Whereas dining room and bedroom lighting schemes feel somewhat intuitive, living room lighting is a whole other ballgame. With endless spots to plunk a lamp or rig up a pair of sconces, how do you cue up a lighting scheme that touts both style and function? Enter the marvelous mother-daughter duo, McGrath II. Known for lushly layered interiors that are positively, well, lit, Suzanne and Lauren are certified lighting experts in our book. “A beautifully designed room is nothing without a great lighting scheme to bring it to life,” says Suzanne. “A well-thought out lighting plan not only makes a room more functional, but it also makes it more interesting visually.” To make sure we’re breaking out the right lights to illuminate our own homes, we asked Suzanne and Lauren to give us the lowdown on the five types of living room lighting that they always consider.
Overhead fixtures are often considered the foundation of living room lighting. That said, Suzanne and Lauren insist that having one isn’t a must. “When the ceilings are high, a ceiling fixture feels right,” says Suzanne, “But if you’ve got low ceilings, skip the overhead.” If you are opting for an overhead, Suzanne and Lauren are particularly fond of going vintage: “They can immediately set the tone for that mix of traditional and modern elements that make a room feel stylish and bespoke,” says Suzanne. She also stresses the importance of considering what kind of light an overhead fixture will give off. “In a room where there is recessed lighting, we might not need an overhead light that gives off that much light, which allows us to play more,” says Suzanne. “In a pre-war apartment, for example, where there often isn’t any recessed lighting, we’ll need to select a light that has the ability to throw off light to all corners of the room.”
Between more obvious lighting options like chandeliers and table lamps, it can be easy to overlook sconces. But as Lauren and Suzanne point out, these hard-working heroes can have a big impact not only on a room’s function, but style quota as well. “We like to propose sconces in rooms to provide additional lighting,” says Suzanne, “but we also love the opportunity to accessorize them with custom lampshades, which add so much character and charm to a room.” If you’re concerned about sconces not providing enough bang for the hassle of rigging them up, Lauren and Suzanne have a few tips: “Make sure that the sconces are on dimmer switches, so that they can add a source of soft lighting in conjunction with the other lamps in the room,” says Suzanne. “Also, we like to select flexible sconces with expandable arms. They can be pulled down towards you when reading and then raised when not in use.”
Be they installed in a ceiling or mounted under cabinetry, recessed lights’ purpose is to imbue a room that gets little natural light with a warm, cozy glow. As Suzanne and Lauren note, recessed lighting is a particularly sage choice when a room’s ceiling isn’t high enough to accommodate an overhead fixture. Even easier than popping recessed lights into a ceiling? Under-mounting recessed lights on custom cabinetry. Of the above room, Suzanne says, “The lights in this custom bookcase are linear LED lights inset into the cabinetry. We love how streamlined this light source is. It is the same idea as under the counter lighting in a kitchen, but a more sophisticated iteration.”
“Practically speaking, table lamps are a necessary element of any room,” says Suzanne of the living room’s most tried-and-true lighting source. While table lamps are game for just about any surface, Suzanne reminds us to pay special attention to those “spots where you know you will be reading in the evening light.” In McGrath II rooms, for instance, you’ll almost always find a pair of lamps on either side of a sofa, as well as on a center table, or on a tall console. To up the interest, Lauren and Suzanne recommend varying the height of your table lamps. As for choosing a style of table lamp, the duo encourages picking one with sculptural lines. “Sometimes they are ceramic, other times wood or glass, but always something that adds another element of complexity to a room,” says Suzanne.
Oft forgotten, but supremely functional, McGrath II is fond of using a single floor lamp to help punctuate a room. “Floor lamps allow you to play with scale and height in a way that few other elements of a room do,” says Suzanne. “Varying the heights of lighting also makes a room, and the people inside of it, glow.” Among Lauren and Suzanne’s favorite places to use a floor lamp? “We love the look of a pair of delicate smaller standing lamps,” says Suzanne. “Anchoring a small loveseat, against a wall, they add symmetry to a room.” Symmetry is also important to take into account when selecting a shade for a floor lamp, says Suzanne. “Make sure that the lampshade is large enough in scale, relative to the height of your floor lamp, so it looks balanced,” she advises.
Lead photo by Bruce Buck