The Ultimate Guide To Living Room Lighting [2024]

So you’ve decided to redo your living room lighting or are creating it from scratch.

Well, fear not, because in this guide, we will go through *everything* you need to know about living room lighting step by step.

We will see how many lumens you need, what is the best color temperature, which fixtures to choose and how to place them, and so much more!

So hang on tight because it’s gonna be a big one!

living room lighting

Before we get started, let’s clear up some details about the content of this guide and how to use it.

I only focus on light design, so this is not an installation guide. Although we will discuss some tips regarding power, cords, and switches, I advise contacting an electrician to help you with the installation processes. I do not give professional advice and you should not attempt to install heavy fixtures or do complicated wiring yourself.

Also, this guide is made as a generic blueprint that can be applied to most living rooms. Perfect lighting can only be achieved if I see your living room and speak with you to get a sense of your character, needs, and preferences. However, I’ve done my best to help you understand how light designers think when preparing lighting plans.

How Can I Achieve Balanced Living Room Lighting?

The living room is one of the more complicated rooms to light because it’s usually larger and serves multiple functions.

From entertaining guests to unwinding or spending family time, the living room is super versatile, so we need super versatile lighting.

The way to achieve balanced living room lighting is by following two simple rules:

  • Layering
  • The Rule of Thirds

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What Is Layering?

Layering is the use of different fixtures to serve different purposes. We have three main layers that we should complete:

  1. Ambient
  2. Task
  3. Accent
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Ambient light is the light used for everyday purposes – just to be able to see the room. It is the light used to replace natural light when the latter is not available, so it should be ample and evenly spread.

The main fixtures for ambient light are:

  • Chandeliers
  • Pendants
  • Cove lighting
  • Recessed can lights
  • Flush/semi-flush mount lights

Task lighting is used in areas where we perform certain tasks, such as reading, knitting, or playing board games. It is primarily used to help us see better when ambient light causes shadows or is insufficient.

The main fixtures for task light are:

  • Pendants
  • Floor lamps
  • Table lamps
  • Wall sconces

Other fixtures can be modified and used for task lighting as well (e.g., track lighting).

Accent lighting is any type of lighting that doesn’t fit the above categories and is used as decorative. It highlights art, architectural features, or is even art by itself.

The main fixtures for accent lighting are:

  • LED strips
  • Picture lights
  • Furniture/Plant uplighters
  • Light art

If you have all three layers in your living room, you’re halfway there!

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The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a principle borrowed from visual arts and photography, applied to achieve balanced and visually appealing lighting arrangements.

Basically, you divide the room equally into three horizontal and three vertical sections, creating a grid of nine parts.

All visual elements and focal points, such as your fixtures, should be placed either on these hypothetical lines or at their intersections.

For now, we will only deal with the horizontal lines and assume you have three layers: top, middle, and bottom.

The top layer is where your ambient light would go, such as a chandelier acting as a centerpiece.

The middle layer is mainly for accent lighting, such as picture lights or track lighting, but can be used for task lighting as well (e.g., sconces).

The bottom layer is mainly for task lighting, such as floor lamps and table lamps, but can be used for accent lighting as well (e.g., plant uplighters).

Every well-designed living room lighting scheme must follow the above two rules!

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Balanced layered living room lighting utilizing cove lighting, chandeliers, pendants, table lamps, and picture lights in all three horizontal levels.

Calculate Your Lumens

Now that you have a rough idea of which fixtures to choose and where to place them, we need to calculate how many lumens you need to light up the entire living room sufficiently.

For those who are new to lighting, lumens are a measure of brightness. The higher the lumens, the higher the brightness. I won’t get into the technicalities of how they have come about, but they have replaced watts as watts are no longer a good indicator of brightness due to the rise of energy-efficient bulbs.

The suggested number of lumens for ambient light in the living room is 10-20 lumens per square foot (110-220 lumens per square meter). The range is big because ambient brightness truly depends on your personal preferences.

My advice would be to aim for the higher end of that range and install dimmer switches. It’s better to over-light your space and have the option to turn it down than require more light.

For example, a 300-sq. ft. (28 sq. m.) living room requires 3000-6000 ambient lumens to be sufficiently lit.

Now, you can divide these lumens between multiple light sources. For example, you can have a 2000-lumen chandelier and two pendants of 1000 lumens each. Or you can have 3000 lumens of recessed can lights and a floor uplighter (e.g., torchiere lamp) of 1500 lumens that reflects light on the ceiling.

The possibilities are endless.

Remember that your aim is to create versatility and add some extra drama to your space.

I have written an entire guide on the ideal lumens for the living room, which covers the relationship of lumens to the square footage of your living room, as well as explains exactly what lumens are and how to use them to your benefit when performing tasks.

Give it a read before moving on.

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For task lighting, you need about 30-40 lumens per square foot (300-400 lumens per square meter) of your task area.

So for example, if your task area is 15 sq. ft. (1.4 sq. m.), you need 450-600 lumens to light up that area.

If you have a reading corner, select a table or floor lamp with the above lumen output.

Special considerations

If your living room is dark, you will need an extra 10-20% of lumens. That is because dark colors absorb light and can therefore lead to an underlit living room.

Similarly, high ceilings require more lumens to be illuminated sufficiently. Read this guide to figure out exactly how many extra lumens you need depending on the height of your ceiling.

Choose Your Color Temperature

Color temperature is a property of bulbs that determines how warm (yellowish) or cool (blueish) the light is. It is measured on the Kelvin scale, with temperatures up to 3000 K being warm, 3000-4000 K being neutral, and over 4000 K being cool.

For the living room, I suggest warmer color temperatures (2700-3000 K), as these create a cozy atmosphere and are best for relaxation.

If you already have bulbs with high color temperatures in your living room, you can consider lampshades. Lampshades are an excellent and very cheap way of controlling your bulb’s color temperature, and they have the potential to shift the entire feel of your space.

If you want to read more about color temperature in the living room, you might find this article helpful.

Ambient Lighting


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Chandeliers are an excellent choice for the living room.

The chandelier’s diameter in inches should be equal to the sum of your living room’s length and width in feet. For example, if your living room length is 13 feet and the width is 11 feet, the diameter of the chandelier should be about 24 inches. I like to go for slightly bigger chandeliers, so you can increase this estimate by a few inches. However, your final decision can be made based on what looks good on the eye.

The chandelier’s height in inches should be equal to your ceiling height in feet multiplied by 2.75. For example, if your ceiling height is 10 feet, the chandelier’s height should be about 27.5 inches. Just make sure that the bottom of the chandelier is not lower than 7 feet (210 cm) – however, this rule is flexible if you don’t need to walk underneath the fixture.


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Pendants can be used both as ambient and as task light.

For ambient light, choose glass or fabric shades that distribute light evenly across the room.

Hang pendant lights at a height that prevents glare and provides adequate illumination. Typically, this is around 30-36 inches (75-90 cm) above tables and 7 feet (210 cm) from the floor in open areas.

Pro Tip: Using pendants in the living room can be tricky. Read my guide on how to use them correctly and elevate your living room’s lighting scheme.

Cove lighting

Dimmable cove lighting

My favorite spot for cove lighting is the living room. It just looks so elegant and creates a perfect ambiance.

Cove lighting usually works on its own for ambient light but can also be combined with a chandelier or pendants.

In the picture, we see it combined with recessed can lights – it’s not my cup of tea but to each their own.

Use LED strips of about 300-500 lumens per foot (900-1600 lumens per meter). This range will provide adequate illumination while still maintaining a soft ambient glow.

Always connect your LED strips to a dimmer switch, and consider ones with adjustable color or at least adjustable color temperature.

Recessed can lights

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Recessed can lights are ideal if you want something that doesn’t draw too much attention or if you have low ceilings.

Use a beam angle of 50 degrees or more (60 degrees should be about right), which provides softer and wider illumination.

Please don’t mix your recessed cans – use one style only!

White cans (or the same color as the ceiling) are the most popular choice as they are discreet and make your ceiling look higher.

However, black cans (or a contrasting color) can create more drama in the space and be used as focal points.

Flush/Semi-flush mount lights

kaimana ceiling light

If none of the above feels right to you, then there’s always the option of flush and semi-flush mount lights.

These lights are perfect for low ceilings and can add a touch of elegance without being too over the top.

Task Lighting


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If you want to use pendants for task lighting, go for metal shades that provide a focused beam of light towards your task area.

Their main benefit is that they don’t take up floor or table space. Check out my guide to pendants in the living room.

For the best results, hang pendants at around 30-36 inches (75-90 cm) above a table.

Floor lamps

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Floor lamps for task lighting in the living room are an excellent choice because they can have so much character and add extra drama to your space.

I have compiled my favorite unusual floor lamps for the living room, so be sure to check them out!

Probably the worst thing about using floor lamps in the living room is these ugly-looking cords all over the place.

For this, you can buy a simple cord cover – do not use a rug if you need to step/walk over the area of the cord. If you do have a rug there, still use a cord cover under the rug.

Otherwise, it’s a safety hazard.

The cord cover should be the same color as the floor. This will ensure that no attention is drawn to the cord cover which, even though a better option, is still not the most aesthetically pleasing.

No adhesive is needed if nobody is going to be walking over that area. However, do use adhesive cord covers if there’s going to be traffic over it! This will ensure that the cover stays in place and nobody gets hurt. Be careful though because adhesives can sometimes damage the floor.

Table lamps

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Table lamps in the living room are a classy choice. I definitely suggest them if you have table room to spare.

If you want to hide their cords, I suggest using Command clips glued to the back of your table (alternating between one facing up and one facing down) and threading the cord through there.

Pro Tip: If you are redoing your living room, consider installing recessed floor outlets (especially useful in big rooms). They are an excellent option to plug in floor and table lamps next to the sofa and even for charging your devices!

Wall sconces

Although wall sconces in the living room are not the best choice, there’s still room for them.

Consider them if you have high ceilings because they bring light down to around eye level.

Also, you can use them if you have too much empty wall space and don’t want to use wall art.

Always use the same type of sconces throughout the room. If you want inspiring ideas, check out my 9 favorite contemporary sconces for the living room.

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Accent Lighting

For accent lighting, you can use plant uplighters (light behind the plant directed upwards) to create those dramatic shadows and add a stylistic touch to your living room.

You can do the same thing with your furniture but don’t overdo it!

Also, it goes without saying that you can use picture lights and LED strips wherever they seem fit.

Finally, you can install wall light art such as neon lights or light paintings.

neon lights in the bedroom
safari flare illuminated art

Some more thoughts…

If you’re still having trouble deciding what ceiling lights to use for your living room lighting, read my comprehensive guide. It goes through when and when not to use ceiling lights, as well as how big they should be and where they should be placed.

This guide will help you decide if any type of ceiling light is best for your ambient lumen needs.

Furthermore, if this all sounds too expensive, you can read my top 10 tips for budget-friendly living room lighting. In there, you will find several good ideas that require little to no money and can transform your living room into a lighting haven.

Wrapping up

Achieving the perfect living room lighting involves a careful blend of ambient, task, and accent lighting, each serving distinct purposes to create a balanced and versatile environment. By layering these different types of lighting and applying the rule of thirds, you can ensure a visually appealing and functional space.

The key to effective ambient living room lighting is to provide ample illumination that mimics natural light when it’s unavailable, using fixtures like chandeliers, pendants, cove lighting, recessed can lights, and flush/semi-flush mount lights.

For task lighting, focus on areas where specific activities are performed, using pendants, floor lamps, table lamps, and wall sconces.

Accent lighting, which adds decorative touches and highlights features within the room, can be achieved with LED strips, picture lights, and furniture or plant uplighters.

When calculating the required lumens for your living room lighting, aim for 10-20 lumens per square foot for ambient lighting and 30-40 lumens per square foot for task lighting, adjusting for factors such as dark colors and high ceilings. Additionally, choose warmer color temperatures (2700-3000 K) to create a cozy atmosphere conducive to relaxation.

With this guide, you have a comprehensive blueprint to transform your living room into a well-lit and inviting space. Remember to consider your personal preferences and the unique characteristics of your living room, and consult an electrician for installation to ensure safety and professionalism. Whether you opt for elegant chandeliers or functional floor lamps, the right living room lighting can enhance the aesthetic and utility of your space, making it a versatile and enjoyable part of your home.


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