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How To Light a Living Room With No Overhead Lighting

The key to brightening up a living room without overhead lighting is layers. Here are our 13 picks, from top to bottom and in-between.

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Floor Lamps

Floor lamps are typically tall, their base sits on the floor and they plug into an outlet. They’re great for tucking behind furniture, into corners or other tight spaces because of their slim silhouette, and they can throw light in multiple directions.

Floor lamps that point upwards can bounce light off the ceiling. This uplight lamp has a small task-type light lower down on the column. Some floor lamps throw light in all directions or impart a cozy glow. Other floor lamps throw light in multiple or more directed pathways, making them ideal for a living room without a ceiling light.

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Debbye 77 Arched Floor Lamp Ecomm Wayfair.comvia merchant

Arc lamp

There are many kinds of floor lamps, but an arc lamp really sets a mood, especially if you’re a mid-century modern buff. The big arch is stylish and cool, but it also allows you to direct the light to a midpoint in the room or spotlight a great scene for a small-group conversation. It also works well for reading or crafting underneath. If you want it to throw more diffuse rather than directed light, maximizing the brightness in your space, opt for one with a drum shade.

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Gloss White 8 High Adjustable Accent Uplight Ecomm Amazon.comvia merchant

Uplights

Many uplights are meant to highlight something special about your room or to throw light, but not be seen. Those uplights often look like a can light set on a footed base. They’re great in corners, behind full-length mirrors and plants. But, there are uplights that are meant to be seen as well, so you can set them on tabletops, desks — almost anywhere within sight.

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Bianca Marble Table Lamp Ecomm Cb2.comvia merchant

Table Lamps

They’re about as basic and quotidian as living room lighting gets— but your design options are endless. Table lamps sit on end tables or other furnishings, plug into the wall and provide a glow. To make the most of your light, choose light or sheer shades. Metal shades and dark shades add drama but won’t help take the place of overhead lighting, so keep that in mind.

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Staggered Glass 2 Light Plug In Sconce Ecomm Westelm.comvia merchant

Sconces

Sconces work by throwing light from the wall and can either be hardwired into a switch or (if you’re not able or willing to do the electrical work) you can also find functional and stylish plug-in versions. Frosted glass globes or fabric shades in light colors help throw the most light. But other decorative options abound, making it easy to outfit your space with what interior designers call “the jewelry of the room.”

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Battery Operated Dimmable Led Wall Mounted Picture Light With Remote Ecomm Wayfair.comvia merchant

Art Sconces

If you need downlights to spotlight your art or other treasures, consider art sconces. Many options are battery-powered, making ceiling access or an outlet unnecessary.

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Aio 8in Globe Plug In Pendant Ecomm Colorcord.comvia merchant

Plug-in Pendants

Plug-in pendants are just like their ceiling-mounted counterparts but without requiring electrical hard wiring. Insert a hook or hanger in the ceiling, hang the pendant, and plug it in. Rice-paper orbs, rattan cages, blown glass in every color imaginable — the style you choose determines the type of light it will throw. From super fuzzy and diffuse to bold, there are endless choices.

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Shine Decor Led Strip Lights 50ft Dimmable High Brightness Ecomm Amazon.comvia merchant

Cove Lighting

Cove lighting is more of an ambient light. If you have crown molding or a way to hide an LED strip light or a bar light on top of cabinets in your living room, it will throw a sophisticated (and less in-your-face) light. The idea behind cove lighting is to not actually see the light source. The light bounces off the surfaces, around the perimeter of the room.

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Suddus 33ft 100 Led Outdoor String Lights Ecomm Amazon.comvia merchant

String Lights

While you may not want to drape your window frames or edges of a room in string lights year-round, they can still sometimes serve a purpose. Wrapping or arranging them artfully on a mantel among photos or plants can draw attention to your fireplace while adding some ambient light.

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TV Backlights

TV backlights add a bit of wow-factor to your space. Some are LED rope lights and others, like the Philips Hue, are either strip lights or a color bar. The Hue connects to Alexa or Nest, making it easier to set it on a time or ask it to turn on before you walk into the room, saving a toe-stubbing in the dark until you locate a lamp.

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Outlet Lights

Outlet lights come in a variety of forms, but essentially they can provide a nice cue in the dark to make sure you don’t trip or fall. The simplest way to get this kind of light is to plug a night light into the outlet, but they can also be hardwired into the outlet. You can add a louvered shade that casts light downward and looks flattering. Outlet lights with motion sensors are often used on or near stairways, but they can also be useful in a living room with no overhead lights. When you walk into the dark room the outlet light will glow so you can find another light source and flip the switch. In a pinch, you could also just use a plug-in nightlight.

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Candles

Candles throw a surprising amount of flattering light. Plus, you can choose candlesticks and holders that will complement the rest of your décor. Of course, candles won’t be your main light source in your living room, but they can be part of a layered lighting plan. However, while real candles are beautiful, you have to stay in the room with them when they are lit. Battery-operated flameless candles are much safer and more versatile. Some even come with remote controls!

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Bulb Neon Lights For Bedroom Neon Signs Christmas Decoration Ecomm Amazon.comvia merchant

Art Lights

This time, we mean literal art. With the comeback of neon light artwork you can get especially meta, but with these and other types of light-up art, you can add functionality, frivolity and/or a conversation piece to your space.

Katie Dohman
Katie Dohman is an award-winning freelance writer who has written about home, design, and lifestyle topics for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured in Artful Living, Midwest Home, Star Tribune, and Teen Vogue, among many others. She is currently living her own how-to story as she and her husband work through a complete gut remodel on their 1921 home—while parenting three tiny tots and dodging their dog and cat, who always seem to be underfoot.