5 Non-Invasive Lighting Hacks To Brighten A Space With ZERO Overhead Lighting

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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:


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).


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

photos by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our calm scandinavian master bedroom 

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

photos by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our guest room/basement office reveal

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

left: via the diy playbook | right: image source

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

The post 5 Non-Invasive Lighting Hacks To Brighten A Space With ZERO Overhead Lighting appeared first on Emily Henderson.

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