15 Easy Ideas for Better Lighting

cottage kitchen detail with bronze chandelier and gray floors
Photo: Courtesy of The American Lighting Association

Lighting choices can make or break a room's design and mood. Fix outdated or inefficient lights with these expert tips on choosing and updating fixtures, bulbs, and switches. Use these lighting ideas to brighten rooms, save energy, and give your home an entirely new look.

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1. Choose a Lighting Focal Point

minimalist dining room with gray walls and clustered globe pendant
Courtesy of The American Lighting Association

Not all fixtures—chandeliers, lamps, sconces—should be the same size. Otherwise, the eye searches for visual clarity without landing on anything specific. For a large space, such as a dining room or family room, a chandelier makes a great focal point. In a smaller scale room, think about a distinctive floor lamp or vintage-inspired sconces flanking a piece of wall art.

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2. Consider Scale When Selecting Light Fixtures

modern farmhouse kitchen with subway tile and yellow accent
Courtesy of The American Lighting Association

Lighting shouldn't overpower a room—but it shouldn't get lost either. Scale matters when choosing the best light fixtures for your space, and a few guidelines can help you get the look right. The length plus the width of any room in feet should generally equal the diameter of a chandelier in inches. For example, if you have a 10x10-foot room, your fixture should be about 20 inches in diameter.

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3. Layer Lighting for a Balanced Effect

modern monochromatic living area with white painted brick
Courtesy of the American Lighting Association

Layers are important when it comes to lighting. For the best balance, aim for at least three sources of light in every space, including the powder room or foyer. In small spaces, you can reduce the bulb wattage and the size of the fixtures to accommodate fewer square feet. Just don't ignore the accent layer, which helps to highlight the extra details you've used to finish your rooms.

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4. Use Dimmers Wherever You Can

cottage kitchen detail with bronze chandelier and gray floors
Courtesy of The American Lighting Association

Dimmers can instantly change a room's atmosphere—and help you save on your electricity bill. Install dimmer switches in as many rooms and with as many fixtures as you'd like, in order to gain more control over your lighting. Use dimmers to change the mood and balance artificial with natural light.

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5. Use Lighting in Unexpected Ways

neutral bedroom with pendant light and wainscoting
Courtesy of The American Lighting Association

Lighting is so much more than overhead fixtures and portable lamps. Besides adding functional task lighting, you can use pops of illumination to give your home an unexpected glow—and a personalized touch. Some of our favorite outside-the-box lighting ideas including hanging a pendant bedside or highlighting a bookshelf with mini lights that highlight artwork or other display pieces. You could also light a plant by hiding a small spotlight next to a large container and turning it at about a 45-degree angle up toward the foliage.

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6. Get a Lighting Control App

Living room with area rug and shelves
Paul Costello

Let's say you're watching TV on the couch and left an upstairs light on, or you're going on vacation and don't want the house to look vacant. Or maybe you want to turn on the living room lamps before you get home so you're not walking into a dark house. With the help of today's easy-to-use smartphone and tablet apps, you can control your home's lighting, window treatments, temperature, and more. Many apps also have settings you can define, so with the touch of a button, your lights can be set to "dinner party" or "wake-up time."

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7. Change the Lightbulbs You Use Most

Kitchen with green cabinets and white island seating
Anthony Masterson

Consider changing out the bulbs in the fixtures you use most often, such as in a kitchen or an entryway, for energy-efficient models. Energy Star-labeled bulbs can have a significant impact on your home's energy conservation: You can save substantially on energy costs per bulb, cut general energy use and generate much less heat. A manufacturer's warranty is required for a bulb to be labeled Energy Star.

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8. Find a New Ceiling Fan

Living room with sofa, chairs, and fireplace
Robert Brinson

When was the last time you updated your ceiling fan? If you don't remember, now may be the time for an upgrade. Newer ceiling fan motors use much less energy and operate cooler to the touch than older motors. Many are also more quiet than older fans, and modern designs are available in all decor styles.

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9. Fix Your Media Room Lighting

Living room with rug, fireplace, and coffee table
David A Land

TV-focused spaces need less overhead light and more ambient and task lighting, such as lamps. This helps to reduce glare on the screen. Good task lighting also means that while the overall room can be dim, someone who wants to read can have ample lighting, thanks to a table lamp. Consider natural sources of light when planning a media room and install good light-controlling window treatments, so a sunny day doesn't dampen your entertainment pursuits.

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10. Change Your Oldest Lighting Fixture

Archway with hanging light
Anthony Masterson Photography

Lighting manufacturers have made it easier than ever to replace energy-hogging fixtures and bulbs for ones that last longer and trim utility bills. When you're at your lighting showroom, simply look for products with the Energy Star label. Old lighting fixtures can quickly date a space. Replacing old chandeliers and flush-mount lights with fresh models can take years off your home's looks.

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11. Pick a New Shade

Bedroom with red lamp on nightstand
Ann VanderWiel Wilde

Lampshades have more practical design power than they get credit for. Lighter-color shades can diffuse light in a wider circle. A darker shade concentrates the light, focusing it on a surface. A new shade is also an opportunity for you to try out a punch of color and pattern before you redo a whole room.

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12. Replace a Light Switch

Bedroom with white cabinets and TV
Paul Dyer

Newer bulbs respond better to the newer switches. With wireless options (usually operated with remotes), you can control light from anywhere in a room or in the house. Being able to control lighting with a remote is a smart solution if you're looking for how to improve lighting in a bedroom. Once you're cozy in bed, you don't even need to get up to turn off or adjust the lights.

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13. Check the Height of Your Dining Room Chandelier

dining room home decor blue chairs black table
Annie Schlechter

What's the secret to a beautiful dining room? An eye-catching chandelier, of course. To make your space really shine, keep this lighting tip and rule of thumb in mind: in general, the bottom of a chandelier should be about 30 inches from the top of your table.

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14. Change to LED Holiday Lights

Living room with Christmas tree and wreaths
Ray Kachatorian

Americans gobble up more than 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year to power mini holiday lights. Make the switch to LED holiday bulbs and trim your energy budget. In addition, LED lights last about 30 holiday seasons, according to the EPA.

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15. Add an Exterior Fixture

Front porch with red door
Richard Leo Johnson

Beautiful lighting is great, but safety and convenience are important concerns for exterior fixtures and landscape lighting. If you have a dark entrance—a side door, a garage door—install either a sconce or a matching set. You'll stop fumbling for keys and feel more secure.

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