The Most Underestimated Item That Creates Ambiance? Lamps

statement ceiling ideas

Design: Emily Henderson; Photo: Sara Tramp

While most rooms feature some sort of overhead lighting, they also are generally home to a lamp or two—perhaps sitting on the nightstand, dresser, or end table or tucked behind the sofa. Floor and table lamps alike are key to adding ambiance to a space, after all.

"We find that lamps add an instant warmth and charm to a space," designer Sallie Lord of GreyHunt Interiors explains. "We always recommend mixing your lighting so that it’s not all overhead which can come across cold. Accent lighting can offer a different vibe and feel to the space."

Designer Megan Hopp agrees. "Not only do lamps provide a much needed source of ambient light, but they also bring sculpture, scale, pattern, and texture to a space," she shares. "I like to use lamps on side tables, credenzas, bar carts, cabinets, and even bookcases. A fun combination to try out in your own space is layering a lamp in front of a wall mirror—it's like actual magic."

With so many styles and sizes of lamps on the market, making a purchase may feel a bit daunting, however. To help simplify your shopping process, we spoke with designers who shared tips on how to select lamps, where to place them, and what types of shades and bulbs to search for.

tall lamp beside bed

@home.and.spirit / Instagram

Think About Height

Where a lamp will be situated will affect how short or tall you want to go. "I prefer lamps on the taller side on nightstands," designer Cami Weinstein shares, and noted that pieces that stand about 30 inches high are generally winners. Why is height so important? "If they are short when you are sitting in bed reading, you will be looking into the top of the shade into the bright light," Weinstein explained.

That said, if you're drawn to a lamp that's on the larger side, don't be afraid to go bold, designer Jessica Kain Barton of J Kathryn Interiors says. "I would much rather the lamp be larger than too petite."

white lampshade in living room

@modernhousevibes / Instagram

Create a Mood Based on Shade Type

The lampshades you pick for a given room will help set the aesthetic tone of a space, so you'll want to choose wisely. And this isn't solely the case with regard to material; shape is key, too. "Shade shape can give your room a distinct feeling," Weinstein says. "For a more modern room I like to use drum shades. For a more traditional room I use tapered or a pleated shade."

task lamp on desk

@thetravellingapartment / Instagram

Do This in Your Home Office

When it comes to your home office or workspace, you'll want to select your lighting extra strategically. "Task lighting is very important," Weinstein notes. "I always use [task lamps] in home offices—without proper light our eyes can become strained and tired."

small table lamp

@afrobohemianliving / Instagram

Pick the Correct Bulbs

When it comes to purchasing bulbs, Weinstein shared a few key insights. "I prefer bulbs in the 2700 to 3000 Kelvin range," she notes. "This is a comfortable light to be in—not too warm, dim, cold or green. Any of those colors can make you feel uncomfortable being in that space."

floor lamp in living room

@houseofchais / Instagram

Don't Forget About Floor Lamps

Sure, small table lamps can easily be moved from space to space over time, often making them a no-brainer purchase, but floor lamps are equally integral to a space, so don't skimp on them! "Floor lamps can be used to add height to a room and create a focal point," designer Larisa Barton of Soeur Interiors says. "A floor lamp with an opaque shade creates what feels more like a natural light and results in a balanced, relaxed environment."

Whether you choose a floor lamp that is ultra skinny and sleek or is rounder and makes more of an impact is up to you. And once again, the finish you choose will help shape a room's aesthetic, whether that means opting for a base that's rattan, metal, plaster, or made from something else entirely.

table lamp in dining room

Tyler Karu

Think About the Unexpected

Don't be afraid to place lamps in places you may not normally see them, such as on the kitchen countertop. "I also look for the unexpected when designing—adding a lamp to a kitchen and front entry allows for added ambience and personality," designer Emily Staunton of Hatfield Design Studio says. In the kitchen, small lamps generally are the best choice given that they take up less space—place one on the kitchen windowsill and you're good to go.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Eye Strain. The Cleveland Clinic.