The first thing you need to do when you plan lighting for a living room is ask yourself the following questions:
Which way is living room facing?
This will have an impact on how much light the room gets and at what time of the day. For example, a North facing room will have quite consistent light but will be relatively dark, whereas a room facing West may lack light in the morning but will be brighter in the evenings. This is important as, in the UK especially, we don’t just need to plan our lighting for when it’s dark. We need to think about the quality of light during the days, especially during our long winters.
How much natural light is there?
While the direction the room is facing will have an impact, so will its construction. Does it have high ceilings with big windows? Is there a rooflight? All these factors will have an effect.
Another issue is the balance of light. If the room is large with lovely natural light pouring in from large windows on only one side, how much light will be at the back of the room? This can sometimes make the light unbalanced and the back of the room will seem comparatively dark.
How will you be using the room?
If your room is only really going to be used at night, then the amount of natural light it’s receiving won’t be quite so important. For example, a room that acts more as a snug, where you can curl up in front of the fire and watch the TV won’t be needing quite such bright light, whereas a multi-functional room with, say, a desk in the corner, will need to incorporate more flexible lighting.
Where will you be placing the furniture?
If you’re not sure of the layout at this stage, run through some variables and you’ll probably find that there’s only really a couple of layouts that appeal. Where will you be placing your television, if there is one.
Will you be having shelves or even a media unit? This is a good way of integrating accent lighting.
How to Light a Living Room
Ideally a living room should have three circuits but this will depend on the size and complexity of the room.
1. Accent Lighting/Low Ambient circuit
Having a room in total darkness, when it can be viewed from other areas of the house, can be quite gloomy feeling like a black hole. Whereas incorporating a small amount of light will make the room look inviting and extend the feel of any adjacent living space. This can done using very little electricity -; in fact, with miniature LEDs you can do this using a mere 5-10 watts.
One of the fundamental elements of lighting design is layering light and this circuit can create a magical effect. For example, small inground LEDs uplighting window or door reveals, grazing up fireplaces, giving soft lighting in shelving etc.This may not be particularly picked up on by visitors, but the tranquil feel and ambience of the room will resonate.
It’s comforting to have some low level lighting on when watching television. Dark is too black and having more lights on can affect the movie watching experience.
2. General Lighting
This will be the circuit that envelopes you with soft light and will give you light to function, without glare.
Usually this will be in the form of wall lights and lamps. Downlights can work as well, provided they aren’t directly overhead as this can be harsh. Pools of light in front of curtains, or angled onto artwork is a gentle way of bringing light into the room without glare.
Most living rooms benefit hugely from low level lighting in the form of lamps. It makes life much easier if these are plugged into a 5 amp lamp circuit.
Consider what style of lamps you will need. At least one of these should be a task light for reading or sewing. Do you have a favourite chair? If you’re going for table lamps with shades, what colour and opacity will the shades have? For example, a modern frosted glass shade is going to give far more light out into a room than say, a pleated dark fabric one.
Lamp sockets don’t need to be located on the wall – in fact, in a large room it’s really useful to have the sockets in the floor, near the seating areas, otherwise you’ll end up with trailing cords everywhere. Sometimes clients say they can’t have that because of the underfloor heating, but it’s still feasible, provided it’s planned in the early stages.
3. Overhead Lighting
Many people ask ‘how to light a living room with no overhead lighting’ but it’s always useful to factor in an additional circuit for this. You won’t be using it often but there will be times when you’re grateful you incorporated this additional source of light.
If the room doesn’t get much natural daylight you will often want to ramp up the lighting, such as gloomy rainy days, playing card games or some activity that needs a greater spread of task lighting.
Also, living rooms are often multi-functional, with a desk in the corner or an area to exercise before work. You’ll want a different mood then. Then of course, there’s times you’ll want to clean and hoover when a good amount of light is invaluable.
Overhead lighting can be provided by downlights if preferred, or the ceilings are too low for a feature pendant, but beware of glare. The best downlights will have the light source set back and a dark baffle will absorb the glare even more. If the room is large with a high ceiling there are some beautiful pendants which can add to the aesthetics of the room, as well a providing light. Again, beware of glare.
In conclusion, when planning the lighting for a new-build or renovation I would recommend wiring for three circuits although that will depend on the size of the room and budget.
If you’re just trying to revamp a living room, you can’t go wrong with adding some lamps. Mix it up. At least one task lamp, and others that will give light out into the room. One plug-in uplight can look great!
Finally, dimmers are an invaluable way of controlling the mood. Just make sure that your lights and dimming modules are compatible so check beforehand.
Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience
Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently