Lighting can be the most overlooked element in design, especially if you're renting. We inherit whatever fixtures were installed by the landlord and left by the tenant before us. If we're lucky, we may get a wall sconce in the entry or a chandelier that isn't too dated. But usually we're left with a bare-bones start, and the thought of messing with the wiring is overwhelming.

You don't have to stay in the dark. Great lighting is possible anywhere.

Take your favorite gastropub. It's cozy and intimate, and you always seem to look good in pictures there, right? You may attribute your love for the place to the ambience -- the people, the food, the music. But the secret is the lighting.

Now, let's be honest: Lighting is boring. We'd rather shop for a great throw pillow at West Elm or a vase at CB2 than get lost in the aisles of Home Depot searching for ways to rewire a ceiling light. But it helps if you just understand the different layers of lighting.

Great lighting of any room is composed of three layers. The first layer is overall lighting. It comes in the form of those overhead fixtures -- the lights your landlord is required to have so you don't run into a wall.

My advice for this layer: Experiment with dimmers. I've installed dimmers in every apartment I've ever had (after checking with the landlord, of course). Dimmers allow you to set the mood no matter what time of day or activity, and installation is as easy as reading the instructions on the packaging.

Layer 2 is task lighting. It's a functional tool, like the lamp that illuminates your desk while you write the rent check. Battery-operated tap lights are great task light options for renters. They're cheap and easy to install in places such as under kitchen cabinets, so you actually can see that you're chopping a yam instead of a potato.

The best part: zero wiring. They can be installed with mounting tape.

The third layer is mood lighting. This gives dimension to a room and lets you play up everything you want to highlight and play down the things you'd rather minimize. It's like a living Instagram.

Your apartment, for instance, may be small but have a high ceiling, giving you an opportunity to point mood lights up into the corners, extending the eye upward. Maybe your bedroom could be a little more romantic. Use Edison bulbs to mimic candlelight. These are tiny but dramatic shifts.

All three layers of lighting are necessary for a harmonious, textured environment. They all work together, like lime, salt and tequila.

You can start now. Assess your lighting and determine what kind of cocktail you want to create. To get you started, I'll walk you through an easy DIY lamp made with things I found at the hardware store. The design was inspired by a lamp I saw in a store display, but you can make this version at a fraction of the cost. The DIY approach also lets you personalize the lamp to fit your space.


This amusing project requires few other materials: a castoff lampshade (a simple plastic shell with fabric covering torn off), a hanging light kit with fabric cord (available online or at hardware stores), one quart of paint in white, one quart of paint in an accent color and a glue gun. You'll need about three dozen of those paint sticks -- saved from past redecorating, perhaps, or bought new for about 20 cents apiece.

For those game to try the project, share the results on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #theaptlife. We'll post your riffs on the idea to our L.A. at Home blog.


Schuneman is a Los Angeles-based interior designer who, in addition to his work for residential clients and show houses, has styled catalogs for stores such as Target and CB2. His series appears on the first week of every month.

home@latimes.com