Before you fall in love with an overhead light fixture for your house, be it a pendant or a chandelier, ask what it can do for you, not what you can do for it. Lighting designer Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi in Mexico City and London points out that hanging a chandelier or pendant light in a room can be completely transformative: “They can add an element of glamor and luxury while modulating the scale of a space,” he says. "But there are many variables to consider, such as whether they cast light up or down, provide diffuse light, or simply sparkle prettily. It’s important to understand how a particular design will affect your space.” Towards that end, Paterson advises asking yourself these five essential questions:
Do you want to light the ceiling or floor?
Washing the ceiling with light using an up-light pendant provides an overall general illumination that can also make a space feel larger.
Above: The Carl Hansen & Son Uplight Pendant can illuminate a sloped ceiling thanks to its special mounting system that enables the fixture to hang from an inclined as well as flat ceiling.
Do you want to see exactly what you are doing?
Down-light fixtures direct the light towards the ground and are perfect for illuminating tasks, whether it be preparing food, reading the newspaper, or playing cards. Shining a pool of light on the project at hand, they're ideal for kitchen counters and islands.
Do you want atmosphere?
Want to show a room in the best (ie. most forgiving) light? Consider a fixture that gives off diffuse light, which casts a pervasive soft, warm light that flatters the way you look and masks the marks on your walls.
Above: The diffuse light of a Noguchi Akari Pendant imparts a glow over Kathleen Whitaker's kitchen table; for a full house tour, see A Minimalist LA Jewelry Designer Goes Maximal. Photograph by Nancy Neil.
Do you want to make a statement?
If it's glamor you're after, nothing beats the glittering effect of a chandelier. Insider tip: For extra sparkle, install a pair of ceiling down-lights to spotlight the chandelier and use minimal wattage in the chandelier itself. "You get more sparkle lighting from without than from within," Paterson says.
Above: An Arctic Pear Chandelier by Ochre brings a touch of glamor to a rustic kitchen in Portland, Oregon. See High/Low Arctic Pear Chandelier for more views of the light and its more affordable lookalikes. Photograph by Lincoln Barbour via Jessica Helgerson Interior Design.
Exactly where will you hang the light?
How to make your ceiling fixture work best for you? After you've selected the right type of overhead light, the crucial final step is to hang it at a height that enhances the space. Too low, and it gets in the way. Too high, and it doesn't feel like part of the immediate space. For dining tables and kitchen counters, the general rule of thumb is that the bottom of the chandelier should be around 30 inches above the surface of the table. If your ceilings are more than 8 feet high, you can raise the fixture 3 inches for each additional foot. If you have ceilings lower than 8 feet, make sure the bottom of the fixture clears your tallest vase or candlesticks.
Above: An 11 Globe Bubble Branching Pendant by Lindsey Adelman hovers as a canopy over a dining table in a residence designed by Chicago-based architects Vinci Hamp. Photograph by Eric Hausman via Lux Populi.
If you are ready to commit to a fixture, have a look at some of our favorites in our 10 Easy Pieces roundups: Modern Glass Globe Chandeliers, Modern Chandeliers, Modern Halo Chandeliers. Or find more tips from lighting designer Thomas Paterson in Remodeling 101: How to Install Flattering Lighting in the Bathroom.