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Ask a Designer: How Can I Make My Rental Brighter Without Installing Light Fixtures?

Here, we bring your home design questions straight to the experts—interior designers.

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Washingtonian’s “Ask a Designer” series takes readers’ home design questions and conundrums directly to the experts—interior designers. Struggling to find the best kid-friendly rug for your mudroom? Looking for a desk to fill an awkward space? Need exterior paint recs? Send your questions to mmontgomery@washingtonian.com and we’ll get them answered. 

“Concrete ceiling = no light fixtures = feeling like I live in a cave. It’s a rental. Advice, please?”

We asked DC designer Byron Risdon of Byron Risdon LLC for his advice:

“There are actually a couple ways to address this, and all are rental-friendly and cost-effective. All of these solutions depend on the layout of your space and outlet locations. Personally, my go-to solution for this problem would be a mix of high- and low-level plug-in options. I would also suggest using smart plugs and bulbs so you can operate the lights from an app instead of relying on a cord or a switch.

“First, consider plug-in ceiling and wall lights. You can purchase a kit from Room & Board that will turn any pendant fixture into a plug-in. Depending on the size of the pendant, it could go over an island or dining table or be used as a center light in a bedroom. Additionally, there are also plug-in track options from sources like Lamps Plus that could be used in a hallway, outside of a closet, or to light an area like a workspace. One of the most used plug-in options is sconces. These allow you to go slightly higher than a table lamp, and could be used as bedside lighting or flank a mirror in a hallway or above a fireplace. West Elm makes an oversized sconce that extends, so it can go in a corner or edge of a room but also reach out to your desired location. For installation, you could use an epoxy to attach the base to the wall or ceiling, but I would opt for concrete screws. This will require professional installation or the proper tools, but the hole is minimal and the uninstall will be much easier.

“Second: try a mix of low-level lighting. For example, you could have a balance of table and floor lamps throughout the space. Since you have a cement ceiling, I’m going to guess you’re in a more modern space—an arched floor lamp might be a great solution. It looks sculptural and provides some overhead lighting, as well. You could pair this with your plug-in wall options, like sconces and picture lights. This would cast light from different angles, giving you the overall effect you need to lighten up the space.”

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.