Living Room Series: Artificial Lighting

I’ve been making lots of progress on the living room, and I’m getting close to calling the space done (at least, for now—is a room ever really finished??). I can’t wait to share it with you! However, today I’d like to take a quick detour from showing the progress on the living room to discuss a very important topic, which I think often gets short shrift, and that is: lighting—both artificial and natural. In this post, I’ll cover artificial lighting—i.e. ceiling or task lighting—and in a future post, I’ll discuss the importance of maximizing a room’s natural light source (focusing on our window renovation project). Since I’ve been primarily discussing the living room so far, I’ll use it as my example in both cases. This may not seem like a super fun topic, but it is critically important, and it makes a huge difference if it’s properly addressed! If you feel like there is something wrong with your room and you are having a hard time pin-pointing the issue, look at your lighting situation—it might very well be the problem.

When it comes to artificial lighting, our living room is particularly tricky. It’s actually a fairly large room (about 20 x 12 feet), and it has no ceiling lights whatsoever—no chandelier or recessed lights. It DOES have some nice large windows (which I’ll discuss in the next post), however, at night (which is when we primarily use the room), it gets very dark. When we moved in, there were several inexpensive torchiere lamps in the townhome, and we had been using two of them (with 60-watt bulbs in each) to light the room, which wasn’t nearly enough. 

So, for a while, I debated the merits of spending the money to put recessed lighting in the living room. Before selling us the house, my parents had put recessed lighting in our dining room, kitchen, and hallway (which I’ll talk about in a future post), and it made a HUGE difference. However, we are trying to spend our home improvement dollars very carefully and after doing a little research, I decided that the cost would probably not be worth the benefit in the living room.

In which case, that meant I needed to adequately light this room using only lamps. The first step was to calculate how much wattage this space actually needed. Kylie, of Kylie M. Interiors’ blog, has a great post on this topic, and she uses this formula to calculate the necessary wattage for a room:

width x length x 1.5 =  wattage 

Since my living room is about 20 x 12 feet, that meant I needed:

20 x 12 x 1.5 = 360 watts

So far, with my two torchiere lamps, I had 120 watts in the room, so obviously, I needed A LOT more light. Also, in case you are interested, here is another extremely helpful article on this topic, which goes into much more detail about how to calculate the amount of light a room needs.

One of the most useful points that the above article makes is that if you are using lamps with shades, you actually need almost DOUBLE the wattage because the shade dampens and diffuses the light so much. As I learned, this also really depends on how thick the shade is. For instance, this is first table lamp I tried in my living room (lamp is off in the photo on the left and on in the photo on the right):

Lamp 1.JPG
Lamp 2.JPG

As you can see, the shade is so thick, that it let out almost no light (even with a 100-watt bulb!). Contrast that with this lamp from Pier1, which is the one I ended up choosing instead:

Lamp 4.JPG
Lamp 3.JPG

Unlike the first, this lamp cast off a wonderful glow that really helped illuminate the entire corner of the room. 

Similarly, I was initially planning to buy two floor lamps with shades (for a total of three lamps in the room), but I discovered that once again, the shade diffused the light too much, and I was better off sticking with a torchiere style lamp. Also, our living room has unusually high ceilings, so any floor lamps had to be at least 72 inches tall. Although I tried purchasing an adjustable floor lamp which extended to 72 inches in height, the shade then looked a bit silly and insubstantial on such a tall lamp. The photo on the left shows a 60-inch lamp (which feels way too short), and on the right is the adjustable floor lamp, which is better, but feels a bit spindly and oddly proportioned (please excuse the poor photo quality on these):

Lamp 5.JPG
Lamp 6.JPG

In the end, I settled on two torchiere lamps from Wayfair, with adjustable reading lights, which also helped to maximize the amount of light in the room:

Lamp 7.JPG

The two torchiere lamps each hold 100-watt bulbs, plus two 40-watt bulbs for the reading lights, and the table lamp holds another 100-watt bulb. That adds up to a total of 380 watts in the room, which reaches the goal of 360 watts! The room already feels WAY brighter, but eventually, I will probably add one more table lamp with a 60-watt bulb, to bring our total up to 440 watts! Whew! Who knew choosing lamps could be so challenging??? However, proper lighting makes an enormous difference to the overall feel of a room (as well as its functionality, obviously), so it is worth spending the time to get it right!