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This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

Create your perfect living room lighting

Follow these simple tips to layer in different and long-lasting lighting for entertaining, reading, or highlighting a beautiful painting.

When choosing lighting for a family room or living room, you have two important considerations: décor and functionality.

Of course you want the lighting to look pretty. But if it looks so pretty that you can’t sit and read, or your guests are stumbling into end tables, well it’s not very practical, is it? Striking that balance is key.

In the past we’ve turned to traditional incandescent lighting for attractive and practical lighting at home. But now ENERGY STAR® certified LED light bulbs make more sense because they cost less. Plus, you don’t have to sacrifice décor or functionality by going with LED lighting—as long as you make the smart choices.

“LED lighting has improved dramatically over the past five years,” says Lucy Dearborn, owner of Lucia Lighting & Design in Lynn. “When customers tell me they’re not looking at an LED because of what they heard about it a few years ago, I encourage them to take a new look at it.”

Designers talk about using layers of lighting: ambient, task, accent, and decorative. You can light your living area for both form and function by considering each of those layers.

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting is the most basic layer of lighting—it’s job is simply to illuminate a room. Common choices for ambient lighting in living areas are ceiling fixtures or, more popularly, recessed lights. When selecting LED recessed lights, you can replace incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, or you can buy integrated LED fixtures. Either way, think about color as you shop, suggests Joyce Gravel, store manager at Wolfers Lighting in Waltham. “You can get a lot of different kinds of light from LEDs,” Gravel says.

LED bulbs come in different “color temperatures” that work well for various uses. Check packages for light appearance, which is expressed with a measure known as kelvins, generally ranging from 2,700 to 5,000. A lower number gives a warmer, yellower light—similar to the incandescent bulbs you grew up with—and a higher number provides a brighter, blue-white light that’s more like daylight.

“The LED color you choose can depend on personal preference, as well as the colors in the room,” Gravel says. For example, a room decorated in warm reds and golds might look best with the warm glow of 2,700-kelvin light bulbs, while a room painted white with blue and gray accents may look best with the crisper light of 3,000-kelvin bulbs. 

“When you’re choosing recessed lights, bring samples of your paints and fabrics into the lighting showroom and look at them under different kinds of lights,” Gravel suggests.

Depending on your mood, or whether you’re reading a magazine, watching TV, or dozing off, the living room is the one room where dimmable lighting is essential. Certified, dimmable LEDs do the trick—just read the packaging to make sure the bulb you select works on a dimmer. Settling in for a movie with popcorn? Darker, please! Helping with your kid’s algebra homework? Brighter, thank you!

Task lighting

Recessed lighting brightens a room, of course, but because it comes from the ceiling it’s not optimal for up-close activities such as reading, studying, homework, hobbies, or games. In living areas, lamps (desk, floor, or table models) are the best solution for task lighting. Choose LED light bulbs that provide brightness but not glare, and position them to avoid shadows.

“If you read a lot, you want to have a good reading lamp,” Dearborn says. “The 3,500-kelvin LED lights are wonderful to read by. They make the pages of your book bright, and the text easy to read.”

A combination of different lighting styles can enhance any room’s decor.

Accent lighting

Accent lighting highlights details in a room, such as a piece of artwork, a favorite family photo, or architectural details, but without detracting from the room’s overall warmth. One of the nice things about LED accent lights is that they give off very little heat, which is particularly optimal for artwork.

Decorative lighting

Adding decorative lighting to a living area is a bit like putting on jewelry after getting dressed: It adds an extra sparkle that finishes a look. Decorative lights include chandeliers, pendant lights, and hanging lamps.

You can install LED bulbs in decorative lights, or you can choose fixtures with integrated LED lighting. “Many of the new integrated LED fixtures have a modern design,” Gravel says, “because lighting designers can do things with LEDs that they can’t do with traditional light bulbs.”

Gone are the days when LED bulbs were seen by consumers and designers as too limiting, or too bright, whether for accent lighting, or ambient lighting, or a simple task lamp. They have evolved into having real advantages over traditional bulbs, both for décor and functionality, with one significant bonus: They save money.


Save even more with ENERGY STAR certified LEDs.

Eversource supports price discounts on ENERGY STAR certified LED lighting online and in stores throughout Massachusetts through the Mass Save® program.

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.