Optimizing Lighting for Apartment Life

Many people live in apartments and don’t have the ability to add permanently installed lighting. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have good lighting, it simply means you need to be a little bit more creative about how to get the illumination you want.

12/19/2019
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Randall Whitehead Lighting for Apartment Living
Interior Design: Turner Martin; Photo: Randall Whitehead

Many people live in apartments and don’t have the ability to add permanently installed lighting. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have good lighting, it simply means you need to be a little bit more creative about how to get the illumination you want. Just like people who are building or remodeling their homes, you want to think about a nice mix of illumination. No one light fixture can serve all of your lighting needs. By adding elements of task, accent, ambient and decorative lighting you are doing what is called light layering. This creates dimension and visual interest for the space, while providing valuable light for work.

randall whitehead apartment lighting
Design: Turner Martin; Photo: Randall Whitehead

Let’s take this dining room (shown above) as an example. There was a center ceiling mounted fixture, installed over the dining room table. That fixture was replaced with one that had three adjustable accent lights. These are being used to highlight the three white vases and philodendron leaves used as centerpieces. The two paintings on the wall are illuminated, using LED picture lights mounted above the art. These are plugged into an outlet. 

The console, placed below the art, hides most of the cords. The floor lamp in the corner adds a little bit of fill light/decorative light for the space.

Randall Whitehead apartment lighting
Design: Turner Martin; Photo: Randall Whitehead

Here, in the living room (shown above), a tall paper Japanese style column lamp offers a warm glow of illumination for the room. Additionally, a floor lamp provides a spot of reading light by the end of the sofa. The plug for the floor lamp runs under the sofa and over to the wall. A candle placed inside of a tall frosted cylinder on the coffee table adds some visual focus to help draw people into the room. This is a flickering LED tea light candle, so there’s no danger of fire.

On the other side of the living room (shown above) is a black lacquered chest, topped with a Buddha figure and an Asian inspired table lamp. Illumination from the diffuse light source illuminates the left-hand side of the carved stone figure, while the tall rectangular floor lamp in the opposite corner (shown in the preceding image) brings in some illumination on the right-hand side.  The black and white painting behind the Buddha is accented, using a picture light.  The stone figure conveniently hides a cord, running from the picture light down to the wall outlet.

randall whitehead apartment living
Design: Turner Martin; Photo: Randall Whitehead

All these lights are controlled by a simple wireless smart system. There are numerous products like this which are available on the market. This project uses the Caseta smart lighting controls, made by Lutron.  With this system comes modules which are plugged into the wall outlets.  Then the various light fixtures are plugged into the modules. An app can be downloaded that allows you to turn the lights on and off, as well as dim them from your phone. There are also handheld control devices which can be placed on tables or affixed to the wall.

So, the bottom line here is that you don’t have to own a building to get good lighting. What we’re talking about is the simple exchange of a few fixtures and the addition of some plug-in fixtures; along with the possibility of a wireless dimming system.  

One final note: My suggestion is that if you’re going to change one light fixture for another, then keep the original one in storage so it can be reinstalled when you are moving out.  That way you can take your purchased fixtures with you when you go.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website www.randallwhitehead.com for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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