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Three Rules for Choosing a Stunning Light Fixture

Look above you. Yes, right now.

It may seem like a strange ask, but stick with me.

If you’re reading this from home, take a moment to notice what light fixtures are hanging around your house. If you’re not in your house, take note of what types of light fixtures are used above you wherever you happen to be while reading this post. (Disclaimer: if you’re at a grocery store, they’re probably not going to have something all that interesting, but I bet your friendly neighborhood coffee shop does.)

While writing this, I happen to be at Nova Place on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and they have this really unique rope fixture in their common area:

Way more interesting than a bank of fluorescent lights, right?!

Light fixtures can make a huge impact on the design of a room, and they serve two purposes:

1. FORM: the light fixture sets the tone for the overall aesthetics of the room. They’re often chosen to complement (or sometimes contrast) the room’s overall décor, and can make a statement of how you want the room to “feel” (Glamorous? Cozy? Hip? Breezy? Elegant?).

2. FUNCTION: it may seem obvious that a light fixture’s function is to light the space, but controlling the amount of light and the color temperature are keys to getting the look and atmosphere that you want.

"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting." - Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

There are three key considerations for choosing the light fixtures in your home:

STEP 1: Do the Math

One of the biggest ways to throw off a room is choosing the wrong size of light fixture. There are a variety of factors that go into the selection of a fixture, so let’s explore them below:

Square footage of the room

A good rule of thumb for determining the width of the chandelier for your room is to add the width and the length of the room in feet, then substitute inches for feet to get the width of the size of the light fixture. For example, in an 11’ X 14’ dining room, you would want an approximately 25” wide fixture.

Special case: When calculating this for a dining room table, the overall width of the chandelier should be about 12” more narrow than the table so no one bumps their head while getting in or out of their chair!

Height of the Ceiling

The height of a room also dictates how small or large the fixture should be. My go-to guideline for determine how tall your fixture should be is this: measure how many feet there are between the floor and your ceiling. Multiply that number (in feet) by 3” to get the height of your chandelier. For example, a room with 9 foot ceilings should have a fixture that is approximately 27” tall (9 X 3 = 27).

For example, a two story Great Room is going to need a fixture with considerably more height than a room with a standard 8 foot ceiling. Below is an example of fixtures that we chose for a client’s Great Room. The fixtures were extra tall to accommodate the two story ceilings.

Furniture directly underneath:

If you have furniture underneath of the fixture, for example, in a dining room, the fixture should be between 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of your table. For example, a dining room table of 72” should have a fixture with a diameter or a length of at least 48". Sometimes, you may need multiple lights over your table (2 or 3 chandeliers), or a light that is rectangular and spans at least 2/3 of the length of the table. This is especially important for dining room tables that are longer than 6 feet, like the one below:

STEP 2: Showcase your Style

The light fixture in the room sets the tone for the room – don’t make yours an afterthought! Often, homeowners tend to “look past” their light fixtures and don't truly see them. One of the houses that I’ve lived in still had the builder grade fixture in the dining room when I moved in, and we swapped it out for this crystal fixture:

It was the first thing that you saw when you entered our house, and everyone who visited commented on it. She was a beauty. 😊

When choosing the light fixture that will be the centerpiece of your room, I always encourage my clients to choose something with some personality. Whether it be swooping and dramatics arms, a glamorous and bling-y crystal, or a modern, globe style sputnik-style fixture, it’s important to choose a fixture that reflects the overall style of your space.

Trend Watch: One of the ongoing trends in design for the past few years is a mix of materials everywhere. People are choosing different finishes in their kitchens (like black cabinet hardware paired with a showstopping brass faucet), mixing up metals in their bathroom (choosing oil rubbed bronze faucets with antiqued gold hardware). And this concept is even more common in light fixtures. In fact, I’ve been selecting a lot of light fixtures with a mix of materials lately for my clients. Don’t be afraid to mix and match! It adds another layer of visual interest to your space. Here’s a set of kitchen pendants that incorporates matte black and brass that we used as part of recent design:

And a rustic farmhouse chandelier for a dining room that mixes whitewashed wood with oil rubbed bronze:

And finally, a glamorous combination of crystal and matte black that sets of a tone of architectural glamour for this client’s dining space:

STEP 3: Choose your bulbs wisely!

With so many fixtures having clear globes these days, the bulb that you select matters. Bulbs come in a dizzying array of options, but the two below are my favorites for overhead fixtures:

  • Incandescent – these are the standard bulbs that those of us of a certain age (ahem, self included!) grew up with. They come in a range of colors, but typically only last between 700 to 2,000 hours. They’re also not very energy efficient, and aren’t recyclable (the cost of separating the glass components from the filaments is cost prohibitive).

  • LED – these bulbs also come in a variety of colors and shapes, and typically last between 35,000 to 70,000 hours, making them virtually maintenance-free! They’re also significantly more energy efficient and are recyclable in some areas.

One thing to note: I love the look of Edison bulbs in some fixtures, and typically, these are the incandescent bulb type. You can find LED Edison bulbs, but be sure to check to make sure that they are specifically approved for an enclosed fixture if that’s where you’re using them.

Don't Forget to Dim!

Regardless of your selection, be sure that your fixture is connected to a dimmer switch. Being able to specifically control the amount of light that your fixture is emitting is key to setting the mood for your room. For example, in the day, you may choose to have it as bright as possible. But in the evening, as you’re relaxing on your sofa or having friends over for dinner in your dining room, you’re going to set the mood with a softer, dimmer light.

Do you need a bright idea for your space? (Sorry, I just couldn’t pass that up!) Choosing light fixtures that complement a room’s personality and style are one of my favorite parts of design, and I’d love to help you choose ones that make your room shine. (Ok, really, I’m done now.) Reach out and find out how we can work together on your next project - hit me up at

Until then, stay well!

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