Purposeful Lighting

I remember being so proud of my new home as a young bride. To me it was perfect. My sister came and gushed all over it, as she is so good about doing. But then she made one remark that I never forgot. She said that my living room had bar room lighting. This is funny because I have only been in a bar once in my life, so to think I would have bar room lighting made…and still, makes me giggle. Since that time I have found that I struggle with lighting. It’s hard to get a room lit without making it look like a lamp store. Here are some lighting problems you might be able to relate to…

1. Put a lamp on a sofa table behind the couch, and sure enough someone will make a large arm gesture and knock the lamp to the floor. When I put a lamp behind the couch, I sit on the couch and practice seeing a touchdown during the super bowl. I find that if I put a tall lamp on top of a stack of books, it is less likely to get hit. I also try to use a lamp with a smaller shade, like a barrel shade. And just to be safe, I never put a lamp I really care about in this spot.

2. Floor lamps can often be too high for us short people, shining the light bulb directly into my eyes as I sit across the room. I don’t think I would ever buy another floor lamp that wasn’t adjustable.

3. Getting lamps in the room when you don’t have enough tables for them to sit on (and you are not a floor lamp fan.) My daughter has no end tables in her living room. This makes it really tough. A lot of people solve that problem with a great chandelier. Remember that chandeliers don’t have to hang in the middle of the room. My daughter also has very low ceilings, so for her a hanging lamp over the couch might work better.

Here are some lighting facts that I have learned that might help you. I am sorry I don’t know where I got this quote from so I can’t give proper credit…If it is from you, please let me know and I will give you a shout out…. To work out the amount of sufficient lighting, multiple the length of the room by the width. Then multiply this figure by 1.5 — this is the total wattage needed to light the room. For example: If a living room is 20 feet wide and 25 feet long, the total area is 500 square feet. If you multiply 500 by 1.5, you get 750, so the living room needs 750 watts of total light to function efficiently. Divide your final wattage among your ceiling, wall and task lighting. In large rooms four different types of lighting work best.

Personally, my living room fails unless I add into the equation the spot lights in the ceiling that I hate to use, but I’m not sure where I would put another lamp.

How does your living room add up? How about your bedroom? Do you have a reading light beside your bed? Do you have enough light for your husband to tell if his pants are blue or black?

I have also learned that many of us hang our dining room lights much higher than the professionals do. The bottom of the chandelier should be between 30 and 36 inches off the table. I have been told by a decorator that that simple mistake can give away the fact that your room was not done professionally.


If you are looking to hang pendent lights over your counter, you will want to hang them the same distance above the counter as you would a table.

By the way, I got these lights at Pottery Barn and I love them! They appear like they adjust up and down like the old lights used to but they don’t…bummer. It’s probably a good thing though since I have two lights.  I would probably drive myself crazy trying to always get them at the same height.

I want you to notice the light bulbs. I really think these blubs make all the difference in the lights. I found them at Lowe’s with all the other light bulbs.

So now go do your math and let me know how your rooms add up.


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4 Responses to Purposeful Lighting

  1. Mary Stewart

    Thanks for letting me know that I am officially living in a bar! Okay, so I already knew that, but thanks so much for letting me know how to fix it! Love your blog because you always write from a real life point of view and lots of thing you share are things I’ve thought about too. So, I’m off to home depot to get me some new lighting. By the way, I love your chandelier. I’ll be looking for it or something similar for my dining room. Thanks again for the formula!

    • Thanks Mary, just don’t put a brighter light bulb than what the lamp says you should use….Your shade will complain. I got my dining room light at a lighting store. I paid a lot for it but I love it….I justified it because so many of my other lights came from the clearance shelf at Home Depot and Lowes.

  2. Rita

    This was interesting and helpful – thanks. Now can you tell me why most builders hang the dining room light in the center of the dining room leaving no room for traffic if you center the table under the light. I’ve been trying to figure that one out for 40 years.

    • The reason it is done that way is because most plans are drawn by men. The electrician then just hangs it according to the plans. If you are building a house it is important to be on site A LOT! I was there when the man was going to hang my air conditioner controls….It took me three different time spots before I figured out where it would be handiest and where I could best decorate around it. I know from experience that if I had not been there it would have be in the center of the largest and most visual wall. My daughter did have hers moved and it really wasn’t that big of deal.

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