is a great way to reveal your style, but decorative fixtures are not the only way to tell your story. Carefully hidden lights on a timber-framed ceiling disappear into the woodwork but highlight the craftsmanship of the structure without adding visual clutter to a room. Concealed lights in bookcases showcase collected items while adding a beautiful glow to the space.

When I was growing up, my childhood living room was strictly off-limits to kids and reserved for my parents and their friends. In my current home, however, we do quite a bit of living in our living room. Therefore, having a lighting plan that covers all of my family’s activities in our living room is essential. My plan for a well-lit living room requires five layers of light.


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