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Why Don’t Living Rooms Have Ceiling Lights?

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When you buy a home, you want as blank a slate as possible. You get the freedom to paint the walls whatever color you want and to choose your furniture. It only makes sense that you’d want maximum freedom in choosing the lighting in your home as well.

Since people want that freedom, it’s common for new homes to not have built-in lighting fixtures in the ceiling. They cost extra money and take away your ability to design your home exactly how you want.

The matter seems simple, but it’s a bit more complicated and has deep ties into American history. By the time you finish reading, you’ll feel better informed about the issue. 

Why Don’t Living Rooms Have Ceiling Lights?

It’s uncommon, but not unheard of, for builders to construct living rooms without light fixtures in the ceiling. There are reasons for it that are related to cost, design, and flexibility.

Living room with seven ceiling lights, a tv and minimalist decor

Cost is a big reason, especially if a contractor is building multiple units at once. Hiring a professional electrician to run a line from a wall switch to a properly-installed ceiling fixture is expensive. The parts and the labor are both expensive.

Living rooms are also among the biggest spaces in a house. So, finding the right ceiling light to illuminate the space might be difficult. You might need two or more to do the job adequately.

And, we can’t overlook homeowner flexibility. Putting in ceiling lights limits the kind of design homeowners can have in a room. A room’s design needs to incorporate light as one of its fundamentals. Tying the hands of future homeowners might turn people away from the house.

Should a Living Room Have Ceiling Lights?

Whether a living room should have ceiling lights is a question for individual homeowners. The answer will depend on what kind of decor scheme they are planning. Based on the wall colors, the natural lighting, and the furniture you plan to use, you can decide if your space needs ceiling lights.

White and black pendant ceiling lights

Deciding whether a living room should have ceiling lights will also require knowing what kind of light you want to use. There are lights that are recessed into the ceiling and lights that hang down from the ceiling. You should also keep in mind that there are a lot of ceiling fans that have built-in lights.

If you opt for a ceiling light in your living room, you’ll need to consider how to position it so that it casts the right amount of light where you want it. This is a big reason why ceiling lights are often excluded during construction— installing them decreases the amount of flexibility homeowners have when it comes to decorating.

Living room area with unique ceiling and room lighting design

These days, you may also want to consider ceiling lights that are connected to smart home services like Alexa and Google Nest. You can control these lights with voice command, which makes them a more attractive option compared to lamps.

Why Do Apartments Not Have Ceiling Lights?

Some apartments come with ceiling lights already installed, and some apartments come with empty ceilings. It all depends on how your apartment was constructed and what the architect decided was the best option.

Living room with a television, sofa sets and minimal decor

Mass-produced units in large complexes are likely to come without ceiling lights because they’re expensive to install. While no government in the United States requires ceiling lights, they do require a wall switch to control room lighting.

However, developers shy away from installing ceiling lights in living rooms for other reasons beyond cost.

For example, when you move into an apartment with ceiling lights, you have no choice but to work around them when designing your space. Lighting plays a big role in how a room is going to look.

When you move into an apartment, you already have to deal with limitations when it comes to painting the walls and how much natural light a room gets. Installing ceiling lights decreases the renter’s flexibility even more. And, that might make the rental more unattractive.

What is the History of Living Room Lighting in America?

While the first use of the word living room is found in the mid-19th century, living rooms date back to the 1600s. Most people devoted a considerable amount of space in their home to a common area and didn’t account for privacy as much as we do now.

The history of living room lighting in America has long been dominated by whatever lighting technology was used during that time. 

Candles and fireplaces gave way to the first lamps that burned oil. Oil gave way to gas. Gas gave way to electricity.

Electricity’s rise didn’t immediately translate into what we today recognize as home lighting. At the time, each town had its own electrical grid. Each grid produced different levels of electricity and had different levels of reliability.

It wasn’t until a national grid was established that home lighting started to take shape. In many homes, bulbs hung from the ceiling. Then, those were later replaced by fixtures.

As electricity became more and more important, more regulations were established to make sure people were using it safely. Those regulations brought about a lot of changes in home lighting.

Conformity in design rules brought with it conformity in construction. A contracting company could go in and build an entire development from the same basic template. This made homeownership a reality for America’s growing middle class in the postwar years.

Today, we see different styles of living room lighting in different parts of the country. Conformity is no longer necessarily desirable because homeownership is so widespread.

Living room with bright lighting, sofa set and car wall sticker decor


There are a lot of reasons why a living room might not come with ceiling lights. Size and costs are big reasons, but not they’re not the only factors. A home designed for one person is more likely to have ceiling lights than an apartment in a sprawling complex.

Putting a ceiling light in a home costs more during construction. And, it limits the choices homeowners have in how to design the interior of the biggest investment they’ll make during their lives. 

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