9 Living Room Lighting Ideas That Will Always Work—Here's Why

Plus, unexpected ways to brighten up other spaces.

Updated 09/24/19
Sarah Sherman Samuel

Sure, we'd all love to have a living room with floor-to-ceiling windows that flood our space with natural light, but the reality is that we don't all have the budget to afford such a luxury. So for those of us furnishing a living room that receives minimal sunlight, a stylish light fixture is the next best thing. Luckily, there are plenty of layouts and fixtures to choose from, and we're sharing some of our favorites.

Ranging from an eye-catching chandelier, to a sculptural table lamp, to a set of wall-mounted sconces, we collected functional yet stylish living room lighting ideas to illuminate your space—no matter how dark or small it is.

When considering lighting, think of your lighting and decorating needs in terms of three categories: General lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. All three work together to serve practical and vibe-making purposes. Whether you're a homeowner looking for a timeless staple or a renter searching for an affordable fix, we have a solution that'll brighten up your space.

Scroll through these nine living room lighting ideas that will always work.

01 of 09

Hang a Chandelier

Living room chandelier
Sarah Sherman Samuel

If you're lucky enough to have high ceilings, take style notes from interior designer Sarah Sherman Samuel, and hang a statement chandelier. This lighting option is a foolproof way to create a focal point in your living room, and a modern mobile design (like the one pictured) sheds light while adding visual interest to your space.

When hanging a chandelier, a good rule of thumb is that the higher the ceiling, the taller your chandelier can be in proportion to your space. The folks at Wayfair recommend that, assuming you're working with a standard 8-foot ceiling, aim for a chandelier height between 20 - 24 inches.

Mobile Chandelier
West Elm Mobile Chandelier $400
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You can keep your wall art to a minimum when you install an eye-catching light fixture.

02 of 09

Plug in a Floor Lamp

Living room floor lamp
Sarah Sherman Samuel

While light fixtures like the aforementioned chandelier might require calling an electrician, floor lamps can be plugged into the outlets you already have, making them an ideal option for renters and homeowners who don't want to drill into drywall. Gain living room layout inspiration from Samuel, and place a floor lamp in a corner strategically within arm's reach of your couch for convenience. Floor lamps play both a functional and decorative role since they fall under the 'task lighting' category, illuminating everyday activities.

When choosing a floor lamp that best fits your style preferences, if you're going for a modern look, consider simple shapes and features, like a slim base and drum-shaped shades to avoid overpowering the décor throughout the rest of your space. On the other hand, shades with a tapered shape complement a traditional look.

Article Leap floor lamp
Article Leap $99
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03 of 09

Place a Table Lamp on a Side Table

Living room table lamp
Sarah Sherman Samuel

Table lamps can instantly brighten a living room as soon as they're plugged in. Opt for a design that doubles as a sculptural art piece to curate a stylish side table vignette, as Samuel demonstrates in the photo above. Table lamps also fall under the 'task lighting' category as they play a functional role in lighting up desk space or a reading area, and can also serve as mood lighting.

Additionally, if you're looking to add color and personality to your living room, a table lamp with a lamp shade in an unexpected color or a fun shape can accomplish this. Table lamps can spruce up other areas of the home, too. If you're working with less square footage, consider a table lamp in the dining room in lieu of ceiling lighting to create a café atmosphere. Or, try a lamp as part of bathroom décor for a whimsical touch. Alternatively, place a lamp on a window sill instead of candles to illuminate a room, or opt for a matching pair of tall table lamps above a fireplace instead of sconces.

Think of a lamp like jewelry; it can enhance a room's overall look, so choose a lamp that meshes with the rest of your space's decor.

04 of 09

Install a Pendant Lamp

Living room pendant lantern
Space Exploration

For a fixture that'll blend seamlessly into your space, a pendant lamp offers all the convenience of overhead lighting with all the style of a decorative hanging light. If you're working with white walls and a relatively low ceiling, copy this living room designed by design firm Space Exploration, and hang a white pendant lamp to give the illusion of a larger space.

The fun part about pendant lighting (and well, lighting and décor in general) is that there are so many style options to choose from. For example, if you're partial to linear, bowl, or drum pendants, or dome, globe, or cylinder pendant lighting, the choice is up to you.

A few styling tips to consider: Bowl pendants work well in the kitchen or living room as primary or secondary lighting yet take more effort to keep dust-free, a globe pendant adds a soft yet practical touch of décor, and a number of cylinder pendants can serve as effective task lighting in high traffic areas in your home, brightening counters, the kitchen island, even your bedroom nightstand.

Nelson Saucer Pendant Lamp
Euro Lighting Designs Nelson Saucer Pendant Lamp $395
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Avoid installing pendants made from fabric in your kitchen, as the fabric will likely get stained by day-to-day cooking activities.

05 of 09

Opt for Sconces

Living room scones above fireplace

Max Humphrey

Wall-mounted sconces are ideal for small living rooms with low ceilings that may not allow for hanging light fixtures. Rather than sacrificing precious square footage to floor lamps or side tables to house table lamps, install a pair of sconces, as interior designer Max Humphrey has above the fireplace here.

Renters: Sconces are an option for you too, just opt for plug-in versions. Target, Urban Outfitters, West Elm, and World Market are great places to shop for plug-in sconces. Alternatively, if you're planning to do any drilling and/or are working with tricky wall material like brick, we recommend consulting with an electrician.

Nova Sconce by Schoolhouse Electric & Supply
Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Nova Sconce $269
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06 of 09

Choose Recessed Lighting

Recessed lights in wooden, A-frame style living room in earthy color palette

Light My Nest

When you need lots of light that won't overwhelm a space (such as the living room), recessed lighting is a practical solution. They'll deliver a focused, downward-facing glow precisely where its needed. The experts at Light My Nest recommend investing in dimmers and separate switches for various light banks "to change the character and emphasis of a room's illumination," they write in a blog post.

07 of 09

Illuminate Art

Blue pendant light hangs above framed, painted portrait

Corner & Compass for Danielle Colding

Give your artwork the spotlight with its own lighting. Options range from picture lights to track lighting, ceiling-mounted accent lights (such as the one pictured) and more. Use picture lights on bookcases to highlight framed photographs and vignettes, too.

08 of 09

Add Decorative Lighting

Living room with decorative hexagonal pendant light

Corner & Compass for Nicole Gibbons

Accent lighting is the cherry on top of your glowing sundae, adding texture, shape, and contrast to the room. Whether you opt for a sculptural sconce, a shimmering chandelier, or even an array of candles, decorative lighting can really amp up the mood and style factor of a room.

09 of 09

Layer Them All

Living room in warm tones and colorful prints with table lamp and candles

Corner & Compass for Danielle Colding

Combine all elements above for a layered look that provide proper illumination for every setting. Here, metallic table lamps throughout the living room provide task lighting, while candles on the mantel and consoles throughout offer an ambient glow.

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