With wintery temperatures on the horizon, it’s hard not to feel like you want to stay in and cozy up on the couch at night. However, coziness isn’t just about having the heating on (or cuddling up in a blanket given gas prices right now), it’s a state of mind – one in which lighting plays a big part.
After all, an effective lighting plan isn’t only about dispelling darkness, it’s also about making the dwellers feel warm, calm, and comfortable enough to spend time indoors as the world outside starts freezing over.
So how do you make a lighting scheme truly cozy for your living room? It’s a culmination of ideas, from choosing the right light color and temperature to choosing the right design of lamp. So, if your living room lighting could do with a freshen-up to make your home winter ready, read on for these essential tips to change the mood and feel in your space.
Aditi is a homes writer and editor with several years of experience. Her articles, backed by expert insights, offer suggestions aimed at helping readers make the best home design choices. For this article, she spoke to top interior designers and industry experts to find out how to cozy up the interiors using lights.
1. Consider a layered living room lighting scheme
The idea of a layered light scheme is to use multiple sources of light to ensure your living room can function at any time and for any task. For instance, ambient lighting can be combined with task lighting to provide shadow-free work areas, while accent lighting adds drama and interest, and decorative lighting injects flair and personality. When you use a good mix of these, you can create a cozy living room plan, with a richer environment.
‘The key to making your living room cozy with lighting is through layering that illuminates all four corners to create balance and a pleasant atmosphere,’ says Noorein Kapoor, founder of NKD Studio (opens in new tab). ‘It can include a mix of ambient, accent, and task lighting. Chandeliers, wall sconces, table lamps, floor lamps, recessed lighting, and even candlelight can be used to illuminate the room for differing atmospheres and purposes. Layering is not only about including lots of different lights in a scheme but also different strengths of bulbs.’
‘When planning a lighting scheme for a cozy living room, think of overhead fixtures as just the foundation,’ says Noorein. ‘Layer in the task and feature lighting like lamps and art lights, adding to the room’s ambiance.’
2. Ensure you’re using warm bulbs and fixtures
A good way to make the interiors more inviting is to choose warm lights over cool lights. ‘Aside from picking beautiful lighting fixtures and silhouettes there is a key component that most people miss that help give you control of the room’s coziness,’ says interior designer Ben Marshall, who is also the creative director at lighting brand Hudson Valley Lighting Group (opens in new tab). ‘This would be bulb selection. It is important for me that I choose bulbs that are warm with the right light output. Every fixture comes with a recommended wattage. If this is rated for a 60watt bulb and feels too bright, you can try a 40watt bulb instead. This will help control the output.’
‘Second, is color temperature,’ says Ben. Essentially, light has two components: the color temperature and the color display. The color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K), and the temperature used indoors ranges from 2000K to about 6500K. The higher the Kelvins, the colder the light. At lower Kelvins, the light would have tones of yellow and orange, while at a higher Kelvins, the light has more blue tones.
‘I prefer a warmer more natural/ incandescent look,’ Ben explains. ‘This would require a bulb that is 2500k-2700K temperature. Warmer bulbs will take you away from bluish light which may look fine during the daytime hours, but then ugly grey-blue at night. It’s a personal preference that I always lead people to. I think it looks better.’
‘Opt for a statement pendant in a metallic gold or crystal to create a warming centerpiece for your living room,’ says Noorein. ‘Choosing a metallic shade will not only create a statement when the lights are off but also reflect light when on. This is a useful trick when you are looking for small living room lighting ideas. Install wall sconces to project upward light to achieve a comforting, warm, inviting, and serene living room.’
4. Use low lighting to introduce intimacy
Usually you’d hang a living room ceiling light at least 30” from the floor, but this isn’t a rule set in stone. By hanging a pendant low over a furniture piece, you not only make it a decorative statement but also allow it to bring down your lighting scheme from the ceiling.
‘If you use a chandelier or pendant, hang it lower than you would think it should be hung; especially when over a coffee table,’ says Natalie Tredgett, founder of Natalie Tredgett Design (opens in new tab). ‘See how it feels when you are sitting, not standing. It will make you feel more relaxed and thus cozy.’
In this living room, ‘an intricate, jewel-like chandelier from Brooklyn-based design studio, Coil and Drift (opens in new tab)‘ illuminates the space,’ explains Melissa Lee, founder of Bespoke Only (opens in new tab).
5. Add a reading light for a snug nook
You shouldn’t just think of your living room as one overall lighting scheme, but also how it can be broken down for use in different areas. For example, living room corners meant for reading or any other hobby, can be purposefully lit by a dedicated lamp or a sconce can to create a snug environment.
‘Layers of colors, textures, and patterns help to create a very cozy living room environment,’ says Mary Maloney, principal designer at Bee’s Knees Interior Design (opens in new tab), ‘but good lighting is also essential to any well-designed space. Add a comfy reading chair accompanied by an attractive and functional reading lamp for the ultimate cozy nook.’
6. Don’t forget dimmable lighting
Installing dimmer switches are a cost-effective way to give you more control over your light levels, allowing you set the tone and instantly change the room’s atmosphere. These can help create different moods in the modern living room and calm the vibe down during evenings or lazy afternoons.
‘One of the most effective, and simplest, things you can do to create a cozy lighting scheme is to put as many lighting sources on a dimmer as possible,’ says Andrew Griffiths, founder of A New Day (opens in new tab). ‘This gives you control to set the right ambient light, layering up different light sources around a room rather than opting for one dominant source.’
Of course, it’s worth considering that not all lights, especially LEDs, are compatible with dimmers. However, it’s also possible to find table and floor lamps with dimmers built-in, ensuring you can make these light sources as soft as possible when relaxing, but have them also function as task lighting.
7. Bring in fabric lampshades
Nothing transforms a room like great lighting, and nothing transforms a light fixture like a good shade. A fabric lampshade can provide color, pattern, and texture, even diffusing the light better and creating an elegant living room interior design.
If you want to dip your toes more into the patterned-lampshade pool, try a tone-on-tone print. ‘Consider using fabric for lampshades,’ says Natalie. ‘Depending on the color, they emit a colored light helping set a cozy mood.’
8. Think about how light is diffused
Exposed bulbs are a total no-no when it comes to creating a relaxing, cozy living room. They’re too harsh for the eyes, so consider how you can diffuse the light from bulbs with light fittings.
‘You should consider the materials used in light fixtures,’ says Andrew. ‘For a cozy feel, you want to introduce light sources that have a softening or filtering quality to them. One of my favorite routes to doing this is using a large rice paper lantern – the glow is beautiful, and used in the right scale they make a huge impact.’
9. Integrate strip LEDs for a calm, diffused glow
LED lighting ideas have some serious advantages – they are energy-efficient, last for years, and offer tremendous flexibility in any interior. LEDs in the form of strip lighting are also effective of a cozy living room, used hidden inside walls and paneling as a great way to add atmosphere to your interiors, cast a soft glow to spaces and add a relaxing vibe.
Along with their mood-setting value add, these also help highlight architectural features in a home, like spotlighting an arch or a staircase.
There are several ways to add this lighting to your living room. Consider mirror backlights, strips inside wainscoting, along the flooring or ceiling, on ceiling cornices, or within a dado rail.
10. Candles and salt lamps can warm up interiors
If there’s one thing that’s cozier than a single flickering candle, it’s a collection of candles. This is a great way to make the living room feel cozy and decorated. For an eye-catching look, consider candle stands of varying heights and shapes to add to your coffee table decor. The warm light flickering from the candles will add a restful and intimate vibe to the living room.
How do I add a soft light to my living room?
There are several ways in which you can add soft lighting to your living room. One great way is by turning off your overhead lights and relying only on supplemental lighting from table lamps or floor lamps. These make for the perfect side table decor as well. Make sure you choose yellow lights for that soft, diffused glow.
Other than these, recessed lighting that’s hidden but casts subtle illumination in the room is ideal too. You can hide LED strips inside walls, paneling, or furniture pieces for a smart look.
Oil diffusers come in a multitude of styles, and work well as night lights. String lights and candles are effective in cozying up the living room.