5 Budget-Friendly Lighting Upgrades

If you browse through enough interior design / decorating blogs, you’ll get the message that lighting is incredibly important in pulling together, if not outright making, a space. Whether you own your home and can punch new lights into the ceiling, or you’re in a rental with a curmudgeonly landlord, there are lots of ways to upgrade your current lighting situation without breaking the bank or needing an electrician.


This is the living room in my old apartment, before I replaced the light with a crystal chandelier I found on Craigslist for $80.

This is the living room in my old apartment, before I replaced the light with a crystal chandelier I found on Craigslist for $80.

One of my greatest pet peeves about all my past rentals (and rentals in general in San Francisco) is the pervasive “nipple ceiling light” – or “boobie/titty light” if you’re so inclined. Not only is it boring and a clear signal that your place came with it, it’s also just a terrible way to distribute light – especially if you have tall ceilings or your specific nipple light has opaque-ish glass.

But, take heart! These fixtures are actually very easy to replace on your own, or by hiring a handyman for 30 minutes. You can find pre-owned fixtures pretty often on Craigslist, or buy a new fixture on places like Lamps Plus in budget brackets like “under $100” and “under $200”. Plus, if/when you move, you can take your fixture with you and just put the old nipple light back.


If your ceiling light game is already on-point (or you don’t want to mess with it), accent lamps do wonders for rooms but sometimes get overlooked. While you’re shopping for decorative accents like vases, books, or pillows, add a table lamp to the mix – accenty AND functional.

Sometimes, though, beautiful designer table lamps are hilariously expensive. For example, I’m in love with Moooi’s Rabbit Lamp, but at ~$550 each, I just can’t right now. I’m on a self-employment budget. I ate peanut butter pretzel bites for lunch.

NOZNOZNOZ – Moooi Lamp DIY - pretzels

So if you find yourself in a similar predicament, get creative with DIY! eBay, yard sales, Craigslist, and Goodwill are fabulous places to find really inexpensive cool lamp bases. Try searching for colors, animals, or things, like “pink lamp” or “monkey lamp.” Then, spray paint the lamp base and/or add a new lampshade, and voila!

Pre-DIY, the "Before" lamp just felt too Chinoiserie for my style.

Pre-DIY, the “Before” lamp just felt too Chinoiserie for my style.

TOTAL COST OF THAT DIY: $25 ($5 for spray paint and $20 for the lampshade)


Hedge's man cave lighting

Hedge’s man cave lighting

These days, filament bulbs are everywhere, and light fixtures with exposed bulbs are de la mode. At $5-20 each, filament bulbs aren’t cheap. Nor do they put out that much light – but the glow they cast is very pretty mood lighting, and the filament patterns are beautiful when lit.


Someone’s totally tricked out gaming room

As a child of the 90’s, the novelty of being able to Clap-On Clap-Off your lights was huge. So when Philips came out with Hue, wireless-enabled color-changing magic bulbs, duh I got the set. Mainly I got the set so that I could turn my lights on remotely if I was out of town (or turn them on/off from my phone without getting up). But as LEDs can be any color, you can download apps to make the lights strobe out in disco rainbow patterns and RAGE.


Gold, mirrored, and crystal surfaces bring a lot of light to this black/white space

Taking things a bit farther from actual lighting, consider that your whole room influences the way light feels. If you’ve covered lamps + ceiling lighting but your space still doesn’t feel quite light enough, try adding decor / furniture with reflective surfaces. Mirrors, laquered or glazed pieces, metal accents, and translucent glass or plastic will reflect the light that’s in the room and redirect it from multiple angles, giving a fuller sense of light.

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