How to Pick Lamps for the Living Room

Table lamp next to sofa in modern living room

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Proper lighting is important for any task, since it improves functionality or enhances ambiance within a space. Lighting in the living room is no exception. Whether it's good times surrounded by friends and family or solo activities like curling up with your favorite book, choosing the right lighting can make any living room more comfortable and inviting.

Lamps are a great way to achieve different lighting preferences in a simple, effective way. "The right light fixtures can instantly elevate the mood and vibe of a home. Selecting light fixtures is a fun way to express your personal style!" says Allison Ruda, an experienced interior designer.

Meet the Expert

Allison Ruda is a Midwest interior designer with experience creating living spaces that are both stylish and timeless for her clients. A graduate of the Interior Design Institute, she has worked with clients in the metropolitan markets of Chicago and Detroit and has had her work featured by publications such as HGTV and Chairish.

Depending on your needs and wants, there are different lamp styles to meet them. Doing a little research before purchasing the first lamp that catches your eye can help you choose an option that will meet both your style needs and your lighting needs. This comprehensive guide will look at all the common lamps used in a living room and the best purpose for each so that you can shop with confidence.  

Before Replacing a Lamp

Most of us already have lamps in our living rooms, but it is important to take note of a few things before purchasing a new lamp. Do the styles of lamps you have now really fill your lighting needs? If you find yourself straining to read your novel or fidgeting to catch enough light, you may want to think about changing the type of lamp you use. Take note of how much space you have to accommodate the lamp. Also, try to notice how often and for what activities the lamp is used. 

In addition, you might be picking out a lamp for the living room to add layers of lighting to the space. As Ruda points out, "It's usually best to have multiple light sources in a room for a layered look to properly light the space. This includes ambient, task, and accent lighting. For example, your ceiling mount light serves as your ambient lighting, a desk or side table light is your task lighting, and a picture light above art serves as your accent lighting. You want multiple sources of light so that you can adjust the mood and level of lighting as you see fit."

Buying Considerations for Lamps

Space

It is always important to think about the space available to you before purchasing an item. That large, ceramic table lamp may look lovely, but will it fit on your small side table? If you would like something like a floor lamp, make sure there is enough open space both on the floor and around other furniture pieces for the lamp to properly work. 

Size

The size of the lamp is just as important as the space available. Ruda points out that scale is an important factor to consider, beyond just the surface space available. Balance the size of your room with the lamps you choose. Ruda adds that size can also be dictated by the lamp's functionality. "A floor lamp in a corner of a room can be taller, whereas a floor lamp near a reading chair should be within arms' reach to turn on. Think about the purpose of your light fixture, measure out what would be ideal, and then search for something that is the correct scale (and style) for your needs."

It stands to reason that large lamps will offer more light than small lamps, however bulb wattage will impact light output as well. The shape of the lamp and its shade (although shades are sometimes purchased separately) are also factors to consider. Upturned lamp shades create more dispersed lighting than downturned shades. Therefore, it is important to consider these things with the lamp’s intended purpose in mind. 

Features

Some lamps includes useful features to fulfill your lighting requirements, such as built-in dimmers and 3-way lamps. Dimmers are great for areas where both ambient lighting and general lighting are desired. The lamp can be set to full strength for general lighting, then dimmed to a calm, soft light when you want a more relaxed or cozy atmosphere. Offering a similar function, 3-way lamps have three set lighting intensities. However these lamps tend to focus more on general lighting needs over ambient lighting. 

Types of Lamps

Table Lamps 

Table lamps are great for any space with a console or side table. They sit on top of these furniture pieces and illuminate the spaces around them. This type of lamp is ideal for lighting a chair or sofa near a table. They are also great for adding a soft glow to a space as opposed to harsh or bright lighting.

Floor Lamps 

Floor lamps are used extensively in living rooms to light large areas, such as sofas or corners. These lamps do not need anything on which to set them, as they are tall enough to be placed directly on the floor. These are ideal for placing near or behind furniture, such as behind a reading chair or beside a sofa. 

Task Lamps 

Task lamps offer bright, direct lighting used to accomplish specific tasks that require ample light and the illumination of details. Reading, sewing, and other detail-oriented work are best done with task lighting. Task lamps can be found as both table lamps and floor lamps. 

Cost

The cost of lamps varies greatly. A simple table lamp can be anywhere from $10 to $60, while a more elaborate table lamp made from expensive materials may cost $200 or more. The same can be said about floor lamps and task lamps. The cost is greatly dependent on the materials used and the features of the lamp.

A great time to shop for lamps is during end-of-the-year sales or during the holidays. Stores often hold sales during these times. Alternatively, take a look at secondhand stores near you. Oftentimes you can find lamps here much cheaper than looking at new lamps. 

How to Choose a Lamp

Choosing a new lamp can be an easy and quick update for your living room. By keeping a few things in mind, you can quickly determine what kind of lamp best suits your space and your needs.

What Do You Use the Lamp for Most?

Having the right kind of lighting for the most frequent tasks or activities or in a space is crucial. Therefore, it is important to consider why exactly you want a lamp and what you will most often use it for. Do you want a cozy glow to illuminate your sofa? Perhaps a floor lamp would be best. Are you looking for a lamp to use next to your reading chair? A task lamp may be a good fit. 

How Much Space Do You Have?

The space available to you is another important thing to consider. For table lamps, keep in mind the size of the tabletop. Remember that even though a lamp may fit, you still want there to be room left to place objects, drinks, or books. Be sure to choose a lamp that is appropriately sized for the table. The same goes for floor lamps. Though a statement lamp with a bent arm may look neat, it might not fit into a tight corner space. For both instances, it is always a good idea to measure your space before bringing a lamp home. 

Where to Shop

Lamps can be found in stores and online. Apart from secondhand shops or flea markets, most stores offer return policies. Be sure to ask about this before purchasing. Compare the wattage each lamp accommodates and any features they may have.  

Where to Buy a Lamp

There are many retailers that sell lamps for the living room, with a wide variety in style and price point. Online retailers with an emphasis on home decor, such as Wayfair or Joss & Main, are popular sites to shop. Amazon is another online shopping destination with many lamps.

Home goods retailers, like Bed, Bath & Beyond, IKEA, or Pottery Barn, are also a good choice for in-person or online shopping for lamps. In addition, home improvement stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe's, usually have large selections.

FAQ
  • How tall should a lamp be?

    Generally, the bottom of the lampshade should be no taller than eye level to avoid any glare. For table lamps, the height of the table and lamp combined should be equal to any floor lamps in the room. By keeping these two key things in mind, you can choose lamps that are both functional and pleasing to look at. 

  • How many lamps are needed in a living room?

    This is dependent on the size of the space and your lighting needs. For example, a small living room with ample overhead lighting may only need one lamp near a dark corner. A larger room may require two or three lamps for even illumination.  

  • Do lamps need to match?

    This depends on the style you are going for. A more traditional style does usually have matching lamps. However, many styles do not use matching lamps. Each lamp should complement the other, but each lamp can be a unique piece.