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Power Couples: Floor & Table Lamp Combos That Work

We talk A TON about lighting ideas and picks for living spaces here at EHD (see here, here, hereaaaand here) and we’re not planning on stopping anytime soon. You see, in the movie that is room design, while furniture is most often treated as the protagonist (for good reason, since it is what’s used the most in any given space), there’s no reason for lighting to play second fiddle…we prefer to think of it as the very important supporting cast—the Meryl Streep to the Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Because let’s get real, you can’t even SEE that furniture (at night) if there weren’t lamps and sconces and chandeliers. 

“But my house already has overhead lights, so I’m good to go” you might be saying…we’ll stop you right there. The lighting plan of a room is far more complex than just flipping the switch on can lights or whatever bulb is in your ceiling fan. The most flattering and pleasant lighting strategy should be layered, meaning it comes from above, hits at eye level, and several points in between. Another component to this formula is a mix of ambient, directional/accent and task lighting…this creates ambiance and makes your room glow in a way that is comfortable and makes you want to linger. Think of lighting as an outfit: the ambient light (like a fabric shaded lamp) is the actual clothes you put on your body—without it, you (and your room) would be, well…naked; task lighting (which includes metal-shaded lamps or spotlights) is like your shoes…they can be special and fabulous, but they are also a utility item that gets you where you need to go; and finally, accent/directional lighting (whether sculptural or hard-shaded) is the jewelry and accessories. They highlight what you want to show off in either a subtle or not-so-subtle way. Okay…got all of that?

We could certainly dive way deeper into this (and in fact, we have in this post that talks about the rules of lighting) but for today, we wanted to give you a quick refresher as well as walk you through the best way to actually pair some of these lights, specifically table and floor lamps. Not everyone is a homeowner that can swap out hardwired fixtures like pendants and chandeliers without asking for permission (or forgiveness), so understanding the marriage between these two free-standing lamps is good for EVERYONE.

A few things to remember when shopping (which are echoed in our picks in the roundup at the end of the post):

Rule #1: Make sure the shade of your floor lamp is covering the bulb when you are sitting down.

The ideal floor lamp height is about 68″ (but of course that depends on the height of the seat or table it’s next to). A good rule of thumb is to just make sure that the lamp shade is long enough that a bare bulb doesn’t feel like you’re being interrogated when seated.

Rule #2: A table lamp should always be at eye level whether paired with a chair and you’re seated, or on a console and you’re standing.

Okay, that was a bit of a mouthful, but basically, if your table lamp is going on a side table next to an armchair or sofa, you want to be sure the shade hits at eye level. If the table lamp is on a desk…eye level when seated. Table lamp on a console table…eye level when standing.

Rule #3: Vary your type of lighting, i.e. one lamp should be direct while one should be ambient.

Okay, so here’s how that shakes out: Say your table lamp is a task light—something like an Anglepoise a desk—you’ll want to pair it with a floor lamp with a soft fabric shade that will act as your ambient light. Or maybe you have a metal-shaded floor lamp near an armchair for reading (or one of those three-light directional floor lamps), your room will crave a wash of light, so look for a table lamp that offers diffused light, either with a fabric shade or a frosted glass dome (like #5 in the roundup).

We could keep going, but then you’ll never learn how to expertly pair a floor and table lamp, so let’s dive into a few examples of rooms that do it right and then get to the shoppable goodies:

Emily Henderson Living Room
Photo by Ryan Liebe for EHD

This is my living room (you might recognize it??). A few things to take note of: the mix of fabric-shaded sconces, table lamp (on the console table) and floor lamp (by the sofa), and the hard-shaded directional lamps on the trunk and demilune blue table near the chaise.

Brady Tolbert Living Room With Black Beams
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD

Here is Brady’s living room (well, an earlier iteration of it, because it’s since been updated). It gets an A+ for following the rule of hard shade mixed with soft shade. The table lamp is high enough that it will do a good job of spreading light around the room (in addition to the other fixtures he has in the space), and the floor lamp is directional for reading (or scrolling through Instagram).

Lighting Ideas for Living Room & Bedroom
Photo by Zeke Ruelas for EHD

Here’s another prime example of how to mix different types of lighting (directional vs. ambient): You’ll notice that the floor lamp in the room above falls under the “ambient” category because the fabric lampshade would delicately diffuse light around the space. This lights a room more thoroughly, as opposed to the task lamp on the desk. The hard metal shade means no light can escape except for in the direction it’s pointing (hence, directional lighting). These are really great lamp types for reading, working, doing anything hobby-ish. The light is strong and bright right where you need it (and basically nowhere else). You’ll want to be sure this type of lamp is low enough (or can be directed down) that it doesn’t blind you.

Lighting Ideas for Living Room
Photo by Zeke Ruelas

For maximum diffusion, you’ll want to stick with a white or light-colored linen shade (as opposed to something black, which would look really beautiful and dramatic but hold back some of those lumens).

White Living Room Stone Fireplace
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

Talking about silhouette for a second, here’s a shot of my previous living room. I opted for a table lamp with a little more heft and color, while the floor lamp is sleek and slender. This keeps things visually interesting (also notice the mix of hard and fabric shades).

Midcentury Modern Living Room Decor Ideas
Photo by Ryan Liebe for EHD

The combo of materials is also worth talking about. While you could definitely stick to a similar vibe across all picks (modern matte black and brushed brass, for example), you could also mix it up. We think a marriage of something a little flashier (like polished brass) with something a bit more neutral (like the wood floor lamp above) is a really nice balance (but by all means, go all-in one way or the other if that speaks to your soul).

Phew…okay, hopefully, that helped you better understand the super scientific formula for mixing and matching floor and table lamps. Now, it’s time to shop. Here are some combos we’re really loving. You’ll notice that they don’t all have a hard shade and soft shade, but where they are both hard-shaded (like the pair at #4), one acts as the ambient/diffused light—that or it’s more of an accent piece (just make sure you have plenty of other soft-shaded lamps in your room to spread more light around):

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1. Glisan & Studio | 2. Balloon Glass & Caron | 3. Grooved Concrete & Scala Large Hand Forged | 4. Globe Capped Cone & Merissa | 5. Framed Sphere & Trio | 6. Matte Black Mini Mondo & Donna | 7. Pink Shade Rattan & Victor Tripod | 8. Matter & Alahambra | 9. Princeton & Jordan Brass | 10. The Orga & Circle Line | 11. Ethan & Delavan | 12. Triology & Zoe | 13. O & G Jena & Bruno | 14. Marty II & Hanna | 15. Control & Fluted | 16. Brass LibraryTurned Polywood | 17. Storuman & Pink Single Beam | 18. Menlo Glass GlobeTapered Pinewood Aiden | 19. Large Brighton & Jackson | 20. Dixon & Vaulted Arc

Do you have any favorite combos you wish you could pluck from the screen and instantly transport to your living room?? Call out the numbers you’re feelin’!

For more Power Couple pairing advice, don’t miss these posts:

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5 years ago

What do you do about a floor plan where the lamps will be out in the open and not against a wall? How do you hide cords or, at least, not trip on them??

Cris S.
5 years ago
Reply to  Emily

I get that not everyone has the opportunity to do this – but we are renovating a house with a basement and before the floors on the first floor went in, we’d planned where the end tables/sofa console would be and had the electrician put plugs in the floor out away from the walls. It’s something I’d only read about in magazines and we are very solidly only middle class, but the electrician didn’t flinch and so now – yay!

Frases para status linda
5 years ago
Reply to  Cris S.

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5 years ago

Yay! As much as I love following your progress on the two fixer houses, I do love these types of posts. Since I’m in a space I won’t be renovating, it’s great to have some pure decorating posts now and then. This is a good one!

5 years ago

Great info. Missed these posts

5 years ago

Super helpful!! I’m getting ready to put two soft shade sconces in my living room. Now I know I need a hard shade lamp for my console table. I was gunning for a soft shade! Phew, crisis averted 🙂

Julia B.
5 years ago

These are so incredibly helpful! So many other bloggers/sites just say “here buy this lamp because it’s pretty” but don’t take the time to walk through WHY we’re buying that lamp, or how to best make it work into our homes. THANK YOU EMILY HENDERSON.

5 years ago

So is lighting usually the last thing you design, after you know where task lighting will be necessary?
I’m really bad at lighting and picking lamps.

5 years ago

Would LOVE if you addressed some decent looking LED lights! Building a couple spec homes and the current building code requirements for LED lights (especially bathroom sconces) are wrecking havoc on my design plans.

Wish decent products were available before they made them a requirement. Kind of like California requiring solar power in all new construction starting in 2020. Panels are UGLY and the technology has not yet introduced decent looking solar roofing at an affordable price.

5 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

Thanks for the story idea Cindy! We’ll look into it.

5 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

Can you use any standard fixture with LED bulbs? It sounds like building code does not allow it? Wow, that would be hard!

5 years ago
Reply to  Susan

No, unfortunately LED bulbs do not meet current California Building Code requirements. Fixtures need to be integrated LED. The products I’m finding are abysmal or cost prohibitive. In particular I am struggling with finding bathroom wall sconces and outdoor wall lighting.

5 years ago

Completely agree with rule #1! In my family home there’s a floor lamp that beams right in people’s eyes while they’re trying to watch the TV haha!

Found this post so useful – I’m moving into a new flat this summer so these are great tips for me 🙂

Alice // The Rose Glow

5 years ago

This is great! I need to pick some pendant lighting to go over our kitchen island and a hanging light to go over the kitchen table that are in the same room. Do the same design concepts apply when pairing ceiling lights?

5 years ago

#1, #4, #8, #11…I want them all.

5 years ago

Surely Meryl Streep is the antagonist to Hathaway’s protagonist, not simply a supporting cast member. Without the Devil wearing Prada, it’d just be a plotless movie about Anne Hathaway trying really hard at her job.

5 years ago

Awesome post! Now what do I do if I love light but my space has no overhead lights and no way to get them? My apartment has lovely high ceilings, but they are concrete so I’m afraid to drill a hook into them. The living room/dining room/kitchen is an open plan rectangle so my opportunity for tables is limited…. right now I’m thinking plug in sconces, but I’m wondering how many is too many?

5 years ago

#19 is my favorite for my house. I LOVE this post!

5 years ago

I really hate overhead lighting, and I’m not a big fan of can lights*, so I like a good mix of lamps. I have one chandelier, one floor lamp, and five table lamps in our comb living/dining room (we have a townhouse condo). Getting the balance right can be a trick, but it’s so important in a space. Love the choices here!

* When we remodeled ten years ago, we had our popcorn ceilings scraped, and our contractor if we wanted can lights and how many (he assumed we’d want a lot). I had the landing strip look of a bunch of can lights, so we only had them put in over the bookcases, and one with a shade to diffuse light over the paintings we have over the fireplace. He thought we were making a mistake, but I’ve never regretted it.

5 years ago

This is a fantastic compilation and lesson! Thanks for sharing 🙂