Nowadays living rooms are not reserved just for special occasions. The living space is frequently the social center of the home.
It is the place to curl up with a good book, watch TV, visit with friends or entertain formally.
Unlike the kitchen and bathroom, where the position of the light fixtures is pretty much determined by the built-in furniture and appliances, the living room often has a more flexible lighting plan.
In new construction you generally see recessed lights.
“Downlights place the most brightness on furniture and floor surfaces.
Three-dimensional forms stand out; the lighting blends into the ceiling.
Space downlights 4′-6′ apart for even illumination.
Arrange the pattern so it relates to doorways and windows. You do not have to keep downlights in a single grid pattern; they can be clustered over conversation areas and spread out in between.”
- American Lighting Association
How does one know how much light is needed for a room?
Kichler Lighting has a helpful formula:
Multiply the length times the width of the room. Then, multiply that number times 1.5. That gives you the amount of wattage you need to light the room properly for general illumination.
Example: A room is 12 ft. x 16 ft. (12 x 16 = 192). Then multiply 192 x 1.5 = 288 watts.
That means an 8-light chandelier using 40-watt bulbs would give 320 watts, which is even more light than needed.
For specific task lighting in areas where stronger light is needed, multiply the area’s square footage by 2.5 rather than 1.5 to find the needed wattage.
A kitchen work island or a desk area where schoolwork is done are examples of task areas in your home.
Theoretically a large living room could according to this calculation get away with one large multi-arm chandelier, but the result would not be that pleasing.
Try to incorporate at least four layers of light in a room , so that you can smoothly transition the space from high energy to relaxing by the touch of a few dimmers.
Sometimes the living room only has one single box in the ceiling that was intended for a flush mounted ceiling light or a chandelier.
In many remodels the ceiling lights were replaced by track lights that are just sitting there in the middle of the room asked to do a task they were not intended for. The result: glare and discomfort.
Use spot lights to highlight artwork while allowing light to bounce back into the room. Great way of getting ambient light without glare.
Here the Tech Lighting MonoRail spots do a great job of creating drama as well as allowing ambient light to reach into the room.
Track lights are great for illuminating artwork, interesting architectural details, bookcases, anything you would like to show off.
By illuminating these focal points you will get the benefit of extra ambient light that doesn’t shine directly into anyone’s eyes.
Start by illuminating points of interest in the room.
Find architectural details like artwork on the walls, a bookcase, heavy beams or a natural stone fireplace.
Once they are illuminated this alone will add a considerate amount of accent light to the room.
Track lighting with wall washers, individual spot lights or recessed lights with adjustable trims are ideal for this task.
In a smaller living area this might do it for the ambient layer of light. In larger spaces you can add wall sconces or ceiling lights.
Torchieres that light the ceiling can help expand the space visually.
Once you have lit your focal points, look for your task areas: Your favorite reading chair, a game table, sitting area. You want “pools of light” to give these areas atmosphere. It’s all about creating a feeling of comfort well being.
Portable lamps have the advantage of being very flexible.
You can move them around and change the shade color to fit the season.
Remember to layer the light and control the layers independently so the room can adapt to different functions as needed.
Dimmers are a good way to help the change the mood of the room.
As an added benefit, dimmers extend the life of incandescent bulbs considerably.
Table and floor lamps with fabric shades add a warm and friendly ambience to the room.
The warm circle of light invites you to sit down, relax, read a good book or engage in an intimate conversation.
Don’t be afraid of being eclectic in your lighting choices.
Got an old lamp base from your grandmother that has sentimental value – pair it with a fresh shade and feel good about setting it on your modern side table.
It’s all about being creative!
Last week I did a house consultation in a home where there was no overhead lighting in the living room except for two rows of track lights aiming towards the sofa “for reading”. Horrendous glare, no matter where you were sitting or standing in the room.
Simple fix: By moving the track close to two opposite walls and aiming the track heads at a beautiful painting, a huge rough-hewn beam and a colorful wall with family photos the room received enough general light bouncing off the walls. The rest was then filled in with table- and floor lamps. We changed a ratty looking shade for a new one in a neutral tone.
Result: An inviting space with warmth and focus on what matters to this couple.
Cost: a few hundred dollars.
Lifestyles change over time, and furniture gets moved around. That’s the reason portable lamps work so well in a living area.
It’s amazing, how good lighting can change a space. And it doesn’t even have to be expensive.
A few tricks make a huge difference in making the living room feel comfortable and inviting.
I do so many home consultations where all I do is to haul a few floor and table lamps out from various nooks and crannies throughout the house and demonstrate how creating “pools of Light” creates atmosphere.
We also try to find just the right “wow” pieces to make an instant impact in your room.
At Form + Function we are all about finding good lighting solutions for every budget.
You can create ambient light by placing a $25 floor can light behind a potted plant or by using it to highlight a sculpture.
We have lots of tricks up our sleeves for getting you the most for your money.
Rules of Thumb for Track Lighting
This is one of the most frequent questions we encounter when we do lighting consultations: How far away from the wall do I position my track?
Here are a few guidelines:
For lighting objects on a wall, the wall itself, or any vertical surface, position the track and the fixtures as shown above
- Generally, fixtures should be aimed at a 30 degree angle from the vertical to prevent light from shining in anyone’s eyes and to avoid disturbing reflections on the surface of the object. Usually, one fixture is required for each object being accented.
- Measure the distance (“B” to “C”) from wall, on ceiling as shown in the tablebelow.
- Mount track at “Location” (“A” to “B”) from wall, on ceiling, as shown in the table.
Track lighting is ideal for artwork, bookcases, interesting architectural features. Try grazing a stone fireplace with spot lights positioned close to the wall making the interesting texture stand out. Or highlight a beautiful wood ceiling so that it glows with the warmth of the materials.
Wall grazing is such an easy and relatively inexpensive technique that can become an important feature in itself.
The effect entirely depends on the texture of the wall, the light source and angle of the beam. A wall graze creates dramatic high and low levels of light on irregular surfaces,such as brick or stucco.
The aim is to get an even spread of light across the entire wall from an acute overhead angle (between six and twelve inches from the wall depending on the ceiling height), to make the texture stand out.
You can use a track positioned close to the wall to create this effect or recessed lights as shown in this stunning home by Lacroux and Streeb.of Basalt, Colorado.
Wall washing is another technique that can be used to add light to a room. It is different from wall grazing, which creates more shadows to emphasize texture.
A wall wash will make a wall look smooth and minimize its texture due to the even illumination. To create this effect the lights are positioned further away from the wall.
The rule of thumb for wall washing is for your mounting distance (the distance between your lights and the wall) to equal your spacing distance (the distance between your lights).
1/3 of your ceiling height is a good guideline for determining this.
- Mounting and spacing distance : 2-3 feet for ceilings up to 9′ high.
- Mounting and spacing distance:e 3-4 feet for ceilings between 9 and 11′ high, etc.
In addition to the aesthetic effects of wall grazing and wall washing, it is amazing how much you can illuminate a space using light reflected off walls.
Last word: when using light to bounce off and showcase architectural features, always keep one thing in mind: Only illuminate what you actually want to highlight!
Sounds so simple, yet I am tempted to repeat the phrase.
Don’t shine a light up to a spot where you primarily highlight a fire alarm and a faulty patch job, but move the beam so that it hits the beautiful arch and stucco ceiling and leave what you don’t want highlighted in the shadows. That is what shadows are for!