Bye, overhead lights: Here's how to light a small apartment, according to the pros

Shadows be damned!

A boho bedroom with a white bedspread, wooden furniture and overhead lights
(Image credit: Oleg Breslavtsev/Getty Images)

Smaller doesn't necessarily mean simpler. When it comes time to properly light a tiny rental, space is in low supply yet high demand. Apartment dwellers run the risk of running out of room and relying on the obligatory boob lamp for sufficient lighting, which is just as useful as it is decorative (can you sense my sarcasm?). 

We know you're dying to stock up on those super stylish lights and pretty bulbs, but you need decent brightness levels, too. Allow the pros to give you a few pointers and help you figure out how to make your apartment feel like home with the right light fixtures.

1. Don't rely on your overhead light

We'll admit, handing over floor and wall real estate can be challenging, but you won't want to skimp on proper lighting as it makes reading and other hobbies a lot harder — not to mention it puts a damper on a cozy atmosphere.

"One overhead lighting fixture can create stark shadows across a room, which is not ideal in a small space," says Matthew Currington, technical director at The Lighting Superstore.

Yes, you'll still have room for those accent chairs and wall shelves from the new Urban Outfitters furniture collection, but don't skimp on floor lamps, sconces, and so forth. Not only will a proper mixture of lighting help you kick back with your favorite novels — sans squinting — but it'll pull the whole room together.

2. Space things out

When styling a new space, Currington says it's necessary to place light fixtures throughout the room rather than keep them bunched up like a pack of sardines.

"This will help create an even distribution of light around the home and brighten dark corners," he says. "A combination of lighting options, like overhead lighting, wall sconces, and lamps are ideal."

And, when there's so much fun to be had with different selections, why not welcome the diversity? *Adds to cart*

3. Think in terms of layers

Use the empty corner of a floating shelf or storage console to your advantage, folks. 

"Finding multi layers of light give the room a finished feel, and in a small space this can be a challenge," says interior designer Jennifer Morris. "You can be creative with a hidden light under shelves or mounted wall sconce. Scaling the fixtures to the space, small lamps or floor lamps with a small footprint can give those layers."

(If you ask us, a mushroom lamp is the perfect finishing touch, just FYI.)

4. Aim for 2–3 pieces

With help from two or three pieces, your abode will shine — literally and figuratively.

"Including two or three lamps in each room gives you the flexibility to decide how much lighting you need and change up the mood of the room," Currington adds. "Look for lamps with bold designs or bright colors to add some fun elements to your room."

Make sure to use the lighting as a way to enhance the look and feel of your space. Perhaps you're going for a boho look, or maybe an industrial aesthetic. Whatever the case might be, lights allow you to be creative, just like furniture and artwork.

5. Be purposeful

If square footage is limited, you'll need to think outside of the box. "Consider track lighting," Currington suggests. "This is a low-profile option that won’t overwhelm the space, but it will give you the flexibility to direct the light where it’s needed."

One piece + multiple bulbs = one bang for your buck.

As the saying goes, "Let there be light!"

Danielle Valente
Content Editor

Pleasure to meet you! I'm Danielle, a content editor at Real Homes who loves scoping out interior trends. I've specialized in lifestyle writing and editing for 10 years with a focus on events, food, and books, among other areas. When I'm not working, I'm usually cooking, reading, or searching for a new project for my apartment.