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How To Make Your Room Brighter If You Don’t Have Overhead Lighting: 5 Rental Hacks

Hey guys! Mal here back to share a common problem that has some easy solutions. It all started when my sister’s new husband (who is from New Zealand) came to America and said “why do so many apartments in LA not have overhead lighting?!” I absolutely could not answer that question but I, too, have been baffled by this. I found this out the hard way with my very first apartment in college – we toured the apartment, said “well this’ll do,” signed the lease and moved all of our stuff in. It wasn’t until around 6 pm when I tried to turn on my light in my room, because it was getting dark, that I realized there was in fact no light switch/overhead light fixture (cool). I remember rushing to a HomeGoods to secure literally any lamp. Not ideal, clearly. So after all that, I realized this was an issue for a lot of people, ESPECIALLY in LA. So, if you’re in a new space and just realized you have no overhead lighting OR if you want to get more lighting in your space that’s easy and renter-friendly (aka non-invasive). This post is for you. Let’s begin.

Types Of Lighting

Let’s get down to the basics, shall we? There are 3 types of lighting to add to a space: general/ambient, task/directional, and accent lighting. Let’s break down what each of these are:

General/Ambient

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a modern and organic living room makeover

This type of lighting is mainly overhead, recessed, or other lighting that provides a lot of light in a room in a diffused way. Oftentimes, you’ll notice general lighting is on dimmers. Also, ambient can be considered general lighting which is soft lighting that emits an overall warm, hushed glow. Think about your favorite softly lit wine bar/restaurant or a cozy, dim living room (PS if you’re reading this post, this is the type of lighting you likely don’t have much of, especially if you’re in the “overhead/recessed lighting-less” apartment crew).

Task/Directional

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house living room reveal
photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: charlie’s big boy room reveal

This one will shock you. A task light refers to a light that’s specific to a task (wild, right?). Basically, a lamp that emits light in one direction (kinda like a spotlight). Think lamps on your nightstand, on a desk to help you work, a light fixture over a bathroom vanity that only emits light in one direction, a floor lamp in a cozy reading corner, you get the idea. This section is pretty quick and easy, onto the next 🙂

Accent Lighting

photo by genevieve garruppo | from: a 120 year old barn makeover with the frame tv

Now accent lighting usually would be considered purely decorative lighting since these lights typically do not bring a lot of general diffused light to a room but more serve as an accent piece or have exposed bulbs which can often be harsh to look into. Accent lighting really just helps add a extra light and style. Now let’s briefly chat about how to create a plan to use each type of lighting!

How To Create A Lighting Plan Without Overhead Lighting

So while this post is going to focus on lights you can add to hack your space, and not necessarily how to create a lighting plan, let’s chat briefly about the strategy you can use to get an overall general lighting feeling in a place with none.

1. Figure out how you want to use the space (how much light do you need/want?)

2. Decide which areas you want to “zone” ie: dining table, kitchen island (plug-in pendants are great for those)

3. Add task lighting for places that need it (ie: lamp for a desk, lamp by a bed, floor lamp for a reading corner)

4. Sprinkle in accent lighting literally anywhere that makes sense (we’ll go into specific accent lighting hacks below)

5. You should have light coming from at least a few different heights to help evenly disperse the light throughout the room.

HOT TIP: Not all lighting is created equal. Opaque glass, fabric, or paper shades will give you a pretty, ambient glow that can illuminate a space nicely while lighting with metal shades + exposed bulbs can be more directional + harsh (especially when it’s at eye level) but can be great for task lighting.

Now that you know where to start, here are some of our favorite hacks (and shoppable picks) to get non-invasive, extra lighting in your space:

Renter-Friendly Lighting Hacks

Wall Washer Sconces

These guys help illuminate a wall SO MUCH. Em used them in their Mountain House bedroom and I LOVE THEM. She literally said they give off the prettiest glow and that I had to include them. These are basically sconces that illuminate a whole wall and light upwards (and sometimes downwards too). They add a great soft, warm glow to a space which is important when you’re looking for more light. The easiest way to maximize your lighting is to pick lighting that diffuses light OUT versus getting metal shades that are too directional + don’t spread the light well.

1. Hattie 1 Light Wall Sconce (we all love this sconce SO much) | 2. Step Wall Sconce (perfect for a home with a lot of organic neutral tones and materials) | 3. Bram Reflector Sconce (modern and chic!)

Battery Operated Picture Lights

design by weil friedman architects and cece barfield | styled by colin king | photo by max burkhalte | via architectural digest

These are IDEAL to add to a space with no overhead lighting because they bring a warm glow that draws your eye upwards which is critical in a space with no lighting overhead! Plus they look super intentional and will bring attention to your beautiful art or bookshelves:) Other than a pendant light, these will be the tallest lights in your space most likely.

1. Battery Operated Picture Light (the perfect mix of modern and traditional) | 2. Slim-LineWide Antiqued Brass Battery LED Picture Light (in love with the slim arm!) | 3. Cordless Remote Control LED Picture Light (affordable and comes with a remote? sign me up)

Speaking of pendants…

Plug-In Pendant Lights

design by jack ceglic and manuel fernandez-casteleiro | photo by tim williams | via architectural digest

Like I said in the last point, getting light close to your ceiling really will make all the difference when it comes to illuminating your space. Big bonus if you get a paper, frosted glass, or fabric pendant light to diffuse the light evenly.

HOT TIP: If you aren’t into the plug-in look, there are TONS of battery-operated light bulbs on the market now, so you don’t need to hardwire ANYTHING.

1. Bamboo Open Weave Orb Pendant Shade (love this shape and material) | 2. Pendant Light Ceramic Plug In (so cute! and very modern farmhouse) | 3. Single Drum Pendant (a perfect classic)| 4. Carson 12″ Plug-in Pendant (that pop of color and shape is awesome) | 5. Lantern Geometric Pendant (love the shape and two different rattan colors) | 6. Rice Paper Shade (another classic that gives off the best light)

1. Modern Brass Cord Kit (love that brass accent) | 2. Cord Tie For Plug-In Light (a very chic way to tame your cord) | 3. Electrical Cord Swag Kit (love this color and price) | 4. Minimalist Cord Keeper Hook For Swag Pendant (another stylish cord swag solution that also comes in a bunch of colors) | 5. Apartment Plug-In Pendant (not cheap but so pretty) | 6. Matte White Plug-In Simple Swag Pendant (a great dupe for the Schoolhouse option)

The Plug-In Sconce

One of Emily’s favorite items to add (rental or not) is the plug-in sconce. She used these two in her LA house and just got TWO AWESOME vintage ones for the farm that are going to absolutely crush. When dealing with cords, it’s important to treat them like a sculpture/part of the light. Trying to hide a cord with a cord cover can often make a space look less designed (depending on where/what the fixture is), so think about how you can wrap the cord in something cool, pick an interesting color cord, OR hang it in a unique way to integrate it into the space instead of pretending like it’s installed into the wall when it’s not.

1. Mantis Swivel Wall Sconce (modern and organic) | 2. Faye 1 Light Plug-In Sconce (love the length and modern luxe vibe) | 3. Flores Plug-In Wall Sconce with Pleated Shade (ummm stunning?) | 4. Crane Swing Lamp Mini (love the all wood look) | 5. LEAP (affordable twist on a great classic) | 6. SIMRISHAMN (for my ultra-modern loving design pal that’s on a budget)

LED Strips Under Cabinets and Furniture

Maybe my favorite hack…this is SO affordable to do and adds such a nice glow/ambiance if you’re strapped for lighting. I have LED strips under my kitchen cabinetry & it’s so functional for when you’re cooking/cleaning/really doing anything in the kitchen. You can also get really creative with where you put LED strips: behind or under furniture (bed, credenzas, TVs). So many options truly. My biggest piece of advice is to try not to make it the MOST obvious that it’s there (read: I’m not suggesting you put a ton of LED strips surrounding the perimeter of your room like Gen Z does). But there are ways to make it look classy, and for not a ton of $$$!! Check out these options:

1. LED Puck Light (admittedly pricier but so pretty and comes in black!) | 2. Wireless Under Cabinet Light (affordable and cordless) | 3. Carollton LED 2″ Under Cabinet Tape Light (the most discrete and can go anywhere)

That’s all for this post! Hope you enjoyed it + hope it helps!! ALL MY LOVE TO YA & WE WILL SEE YA TOMORROW!!! xx

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Mariana
1 month ago

Thank you so much, this was very interesting and helpfull!

Kristin
1 month ago

I have an old house with no overhead lighting and I recently discovered there are USB rechargable light bulbs! I am using these in sconces over my fireplace where there is no outlet for plug-in sconces. Just hang a hard-wired sconce after cutting off the wires, screw this rechargable bulb into the socket and THERE IS LIGHT! I bought the ones with a remote so I can turn on/off as needed. We don’t use them all the time, so it’s not a huge deal to charge them. If they were lights that I used all the time, I would probably buy 2 sets of bulbs so a set is always charged. I found the bulbs on amazon.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristin

Yesss! 👍 On “Arlyn Says”, we had this discussion a few months back. She has a set of big lamps nowhere near a power point and I suggested these. They are soooo useful!

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristin

IKEA sells them too, very affordable.

Alice
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristin

For some reason I can’t find USB rechargeable bulbs on amazon.

Stephanie
1 month ago
Reply to  Alice

Me neither! This would be such a game-changer. The only ones I’m finding either don’t screw in or are self-charging when used in a normal lamp (i.e., doesn’t solve the problem of not having an outlet).

Kj
1 month ago
Reply to  Alice

GE Lighting makes some. I’ve seen them at Target. Here are the details on their LED+ line of bulbs. https://www.gelighting.com/led-plus-bulbs. Safer to buy “name brand” items made by a reputable company for anything that is plugged in; some of the wiring in cheap Chinese junk can burn your home down.

Alice
30 days ago
Reply to  Kj

I agree about sticking to name brands. Thanks for the link. I see a bulb with a bluetooth speaker, wow.

Roberta Davis
1 month ago

In my lighting class in interior design program, we learned that overhead lighting (downlighting) is the worst kind of lighting, especially if it is the only lighting in a space. What you want is layers of light. My teacher said think about where you want the light to be and then design the lighting to get it there.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago

Biggest take-away for me from this post?
💥 Battery. Operated. Picture. Lights!💥
YDKWYDK – (you don’t know what you don’t know!) #I.didn’t. know.they.existed. I always thoughtvthess were hard-wired.
Eeek! This could be a game-changer in my ol’ girl house!
Thanks, Mallory.💗

I had a laugh thinking about where I could put LED strip lighting….like underneath my verrry high bed?!?! Bahahaha 🤣🤣🤣 Limitless options!
In all seriousness, I have dark stained plate rails in both the dining and living rooms, all the way around. It might look good up there and set a glow for tge recessed and highly irnate ceilings. My best bet = IKEA.
(I regularly wondercwhy you guys don’t list their products as an option since this is a global blog and IKEA is world-wide??).

Great post. Thanks, Mallory.😊xx

Sheila
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Because they can’t earn money on IKEA links.

🥰 Rusty
30 days ago
Reply to  Sheila

But then, Amazon?? Do they earn $ on Amazon links?
Apartment Therapy has IKEA links all the time.

Sheila
30 days ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Amazon? They absolutely have an affiliate program. Perhaps less lucrative than it was in the past but it still generates revenue for a lot of people who incorporate them.
At present, IKEA only offers affiliate programs in a few countries, none of them English-speaking. The complexity of monetizing affiliate linking for a global company like IKEA is rather mind boggling. It’s quite possible that Apartment Therapy has a special relationship with IKEA to accept products or receive direct compensation for content built around IKEA items but the links they share look like standard, direct to item links, not running through an affiliate program.
I’m always curious what’s going on behind the scenes so would love to hear more from you and others here.

Sheila
1 month ago

I also love the idea of rechargable battery/USB bulbs and accent lamps and would be interested in seeing more.
I’d also love to see more photos of plug-in pendants in use. You mention them being great over a kitchen island and I’m struggling to imagine the cord situation. Speaking of cords, all the wall-washer sconces featured are hardwired which doesn’t seem terribly renter friendly. Yes, rechargeable bulbs would be an option but require frequently disassembling the fixtures.

priscilla
1 month ago
Reply to  Sheila

i have seen hanging lights that you can plug into can lighting, if you happen to have any cans over an island. i have been toying with doing this for YEARS. lol, never did it tho, i guess because i saw them at HomeDepot and i figured they would be a hot mess

Meg
1 month ago
Reply to  priscilla

I did this in a kitchen with the ones from Home Depot, or maybe it was Lowe’s, but anyway some very pretty glass. Huge improvement over the can lights!

Sheila
1 month ago
Reply to  priscilla

Thanks. I can see that. Somehow thought these were suggestions for folks without existing overhead lighting. My bad!

🥰 Rusty
30 days ago
Reply to  Sheila

I thought the same.

jen
1 month ago

GREAT roundup and tips!

mallory
1 month ago

My girls’ room has so little natural light and while that was a bonus when they were little and needed to nap, it’s a bit depressing now. This post is very timely to add in some additional light sources and liven it up. Thanks Mal! <3 from another Mal.
p.s. have you noticed Mallorys popping up EVERYWHERE lately?? All the baby girls who were named after Justine Bateman in Family Ties are now growing up and making our impact on the world. Love to see it.

Stacia
30 days ago
Reply to  mallory

I have always loved the name Mallory because of that character!

Lauren
1 month ago

These are my favorite kind of posts! I know exactly where I want to put a drop plug in cord and I had no idea it even existed (nor the time I want to devote to looking). EHD team to the rescue!

Paula
1 month ago

I generally don’t like overhead lights. They can often be too bright and/or glaring. And don’t get me started on the people who overuse can lights. The only overhead lights I use regularly are the chandelier over the dining table, and the Moroccan chandelier in my bedroom (because it’s beautiful and not glaring).

Meg
1 month ago

I need battery operated taper candle sticks or something similar for my dining room table. I have an open concept layout with an exposed wood A-frame ceiling. We have ceiling fans which are actually terrific because of our high A-frame ceiling but the placement means I can’t swag anything over my dining room table because it would be too close to the ceiling fan and just look stupid. I have found quite a few battery operated lanterns but they are just a little bit too Girl Scout camp-ish . Any ideas?

🥰 Rusty
30 days ago
Reply to  Meg

How about a table lamp with a rechargeable bulb so no wiring necessary?

Kj
30 days ago
Reply to  Meg

Lumens has a nice selection of battery lamps although some are strictly “outdoorsy”: https://www.lumens.com/battery-operated-lamps/?sz=96

27 days ago

Wow thank you for this incredible content, I love it!

Carolyn
27 days ago

I like the concept of this article, but given that it’s about lighting that’s great for rentals, I think the article really should have covered how you install this lighting with as little damage to rental properties as possible. It feels like the article is half finished because there’s no information on “how to install.”

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