Skip to main content
About meAdvice for HomeownersAtmosphereBefore and AfterLighting

Lamps vs. Overhead Lighting: Which Camp are You?

Another stay in an airbnb reminded me that the world is still in the dark when it comes to lamps vs. overhead lighting. Which camp are you? My vote is for lamps and here’s why.

On our vacation at a lake house this summer, I naturally brought along two lamps to give us atmosphere at night. When I arrived and realized there were zero lamps, I messaged my Mom (who was arriving two days later) and asked her to bring yet another lamp so we’d have three at night.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I do this every time we book a rental property.

How many lamps does a room need?

Three just on this side of the room (source)

First, think about the last time you were in a hotel room. Hotels get the world of lamps. You’ll find the average hotel room usually has four lamps but often even five.

  • Two lamps beside the bed
  • A standing lamp in the corner
  • Another two lamps in the dresser/desk area

However, the world of Airbnbs rely primarily (and almost exclusively) on overhead lighting. Track or recessed.

Read more: 5 Lamps Everyone Should Have in Their Home

Lamps are a decorative item. And since they are purchased along with accessories and other home decor items, they seem to be a best-kept secret that only decorators know. 

HOT TIP: You should basically have a lamp placed every 4 feet around the room. 

Every living room needs a minimum of 6 lamps and at least as many throw pillows

Since opting for lamps instead of cheese lights seems to take convincing, I thought I would show you a before and after from the sitting room where we enjoyed the view of the lake for a week.

Read more: One More Reason to Skip Recessed Lighting Altogether

Lamps vs. Overhead Lighting: Before and After

Here’s a photo of the main sofa we sat on, which all week long was covered with cotton bedspreads by the homeowner – obviously to protect them from wet bathing suits and beach attire.

I mean with that view, you really didn’t need to move from this spot.

Oh, and that’s the lamp my Mom brought from her house (below):

The exterior of this lake home was colourful, unlike many lakefront homes we saw that were drab charcoal

This is what the room looked like when we arrived (below). 

I also brought two throw pillows because I prefer down inserts over synthetic which, once used for a very short time, simply flatten out and are out of shape very quickly.

Read more: 5 Simple Ways to Make Your Airbnb Look Better

I noticed lots of red in the decorating in this home in the listing photos. Therefore, in addition to the two lamps I brought, my emergency decorating stash also included two turquoise beach towels, a turquoise tray, and Lucy’s dog bed, which also happens to be turquoise. These pops of colour helped liven up the room – because lakefront homes should be colourful!

Now, take a look at the room with a little styling magic. ⬇️ The coffee table was brought in from another room.

Note the flat, bright overhead lighting does NOT create any atmosphere whatsoever. Everything looks so harsh when it’s bathed in overhead lighting. Even the shadows are darker. Not to mention, if you looked up, you’d be immediately blinded by the track lighting. It’s stark and uninviting. 

And now take a look at the room when it’s lit by three lamps and no overhead lighting. ⬇️ So much better. It automatically feels like a cozier, softer space. Would you agree?

Read more: The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

More Lake Views

We had a stunning view of the lake from our location:

Here I am with Lucy, she did not jump in the water yet on her own but kept jumping onto the peacock floats we bought:

Lucy is our happy 4-month-old mini golden-doodle:

So, which camp are you in? Lamps or overhead lighting?

I’m sure some of you are drawn by the appeal of a simple flip of the switch when you walk into a room. But honestly, there are some lamps in my home that I keep on all day, so when the outside light dims, I still can walk into the room with some atmosphere.

And if you are building a NEW home right now, do not waste a lot of money on recessed lights! Lamps are really all you need!

Over to you my lovelies, if you were not convinced that lamps are better before, are you convinced now?

Related posts:

What’s the Right Scale for Bedroom Lamps?

Can You Layer Lamps in Front of Artwork?

5 Things Everyone Should Know About Light and Paint Colour

123 pins


  • Susan Davis says:

    Lamps! When we built our house, I had switched outlets put in every bedroom. With the flip of a switch, instant atmosphere. With Alexa, we can do the same in all our rooms! Love it!

    • Carol Morris says:

      My husband just loves to convert every light in a room so that they can be turned on at the light switch….and add dimmers! So the convenience factor is not a problem for me either! My problem is: After never buying lamps due to multiple kids, dogs, etc., and being nearly empty nesters who redecorated and got rid of most of our hand me down or just cheap lamps, how do we afford nearly 40 new lamps for a house?? Anyone got tips for that??

  • Nora says:

    Until I found your blog, I just thought my hatred of overheads was a weird thing I absorbed from my college roommate, who was early to Team Lamp. Thank you for making me see I’m not crazy, I in fact have better taste than previously thought!

    I once paid an electrician to cut off power to the our overheads in our great room because my husband would. not. stop. turning. them. on.

  • Molly C says:

    First – Lucy is adorable! I hope you’re enjoying her.

    As for your question about what camp your readers are in, and whether you’ve convinced us that lamps are better – sorry, Maria, but no matter how many times you rant about the evils of overhead lighting and rave about the wonders of lamps, you won’t convince me to agree with you. 😉

    I utterly hate lamps. The only time they’re useful, to me, is when a meager amount of light is desirable, such as when someone is reading in bed before falling asleep, and doesn’t want daytime-levels of light throughout the room to throw off their circadian rhythm.

    You mentioned hotel rooms, and, ugh! The process of having to walk around and fumble for the switches to turn on multiple lamps, just to have an adequate amount of light in the room! And even then, I simply despise the way that lamps cast dim light and multiple shadows. Furthermore (and I realize that most folks won’t agree with me), I think lamp shades are hideous, regardless of how attractively the lamp base is designed. So having automated lamp lighting would ameliorate my dislike of turning on multiple lamps, but I still wouldn’t be happy with the appearance of the room.

    Since you asked, multiple times, for viewpoints, I’ll share my thoughts on your beach house lighting solution. You posted a picture displaying the lovely view, with a lamp that you added. My first thought was that the view would be so much better without the distracting lamp in the middle of the picture.

    Regarding the two photos that showcase the lighting comparison between the overhead lighting and the atmosphere with three lamps, I can’t help but notice how the lamp at the far end of the room is reflected in the window, thereby doubling the visual effect of what is, for me, lamp shade overload.

    And I cannot agree that the overhead lighting casts darker shadows. In the photo displaying the light of the three lamps, you have the light on in the adjacent room (a bathroom?), which looks like it was necessary to prevent that entire end of the room from being engulfed in dreary shadows. The photo with the overhead lighting does not have that additional light on.

    I absolutely agree that the track lighting is harsh and unflattering, but that just made me think about how much better the room would look with ample recessed lighting, spaced appropriately. You call it “cheese” lighting; I think that it’s unobtrusive and that criticizing its appearance is akin to complaining that there’s a ceiling in the first place.

    In conclusion, what you think of as the “atmosphere” of lamp lighting is unsettling and depressing to me, unless I’m intending to go to sleep within a short while.

    However, because you are such a lamp aficionado, I wish you all the lamps you could possibly want! I’ll be over here happily enjoying my recessed lighting and lack of lamp shades. 🙂

    • Kia says:

      Molly C has a point. In the lamp-lighting picture, I feel like I am being invited into the room with more light. Also, small kids, larger dogs, and even cats seem to be constantly threatening to knock over lamps. The table in the front on the right seems ready to fall over and break that lamp. I only occassionnally feel like my overhead lighting is threatened. Lamps seem like they could be good for people that do not move very often or very much. don’t invite a lot of movement into their house, and don’t need much light for whatever they like to do at night. I keep moving one lamp to prevent its destruction. I have not even turned it on yet.

    • Aurora says:

      I was pretty much going to write what Molly C wrote: I just don’t like lamps. They’re taking up valuable space and doing nothing useful, in my opinion. When I want soft light—I use candles. Otherwise, I want bright, bright daylight balanced light that lets me see everything clearly…except when I’m in bed, reading.

      Otherwise, lamps are a hassle, taking up valuable outlets, space on top of things, making more work, and serving no purpose at all all for me. 🙂

      And I’ve tried…after reading your blog for years, and other designers I admire, I went on a lamp spree, and bought a bunch and put them out…and I *NEVER* turned them on. EVER. I still went for my overheads or candles. After a few years, I got tired of them being in the way—gave them all away—and am much happier with them being replaced by plants or art nouveau busts or bell jars with birds’ nests inside them. Much more interesting. Plus, I regained outlets. 😉

      I’ll admit…lamps can look pretty, when carefully curated…and I fully support anyone who can put up with the inconvenience for the pretty—but for me, I just like no light, candlelight, or super bright, high noon in front of a south facing window light. 🙂

      So, you know, more lamps for everyone else! 🙂

    • Kim Jones says:

      I much prefer lamps and always have. My eyes are very sensitive to glare, and overhead lighting can be terrible that way. I do have art lights in my ceiling pointed toward an accent wall, and I love those, especially since they’re dimmable.

      However, one issue I have with lamps is negotiating with the cords! Sometimes they can be difficult to hide, especially if they require an extension cord or power strip. I do like plugging multiple lamps into a power strip so I can flip a switch and voila!

      Do you have any tips on wrangling those pesky cords?

    • kathy says:

      Molly I agree 100%. Couldn’t have said it better 😉

      More lamps for the rest of you!

    • Kathleen says:

      I totally agree & thought I was the only person in the world with this opinion!

      • Kathleen says:

        Meaning, I do not like lamps. We built new a year ago, put in moderate recessed, & I carefully choose ceiling lighting for each room. Chandeliers, lanterns, bell urns, pendants, etc. I love them. The only lamps I really utilize are floor lamps to light dark corners. I don’t like lampshades, don’t find them to be pretty at all! Also do not like taking up end table space with a lamp! Do not like cords either. All my switches to the ceiling lighting, whether recessed or fixtures, are on dimmers. I do use battery lanterns & battery tapers for ambience. No lamps for me.

  • Sarah Hoover says:

    Lamps! Even before finding Maria I knew I did not like overhead lights. But of course my husband does! Maria confirmed that I was right to love lamps and I have plans for more in our 140 year old farmhouse that we are remodeling and adding on to. Even a lamp on a little table in the bathroom! And yes with switched outlets! Love lamps!

  • Elle Corey says:

    I think both recessed/overhead lighting and lamps have equally important roles to play in a home. The two sources can be used together or individually to create different moods and meet different needs. For example, an intimate dinner party becomes more relaxed and cozy when illuminated by soft lamp light and candles. On the other hand, a card game, open house or cocktail party will feel more friendly and lively when both lighting sources are in play. And from a utilitarian point of view, I have never been able to find a missing earring or sewing needle at nightfall without turning on the overhead lights.

    I think the number of lamps used in a room should be determined by the size of the room, not a specified number. In my small living room, 6-7 lamps would be unnecessary visual clutter.

    Lighting is a little like makeup. Overhead lighting can showcase the good bones of a home and lamps can highlight by adding color, texture and contouring.

    • Tracy says:

      I agree & I am also a fan of dimmer switches on my overhead lighting – I feel this is much more effective when people are moving from room to room. I also love a few lamps strategically placed, but I don’t want them everywhere. I’m in the camp that you need some of both, & definitely dimmers.

      • Martha Hughes says:

        I am a big fan of lamps but there are instances where overhead lighting is needed. I like it in my sewing room and sometimes in the bedroom in conjuction with lamps. I can’t even imagine reading without a lamp beside you. I don’t like overhead lighting in my living room or family room. It’s just too harsh there. Besides lamps are so pretty.

    • 100% agree! I grew up in a home with no overhead lighting and it’s just DARK. I was so excited when remodeling my house to be able to incorporate overhead lighting that is dimmable. It’s fabulous! I can read or sew and I’m not squinting or trying to get in the one right spot that has enough light.

      I absolutely use table lamps as well. A good lighting plan layers lights from multiple sources for multiple uses.

    • Kay says:

      I think Maria is counting sconces. Our living room has two standing lamps and one table lamp but four sconces, two over the fireplace and two flanking a window seat. We also have a picture light over an oil painting. When all are on the room is brightly lit.

  • Annie says:

    Both! But to say each living room needs 6 lamps, well, I just don’t have enough surfaces or outlets for that many lamps, it would look as if I were opening a lighting showroom. 2-3 I can get on board with but, say, in a kitchen, bathroom, closet, laundry room ,etc… I need both!!!

    • Barbara says:

      Six lamps in a living room would look ridiculous!
      I have a very large living room, it is open to the kitchen and dining room. The living room has two lamps, which are plenty, because the lamp on the dining room buffet fills that part and I really like to keep my under-cabinet kitchen lights on, they provide a really nice glow. I also have some sparkly little lights on the top of my fireplace which I turn on for atmosphere, they are so pretty (the metal stars from Mexico).

      Maria often shows lamps she has bought at Winner’s / Homesense. These are not nice lamps, I have never seen a nice lamp there. You have to really search hard to get special ones for your room. I would not put any of those ones she has pictured in my home. A lamp you love will last you forever. I have ones that are 70 to 100 years old (re-wired!) and are so beautiful.

  • Kristen says:

    I am convinced but can’t wrap my head around how to best execute. For example – in an open floor plan family room with one wall open to the kitchen, one open to the foyer, one covered in windows leading to the backyard and the other a fireplace with bookshelves, where do all the lamps go? One on either side of the fireplace and one on each end of the furniture? does that light the room well enough? These are the things I question in the middle of the night. Ha!

    • Barbara says:

      Kristen, that is my exact configuration.
      I have a lovely hall lamp that is on a timer and is on all of the dark hours. Then, I have a gorgeous floor lamp that has a dimmer, can go to 150 watts if necessary; it is over a chair for reading books and isn’t on all that often. One table lamp beside the sofa or chair (I change the room winter to summer). I have fairy type lights along the top of the fireplace mantel. Under counter kitchen lights give a nice glow and also a table lamp in the eating area provides ambient light to the open plan room. It is the perfect amount.

  • Lorri says:

    Overhead lighting is fabulous for creating shadows on faces that make people look ugly. Not to mention how glaring they are.

    Remember when overhead can lighting didn’t exist in houses? Way back? Yeah, people used lamps.

  • Loribeth says:

    I’m in the “you need both” camp. Sometimes there just isn’t room for a lamp. My dining room is a good example. For furniture, there is room only for my small china cabinet and my dining table. Every corner has a doorway or a closet, so adding a table or floor lamp would not be possible. Right now, we only have the chandelier as lighting in our dining room, but I’m having our electrician install four recessed lights, one in each corner and all on a dimmer. Dimmers are the secret to making overhead lighting work. Every ceiling light in my house is on a dimmer, which allows me to set the mood. I never have a problem with harsh lighting from a ceiling light because I have control over the brightness.

    Now, all of this does NOT mean I don’t love lamps, especially vintage lamps. LOVE them. I have to restrain myself from buying more because I’ve simply run out of tables to put any more on.

    • Elle Corey says:

      I agree 100% that all overhead light sources, whether recessed or pendant lighting like chandeliers and lanterns, are optimal on dimmers. The exception being lights in closets.

      • Loribeth says:

        I wasn’t even thinking about closet lights. After you mentioned them, I realize I only have one closet that has a light in it, and I never turn it on!! LOL

  • Amber says:

    I only like recessed lighting when it’s part of an architectural lighting plan, but usually it’s executed poorly. It’s harsh and unflattering. Homes don’t need to be lit like airports or a surgical theatre.

    Most of my life I’ve lived in older homes (at least by North American standards), and I think recessed lighting looks really out of place in these spaces — clearly a modern “upgrade.”

    I’m sympathetic to the commenter that it’s a pain to turn a bunch of lamps on. I’ve started installing hue bulbs around my house and setting them to turn on/off on a schedule. I especially love having my bedroom lights turn on gradually in the morning — it works as an alarm clock.

  • PursuitofPerfect says:

    What a pretty transformation you created. Thanks for sharing. The main challenge for most of us in using “enough lamps” is the obvious need for power outlets for lamps on tables in rooms where the furniture is away from the walls. So many beautiful pictures in decorating mags have clearly been edited to remove all traces of power cords from the lamps on “free standing” end tables and from computer desks and the like. Do you have any tricks or advice on this?

  • Diane says:

    I just counted 21 lamps in my 2200 sq fr ranch home in addition to the overhead lighting in each room. Love love lamps. I do needlepoint and need plenty of direct lighting at night when I sit down long enough to work on my current project. Definitely on the lamp team.

  • Shaune says:

    Are there lamps that would be considered classic in their shape, size, and colour? I’ve heard decorators says they can spot cheap lamps and consequently can ruin the decor of a room.

  • Haha! I don’t think too many of us redecorate our vacation spaces on the fly ;)! I’m “Team Lamp”! Recently, my daughter commented there were “so many” lamps in the family room–Huh? Only four–one in each corner (and my space is like Kristen’s (above)), we recently had hardwood floors put in (medium brown!) and I had outlets installed in the floor.

  • Bette says:

    I also prefer lamps, but with the same caveats your thoughtful readers noted. My main concern was, why is the beautiful red sofa set smack dab in front of the beam of the window? Why is it not directly in front of one of the large windows? I can imagine sitting on that sofa reading for hours, but the first thing I would do is move it in one direction or the other.

    • Bette says:

      PS. And it’s not just for aesthetics. It’s for the natural light I prefer for reading, and it’s so someone doesn’t plop down on the middle of the sofa and hit their head on the beam! I could see my husband doing that, LOL!

  • Betsy says:

    I love lamps, and have them throughout my home, with multiples in each room – living room, dining room, all bedrooms, home offices (mine & my husband’s). In addition to lamps, I’ve added wall sconces in our master bedroom and in my husband’s office. That said, I think that having ceiling lights (especially those with softer light) is important, and in many rooms have dimmer switches to control the level of light. I’m not an either/or person when it comes to lamps vs. ceiling lighting – I think there’s a place for both!

  • Ryan G says:

    Camp Lamp over here!

    Is it too much to have two lamps in my kitchen? I feel like I need one in each corner so I bought a cordless (and expensive!) one.

    Do pendants fall under the same category as cheese lights, as far as harshness? I’m considering installing one over the sink…

    Love your posts Maria and seeing updates on your sweet Lucy!

  • Sandy says:

    How about a future post on possibilities for hanging lamps? — In condos and small homes, floor space doesn’t allow for so many lamps in a room.

  • Kayla says:

    Overheads OR Lamps, why choose? There is a need for both. Layered lighting is very important to good design; and good design takes as many things into account as possible. Overheads on dimmers and lamps are both SO necessary!

  • Penny says:

    Definitely a personal preference. Multiple lamps = visual clutter to me. Then again, I prefer one large accessory vs a collection of multiple items so I guess that is in line with my comfort zone. And how I hate “wonky” lampshades! But I do love a beautiful lamp or two with a straight shade in a room.

  • KJG says:

    Definitely both! Overheads on dimmers, and lamps on wall switches. I made sure the living room in our new build was “half-switched” meaning the upper plug in two of the outlets was wired to a wall switch so lamps can be switched on at the wall. And I wish I’d requested the “half switch” layout in our bedrooms also. If pressed for one or the other, probably well placed overheads on dimmers, but I’d sure hate to give up all my beautiful lamps!

    • Marcia Buhler says:

      I had the half switches removed in our bedroom. It is a total PAIN to have to get out of bed and walk over to the switch to turn off the lamp after reading in bed. And then walk back to bed in the dark. And if you switch it off on the lamp then you defeat the purpose of the wall switch which always has to be in the “on” position for the lamps to work. Ugh.

  • LisaL says:

    Until I found Maria, my husband and I fought over the overhead light switch constantly! He wanted it lit like an interrogation room and I wanted it dimmed, always! After reading several of Maria’s posts about lamps and lighting in general I thought I’d try a few things. I ended up adding lighting to my open-plan great room, dining, kitchen area: Two telescopic pole lamps from restoration hardware. Two unobtrusive up-lights; I had an electrician add the light switches in those corners as there weren’t any. One small lamp on the corner of my bar. Two small lamps on a console table near the entrance. Decorative lighting on two shelves. The difference is amazing! Guests have insisted that I’ve done a whole redo of my main floor. No, I just added much-needed ambience. And unlike a few posts here that say otherwise, there is just the right amount of lighting. Oh, and my husband has not flipped on the overheads since!

  • Patricia says:

    Rooms often have more than one use. I have a family room that has a seating area and large TV and another part of the room has a table and dining chairs. When I have people over, I like the lighting from lamps. When we are going to play board games, overhead lighting is needed. Sometimes overhead lighting is necessary. I have opted for both in the room. It works for me.

  • Jill Buckingham says:

    Love Lamps around the house, but not on the kitchen countertops, I always think that looks odd and out of place, they would get in the way of preparing food. Love the post and what a beautiful Airbnb. I thought it looked Scandanavian and I liked the way the outside paint matched the sofa!

  • Janet R says:

    Overhead for when you come home in the dark and need to see. Then, turn on a lamp or two and switch off! I have picked up several mercury glass table lamps since reading this column and have inherited antique floor lamps (one bronze, one wooden) and I have Mackenzie -Child’s check shades on all of them. I also have a couple of Ikea paper light columns (they are tall, very extremely inexpensive – less than 10 dollars I think and give off beautifully muted light from one little bulb). Those operate with a foot switch which makes it so easy to turn on when your hands are full.

  • faellietoo says:

    I was lucky a long time ago to stay in a vacation rental that was a couple of hundred years old. Instead of putting overhead lighting in the ceiling of the living room there was a lamp circuit – 4 low power (5 amp) sockets at floor level all controlled from a single switch by the door, so that the only lighting was the lamps plugged into those sockets but they all switched on and off with one switch at the door.

    I’ve since renovated my own house to include a lamp circut in the living room, and it’s a game changer for getting the look of lamps without the hassle.

  • Sue says:

    I’m 100% team lamps!

    I’m currently minus two lamps in my living room because I’m mid-decorating and down a couple of tables….boy do I miss them!

    A favourite holiday condo we stayed at frequently lacks lamps and it drives me crazy.

    Would love to hear more about light bulbs that provide good light, but not harsh light. Thanks Maria!

  • Karen says:

    I definitely vote for the lamp light although, if I need to do cleaning, I prefer either natural light or overhead light so I can see what I’m doing. Sometimes, I turn on all overhead light during the day when cleaning. I find I need a lot of light to do a good job of vacuuming, dusting and cleaning.

    • Karen says:

      I forgot to add that recessed lighting and spot lights are very directional and can be harsh as
      Maria has said. They are also a big pain when trying to take good photos. Just try take
      a decent photo in a room with pot lights. You will see giant shadows and bright spots
      easily when you look at the photo. You have to compensate with a flash, unfortunately.
      And, unfortunately, your camera flash is often nit bright enough to counteract the harsh
      lighting af pots and track lighting.

  • Fran W. says:

    Lamps all the way. In general, I don’t like overhead lighting. I hope you all had a wonderful vacation. That Lucy is adorable! 🙂

  • Barbara says:

    You can wire your rooms so that the switch turns on the outlet, and have your lamp/s plugged into those outlets. This is what I did when putting in rooms in the walkout basement.
    Our builder did not install overhead lights in the bedroom, this is quite common in all builds. They are only handy when you are vaccuuming or looking for something! My son moved into an apartment and didn’t realize that there were zero overhead lights in the bedroom, living room and dining room. I had to sort him out pretty quickly.

  • Leslie says:

    Not into that many lamps.
    Dust on lamp shades and bases. More to take care of and too much stuff to look at. Ugh.
    I have two boys and a dog and throwing a toy can destroy a big investment in a second. I love recessed lighting and beautiful hanging lights and lamps just by beds for reading.

  • DeniseGK says:

    I’m not a fan of track lighting, but I have to disagree that it doesn’t create atmosphere – it absolutely creates the atmosphere of an interrogation room! (see: the Netflix series Criminal for reference) I live in the southeastern part of the US and have always lived in homes and apartments with very deep overhangs that protect home and furnishings from the heat and damage of the sun. Because of this, rooms tends to be dim even with southern and western exposures, so I actually love overhead lighting – when it’s done correctly rather than the lazy track lighting way. But! I also love lamps. I have a couple too many so there are always two stored away in the guest bedroom, I just rotate which ones are in there depending on mood, time of year, and current needs. :)Lol! I try to love things for what they are and what they do, rather than disliking them bc they can’t do something they weren’t meant to do. So I feel no need to choose between lamps and (good) overhead lighting.

  • Lisa says:

    Aesthetically I love lamps. Functionally, they just don’t do it for me. My home renovation has recessed overhead lighting on dimmer switches in every room, per architect recommendation, and I am SO excited to be able to sit in the living room at night and see well enough to knit or crochet without a super bright (and ugly) task lamp right at my shoulder. Even sitting right next to a traditional warm-bulb table lamp, it wasn’t bright enough to do handiwork at night.

    And +1 to the previous commenter who says that hotel rooms where you have to go around turning on 5 light sources just to light the room, are the worst. I’d rather have a few decorative lamps for coziness, but rely on overhead dimmers to set the right ambient light level as a baseline.

  • Jessy says:

    Overhead lighting belongs only in kitchens and bathrooms, and only if it’s bright and serving a purpose. Give me lots of lamps in the living room, the bedrooms and the den. I even have lamps in our dining room because weirdly, the dining room has no overhead fixture. I suppose I could get an electrician in ….or not bother!

  • Katherine Burnett says:


    I have a smaller contemporary craftsman that is completely open concept. I have created atmosphere by placing a lamp in every corner of the great room area (total of 3), and one on our console. With the exception of the console lamp, they are all floor lamps with heavy bases that are unlikely to be knocked over due to weight and location. I’m not a big fan of table lamps since they are easily knocked over and can create visual clutter, although I will concede that they work in certain circumstances. Placed in proximity to the furniture and end table, floor lamps still provide adequate task lighting. In our dining area we have a long linear chandelier with linen shades that is on a dimmer and diffuses the light. We have undercabinet lighting in the kitchen, and are going to install 2 pendant lights that have shades that diffuse the light, also on dimmers.

    The corner of the great room that gets northern light stays lit by 2 lamps all day.

    Our sofa floats in the great room. We had the builder install an outlet in the floor, and placed our rug so it is under the couch but not covering the outlet. We plugged a pharmacy lamp into it and placed it one side of the couch.

    We have recessed lighting in the kitchen on a dimmer that I use all the time while prepping meals, but otherwise it is off. The builder installed recessed lights in the great room on a dimmer, but they create a harsh light even with warm bulbs, and even when they are completely dimmed. We only use them on rare occasions when we need more light for a specific task.

    I consider the under cabinet lights, pendants, and dining room chandelier. “Lamps”, so our small open spaces has 6 sources of light that provide atmosphere. In no way does the space look cluttered,

    I light candles every night, and the atmosphere created by the lamp candle combo really gives off a welcoming and sophisticated vibe. I’m saving my pennies for a picture lamp to place above the art on the fireplace.

    I learned all of this from you, Maria. We also followed your rules for timeless finishes when we built this forever home. This house is a dream come true for us, thanks largely to you.

    • Katherine Burnett says:

      I just wanted to add one more thing. I didn’t like our home when we moved in. The open space made it appear like a big box with no clear delineation of rooms. Rugs and furniture placement helped define the spaces, but it’s the lighting via lamps, pendants and under cabinet lighting that gives the space depth.
      We installed landscape lighting outside our big picture windows, providing more depth. Game changer.

  • Lauren T says:

    I like ceiling lights (chandeliers), pendant lights, and wall sconces where the design doesn’t expose the lightbulbs.
    I like unique, pretty table lamps that are sturdy and don’t tip easily.
    I like real or fake candles and lighted wax warmers for ambience.
    I don’t like ceiling fans with lights (fans themselves w/ or w/o lights are bad feng shui), track lighting, or other exposed-bulb lighting.
    I don’t like floor lamps at all no matter how pretty they are.
    I think your makeover looks really nice–big improvement.

  • Beth says:

    Since not all vacationers will be as well behaved as Lucy, my guess is the airb&b and other rental owners often don’t include lamps because of possible breakage. Or even breakage and shards that people might step on. (Though at least the rug in your beautiful lake house is red so blood wouldn’t show.) The fewer *things* the less likely they’ll be knocked over by boozy partyers. Or little kids.

    Of course I like the lamps better! On a side note, it wasn’t unusual when I was color consulting for clients to complain about muddy colors on the walls, or not enough light, but the issue was their lamps, or more accurately the shades. Or covers if on the ceiling in an entryway or over a landing. Shades were yellow (or white that had yellowed over time) or beige or even brown or black.

  • Amanda says:

    BOTH. The answer is BOTH. Sometimes you need great overhead lighting, sometimes you need ambient mood lighting. Why does it have to be an either/or?

  • Valerie says:

    Both! Layering lighting, as others have said, is the key. Also, the overhead lights in your airbnb are a harsh white fluorescent; you can get warm lumens bulbs that help a lot. I prefer lamp light, under cabinet lights, etc. all with warm bulbs. When eating, conversing, watching tv, listening to music, etc. we use lamps However, as I have aged (I’m a decade or two older than you, Maria), I need an overhead light for tasks like cleaning, cooking, sewing, wrapping packages, putting up decorating for the holidays, etc. We have two pot lights over our fireplace with warm bulbs on dimmers. On low, they really highlight the mantle when it’s all decorated for Christmas. I also find that when guests come over in the evening, they prefer the overhead lights on as they get into their coats, gloves, search bags for car keys. etc. and make their way to the door. Ambient lighting does not work for seniors navigating a new place at night!

  • diana says:

    I’m a lamp girl. Also against a fan having a light on it.
    Overhead lights in kitchens, closets, and wall lighting for bathrooms with a chandelier over the tub. Yes,a chandelier over the tub can be done and is not against code in our state.
    Woman look overly tired, stressed and on and on sitting under overhead lights. Even with warm lighting overhead it still doesn’t work.

  • Mariele says:

    What?! What sort of horrible person made it an either/or question?!? 😉 The answer is both, and tons of them. My apartment is filled with huge, fluorescent overhead lights that make it feel like the place is flooded in sunlight (frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live without fluorescent lights). I’ve also added warm lamps to pretty much every few feet. Wall lamps, standing lamps, table lamps… the first thing I do every morning on the weekends is open all of the curtains and turn on all of the lights. Having both overheads and lamps on makes it feel so bright, layered, invigorating yet comforting… and natural! Light reflects from all over when you’re outside, and the sun isn’t the only light source. When it’s evening, I turn off the overheads and leave on the lamps. It’s relaxing and puts you to sleep.

    Team lights everywhere, all the time!

  • Jennette says:

    Lamps 100%! Also I need your red pumps and the floor lamp in your hand. And baby Lucy is the absolute most adorable!

  • Jessy says:

    Team lamp. Looking around my condo’s LR, DR, and kitchen great room….7 lamps. Hate all overhead lights except kitchen ( need to be able to do surgery in there..haha)

  • Cindi says:

    I’m more of a modern minimalist, so while I like lamps, it’s in a more limited capacity. I think if people did their downlighting beter (warm to dim, lighting walls not spaces, more surface mount which go multiple directions, etc.) they would be happier with ceiling lights than the typical can lit house which has a can in each corners. Language of Light has a great lighting blog which how to light things not spaces.

    My biggest problem with reading/functional lamps is they are always on the end table and you’re not sitting on the end table! The only lamps that are useful for doing anything can swing over onto the adjacent sofa or chair or bed, and not many people have those. So despite all those lamps, you can’t read a book in a hotel room.

  • Cindi says:

    Also, ceiling lights, whether surface mounted or hanging chandeliers, light a room evenly, draw the eye up, and are jewelry every bit as much as a lamp. You mentioned for example no light on the ceilings at all in a primary bath. But I’d much rather have a beautiful chandelier than 5 lamps cluttering up every surface. Maybe just a style preference.

  • Jenny says:

    Lamps all the way! I just checked into a condo rental at the beach with no lamps! I’m not a happy camper. I want to cozy up and read a book, but not under these lights.

  • x Hades Stamps says:

    Personally, I’m team both. I like the practicality of having a fairly bright light (but not so bright that I am unable to even glance at it) in the ceiling, coupled with the ambience from a lamp. Additionally, some of the overhead lights I’ve found to be insufficient, so we added some lamps to give the overhead a boost. If we want a more moody (but not dreary*) lighting, we can also turn the overheads off in those rooms. I love having that degree of flexibility (although I’m still not going to be installing dimmers).

    Additionally, some rooms are very impractical to use a lamp in. I don’t think anyone would be using one in their bathroom, for example (unless it, for whatever reason, didn’t come with its own lights). In the garage, lamps are best reserved for task- and video-lighting (I do some vlogs from there). In our kitchen, because it’s so small (and we constantly use so much counter space, which lines the whole wall), there’s no place to put a lamp (which sucks, as that’s one of the rooms where the overhead lighting is horrendously insufficient).

Leave a Reply