The living room must accommodate two basic types of activity – work and relaxation; but no one can either work efficiently or relax completely when the room is not lit or heated effectively – or if it is a black spot area for accidents.

Preferences and requirements in lighting are very much personal things and should be chosen to suit both you and your home; but it will be easier for you to get the kind of lighting you need and want if you follow a few basic guidelines.

Lighting has two functions: a practical one – to give sufficient illumination for the activities carried on under it, and an aesthetic one – to set a particular mood and highlight the room’s most positive features. Because so many different and contrasting activities take place in this room, any fittings you choose should be as flexible as possible.


If you are lucky enough to be able to decide where sockets should go. fit as many of them as you can to give maximum convenience and adaptability. You can, of course, fit new ones yourself as we have explained how to do earlier in the Course.

Most older houses and flats have a central ceiling rose or point for a light fitting, but this type of lighting can make the room look dull and flat. Try fixing a track system instead with spotlights that can be directed at a work area or the wall or ceiling for a more subtle, atmospheric effect. Fit a cord deflector and extend the flex to move the light to a more useful position such as over a coffee or dining table; again you can add or move lights yourself, a technique which has also been covered in the Course.

You will need table or floor fittings near work or reading areas and close to awkward steps or traffic paths. Older people are often happier with a greater intensity of light than younger people, so keep this in mind if you have elderly relatives living with you or friends who pay regular visits.

Don’t be afraid of using too much light because of running expenses – illumination needs very little power; less than three percent of the electricity used in the average home goes on lighting. To get full value for the money you pay, however, keep all fixtures free of dirt which builds up rapidly and cuts out a surprising amount of light; similarly white lamps will give more light than coloured ones of the same wattage. Dimmer switches will enable you to control brightness – from very high for working to very low for listening to music or watching television. If you do not have a room large enough to allow separate areas for these activities, this arrangement will extend the scope of your lighting effects quite drastically.

Avoid glare by covering the bulb of any lamp, especially a fluorescent fitting which can otherwise be very harsh. Fluorescent tubes are ideal for subtle lighting such as behind curtains, in recesses and for shelving units.


The type of lighting you choose for your living room can change not only its mood, but also its apparent size and shape. A beam of light directed at the ceiling will make it seem higher, while low hanging lights or spots aimed down will give the impression of a lower ceiling. The deeper the colour you use to decorate your room, the more light you will need since dark walls will absorb a great deal of it and at the same time make the space seem smaller. Conversely a light coloured room will look larger and need less illumination to function properly since pale tones reflect light.

Spotlights are excellent for highlighting favourite pictures or objects on display; place treasures on a glass shelf and light them from underneath for a dramatic effect. Keep brilliant spots away from bumpy walls or at least refrain from lighting such an area from the side since this will cast shadows and show up every imperfection.

Choosing fittings

Never choose any light fitting as an additional piece of decorative furniture. This is a waste of money and rarely adds to the efficiency of the purpose-installed lighting; it can, in fact, detract considerably from the effects you have tried to create. Lighting should be chosen to suit the location and the purpose for which it is needed. Only when these criteria have been met should you begin to think of it as a decorative accessory.

Before you decide on any fitting or range of fittings, be sure you have investigated the market thoroughly. The selection has grown enormously in Vecent years, but most consumers are still conservative in their buying habits and almost invariably choose a central ceiling light plus one or two table or floor lights which match the rest of the furniture. You may not want to involve yourself in great expense or trouble, but newer designs.such as uplighters. downlighters, spotlights and track systems work well with any style of decoration and will almost certainly improve the efficiency and flexibility of the lighting in your home.

More heat is generally needed in the living room than anywhere else in the home since people are likely to be relaxing or at least inactive here, whereas in other rooms such as the kitchen they will be more active; lower temperatures can, of course, be tolerated in the bedroom, where layers of bedclothes will protect against the cold.


IF you are putting in central heating, decide first where you want to position large, permanent structures such as storage units so suitable walls can be kept free. If possible, plan your furniture arrangements so you can locate the radiators in convenient, safe and inconspicuous places. Those who find traditional radiators unattractive can cover their tops with a wide shelf or box them in with panels of a suitable open material such as cane, which will let out the maximum heat. Some people prefer the opposite approach and paint this type of appliance with a bright contrasting colour to make a feature of it. Skirting radiators or warm air grilles are ideal since they are inconspicuous and have very little effect on the grouping of furniture.

Don’t forget most central heating systems have a very drying effect on the air and you may want to install a humidifier to make the air not only more comfortable to breathe, but also less harmful to furniture.

OPEN FIRES These offer a great deal of atmosphere as well as warmth to a room and some people have them in addition to central heating. It is possible to arrange such a fire with a back boiler which provides hot water for both washing and radiators; but if you are considering this type of arrangement, remember in the planning stages to allow a place for solid fuel to be stored near the fireplace so you will not have to keep running out to fetch more each time the fire burns down.

SOLID FUEL ROOM HEATERS This type is enclosed by glass panel doors. You can buy them as self-contained fires or with back boilers, which will supply hot water and any central heating requirements throughout the home. Electricity and gas People without central heating have to choose some sort of spot or space heating. Electric fires are very convenient and efficient and are probably the best choice for emergency heating or in seldom used areas; but all types, even night storage heaters, are expensive to run as a permanent arrangement. Gas fires are slightly more complicated to install, but they are cheaper to operate and provide an efficient heat source. Again. some gas fires come with a back boiler for hot water and portable models with gas containers are also available.

Paraffin heaters

These are probably the cheapest both to install and run but, like any form of heating. need care in handling. Now regulations are so strict, paraffin heaters are as safe as any other form of heating. They are designed so if you knock one over, it will go out automatically. Follow operating instructions precisely and don’t adjust the heat control higher or lower than recommended by the manufacturer; if you are in doubt, consult your nearest service agent – a list of these is supplied with every new paraffin heater.

Saving heat

Once you have decided on a source of heat, you would be wise to do everything you can to keep the warmth you have paid for. Fifteen percent of all heat lost in the average home goes out through the window, so make sure yours are double-glazed or well draughtproofed. For even more effective insulation fit heavy curtains which are lined with Milium or interlined. Floors are another escape route for valuable heat, so cover them well. If you want a new timber floor, take the opportunity of first putting down underfloor insulation or a covering of plywood; carpets should be well fitted and should have an effective underlay.

If you decide on any structural work in your living room, be sure to keep safety factors in mind from the outset. If, for example, you want to remove a chimney-breast or all or part of a wall, consult an expert and check on the building regulations before attempting any work; otherwise a finished room could literally fall down around you. Wiring Arrange the wiring of switches so one light at least can be controlled from the door; you should never have to stumble around in the dark looking for the switch. There should be enough sockets to avoid dangerously trailing flexes and you should never run them under a carpet or rug, since this will subject the flex to excessive wear and create a real hazard. Incidentally it will also in time damage the floor covering and the ridge it forms could be an extra hazard to people walking by. Consider having more than one telephone outlet to avoid long lengths of flex lying around. Floors If you are planning to fit adjacent floor coverings which differ widely in height, such as ceramic tiles in the dining area and deep pile carpet around your seating, check whether you can either raise the lower level or recess the higher one into the floor slightly. It is this kind of neglected detail which could cause someone to fall.

Provide plenty of light sources, especially near any change in floor level where the type or colour of the covering remains the same. Use a non-slip polish on shiny floors and fasten down all loose rugs with special backing or tape. Repair immediately any tears or worn spots in your floor coverings before they cause a nasty accident. Doors Any large glass doors should be designed so you can see easily whether they are open or shut: horror stories of people walking through plate glass are not as rare as you might think. Furniture When you come to arrange the furniture, consider traffic patterns carefully and avoid placing awkward or sharp-edged pieces near areas where people will be passing constantly.


Open fires are an attractive living room feature, but there are a set of safety rules which must be observed. Always fit a large, secure guard, particularly if there are children in the home. Don’t ever pile up a fire before you go out, even if only for a short time; and always make sure it is completely out before you go to bed last thing at night. Wear thick gloves when cleaning the grate to protect your hands from any sharp or hot objects buried under the ash.

If you have a portable heat source – a paraffin, gas or electric fire, for example – keep it well away from curtains or upholstery and, again, make sure it is turned off before you leave the room for any length of time. Try to avoid using this type altogether in a crowded room. Hangings Fix all pictures and mirrors securely with the correct size and number of wall plugs and screws – this also applies, of course, to wall-hung storage units. If you use wire for hanging, make sure it is strong enough to hold the weight it supports.

Windows Those people with living rooms on an upper floor should make sure the windows have strong and secure catches. Children are often tempted to lean out for a better view and could fall. Television Never watch television in a dark room since this is a great strain on the eyes; and try to make sure no source of light is reflected in the screen. Before you go to bed, check the set is switched off and unplugged and that all ashtrays are cold and emptied into a safe place such as a metal waste bin.

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