How To Replace Your Apartment’s Terrible Lighting

You're not stuck with that terrible boob light! You can replace your apartment's lighting! (Or at least disguise it or work around it.) Click through for where to place lighting, which height to put your lighting sources, and even which light bulbs to buy >>

Want to replace your apartment’s lighting? Trick question! Of course you do! Who actually enjoys those ubiquitous “boob” lights?!

Today, I brought in professional interior designer Liz to tell us all how we can upgrade our lighting without breaking the bank

My biggest complaint about rental living is the terrible lighting. Most apartments come with cheapie fixtures that throw off stage-level illumination from overhead: the most unflattering of lighting situations.
When planning a professional design project, I like to take an approach that’s layered so that illumination is coming from more than one source and height. Balance is also important, so I like to use a lot of sources scattered around the room, rather than a central fixture that’s overwhelmingly bright yet leaves the corners dark.

As a life-long renter, I know how frustrating it can be to not have recessed cans, hard-wired sconces, or dimmers to control light with precision. So let’s focus on how to get that luxe, layered look in a way that’s achievable in any apartment.

4 ways to replace, repair or disguise your apartment’s bad lighting

Let’s take a minute to admire this room, shall we?

How To Replace Your Apartment's Terrible Lighting //

The design of the room is ultimately successful because of good lighting. The general illumination comes from the ceiling fixture, yet it’s not too bright (although a show-stopper).

Otherwise, dark corners are balanced out with lamps that cast a warm glow that’s inviting and cozy. The lamps provide eye-level lighting while seated, which is the most flattering light for your face.

If the only light source is over your head, it can be a little harsh; think about every sad fitting room, ever. So break up with the $20 torch lamps from college and explore the myriad of lighting choices out there.

You're not stuck with that terrible boob light! You can replace your apartment's lighting! (Or at least disguise it or work around it.) Click through for where to place lighting, which height to put your lighting sources, and even which light bulbs to buy >>
Lamps are probably the easiest way to bring task, accent, or general illumination into an existing space without disturbing your landlord’s place. There are seemingly endless options available and at all price points.
Do yourself a favor and buy a pack of 3 matching lamps from your local big-box store. Stick them in poorly lit corners of your rooms, suck them into bookshelves, or use a pair on a sofa table.

Floor lamps are often overlooked, but can anchor a vignette and make up for a lack of overhead lighting. Create a real dining room in a loft or otherwise non-compartmentalized space with a simple arc floor lamp like shown here.

You're not stuck with that terrible boob light! You can replace your apartment's lighting! (Or at least disguise it or work around it.) Click through for where to place lighting, which height to put your lighting sources, and even which light bulbs to buy >>
The “chandelier” in my dining room is too small and mounted about two feet too high. My plan is to conceal it with a huge drum fixture as shown in the picture below. It’s a great way to work with terrible rental fixtures.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to swap hard-wired fixtures, create an intimate dining space by hanging so the bottom of the fixture is 30-36” above the table.
pendant light above dining room table
Pendants on long cords can get worked into living room corners or flanking beds when table lamps aren’t wanted. Ultimate flexibility!

pendant lights in bedrooms

Looking for something adjustable? Consider creating a reading nook with a library sconce! No bedside table needed; just hang on the wall and use a cord cover to finish off the look.

wall lighting sconce

Once you have the fixtures in place, think about the level of illumination. Bathrooms and kitchens should be bright, but bedrooms and casual entertaining spaces feel most comfortable when the lighting isn’t harsh. Use plug-in or wireless dimmers for maximum flexibility.

For a less expensive option, use lower wattage bulbs. Most fixtures in my place have 40w Edisons (it’s cool, I trade my lack of AC for fancy bulbs!). If using LED bulbs, go with the lowest light temperature number; 2700k will look closest to a regular incandescent.

And don’t forget about stylized bulbs if you want to roll without shades or remove existing ones that are terrible. Low cost, big impact!

fancy lightbulbs

Have you got a lighting conundrum? If you do, tell us about it in the comments and Liz will weigh in with advice!

P.S. How to work with a galley kitchen

Sources: 1. Bergen Street Residence // 2. 55 Central Park West // 3. FORMA Design // 4. Choice Dining Galley // 5. East London Flat // 6. Master Bedroom // emily may

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  1. kelseyespecially

    We just replaced the hideous standard brass “chandelier” thing in our dining room (complete with candle-shaped bulbs) with a great pendant lamp from Ikea, but are now struggling to find the right type of light via the right bulb. The new pendant shade encircles the single lightbulb (obvs, since it’s a pendant shade), which means the light is concentrated and funneled basically straight down over the table, whereas the hideous “chandelier,” whose multiple bulbs were uncovered, spread a soft bright light all throughout the room.

    We must have the wrong bulb in our new lamp, though, because the light is…not right. The light before was a soft bright light and the bulb we pulled out of a bin in the basement is much harsher and while it’s brighter (per se), it doesn’t seem as luminous…or gentle. Suggestions?

    • Liz

      Great question! It sounds like you need some sort of diffusion so the light isn’t spotlighting the center of your table. The easiest way to deflect the light is by using a bowl bulb. They’re coated on the bottom so the light bounces back up into your fixture and then, ideally, appears creates a nice glow. Here’s a link:

      Also pay attention to lumens. A 60w bulb that’s 1,500 lumens will be brighter than a 60w bulb with 500s.

      If you’re feeling crafty, you could make an acrylic diffuser that fits in the bottom of the shade.

      Good luck!

  2. Rachel Marie

    Thank you! I never thought to stop and consider the bulbs we are using. My husband likes to grab either 1. the cheapest he can get his hands on 2. the first one he sees.

    I have lamps ALL OVER the apartment but I feel like I am constantly fighting for light.

    You’ve got yourself a new follower, Liz!

    • Liz

      Thanks, Rachel! My husband learned early on in our relationship that I’m a nut about light bulbs. There may or may not have been an argument over glorious full-spectrum bulbs for the bathroom while we were getting settled in our first place.

      Fight the good fight. 😉

  3. Louise

    When bloggers talk about ceiling light ideas, their pictures almost always involve gorgeous period houses with high ceilings. However, I live in the Australian ‘burbs where ceilings are far, far lower and huge chandeliers are going to be a bit of a hazard.
    Any suggestions for great ceiling lights that aren’t downlights? Thanks!

    • Liz

      Hi, Louise! You’re so right about the soaring ceilings all over blogs. I’ve worked on a number of projects with low 8′-0″ ceilings and my favorite way to incorporate a ceiling light is with an oversized, dramatic flush or semi-flush fixture. The bigger the diameter, the better IMHO. Here are a few of my favorites:




      I still recommend using large hanging fixtures over dining tables and kitchen islands as long as the bottom is no less than 32″ above the eating surface.

  4. Kekiria

    I have the standard, fluorescent, two tube lighting fixture in my apartment kitchen. It is most hideous and is not even flush with the eight foot high ceiling. What do you suggest I replace that ugly old fixture with? Thank you!

  5. Michel Jonson

    I was about to change the lightings of my whole house, and I found this article. It’s so impressive and useful. Thanks for sharing this and making me helpful with the various ideas.

  6. Stephen Lankford

    We just supplanted the terrible standard metal “ceiling fixture” thing in our lounge area (complete with flame formed bulbs) with an incredible pendant light from Ikea, however are currently battling to locate the correct kind of light through the correct bulb. The new pendant shade encompasses the single light (obvs, since it’s a pendant shade), which implies the light is thought and piped fundamentally straight down over the table, while the ghastly “crystal fixture,” whose different bulbs were revealed, spread a delicate splendid light all through the room.

    We should have some unacceptable bulb in our new light, however, on the grounds that the light is… wrong. The light before was a delicate brilliant light and the bulb we pulled out of a receptacle in the storm cellar is a lot harsher and keeping in mind that it’s more splendid (in essence), it doesn’t appear as glowing… or delicate. Recommendations?

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