How to Choose the Right Size Light Fixture for You
Whether you're looking to adorn your indoor space with a chandelier, pendant or other hanging light, choosing the right size light fixture is crucial to achieving a balanced look.
With our guide, you can learn how to choose the right size light fixture in a few simple steps and focus the rest of your energy on the fun part - selecting the perfect style!
For chandeliers and ceiling pendants: If you are using a chandelier or ceiling pendant above a kitchen island or table, measure the width or diameter of your table. Then subtract 12" from that number. That's the maximum limit for the width or diameter of a hanging light. Keep in mind that a fixture with a busy or complex design will actually appear larger, so if that's what is catching your eye, you'll want to scale your maximum width down slightly. Assuming you have 8-foot ceilings, the bottom of the fixture should hang between 30 and 36 inches above the tabletop. But if your ceilings are higher, the suggestion is to add 3 more inches above the table for each additional foot of ceiling.
If you have a very high vaulted ceiling, it might be best to hang the chandelier from a very long length of chain or a longer downrod so the fixture is hung closer to the people who will be in the room (and who will need light to see), instead of being far up in the ceiling.
If you have a long dining room table, you can use 2 chandeliers to light it. In that case, choose fixtures that are 1/3 the width of the table. (A table that's 60 inches wide would need two lights with 20-inch diameters or widths.) Center each of those chandeliers over its half of the table.
For ambient lighting use, measure the length and width of the room you wish to light. Then convert this number to inches by adding them together. This is the ideal width of the fixture. For example, an 18" wide fixture would be ideal for an 8'x10' room. The standard height for hanging a chandelier in ambient use is 7 feet, but adjust this as needed depending on the size of the fixture, your ceiling heights, heights of the room's occupants, etc.
Although they can be a good source of general light, many chandeliers and pendants are not sufficient to light an entire room. Remember to apply the Lighting Layer Approach for the best results.
Special note: If you are considering placing a chandelier over a bathtub, know that the National Electric Code requires that there be 8 feet between the highest point of the bathtub's walls and the lowest point of the fixture, which does include crystals that descend past the fixture's structure. You may have local building codes that further restrict or even ban this practice. (In that case, an alternative is to center the chandelier in the bathroom, where it will still be visible from the tub.)
For recessed downlighting: To make sure recessed downlights are spread evenly, divide the ceiling height by 2. An 8-foot ceiling, for example, would yield recessed lights placed about 4 feet apart. This is just a general rule of thumb and may not apply, especially if you want to place recessed downlights in very specific areas or you're adding the lights to a small room. If you need to place lights closer together, place them on a dimmer so that you can adjust the light level for comfort. Place the lights about 3 feet away from the walls so that the lights don't create shadows that make the ceiling seem lower. When you're planning out a recessed downlight scheme, it's a good idea to draw a diagram of the room first and include representations of the furniture and objects (particularly if you need to put a light above certain things).
For foyer lighting: This really depends on the height of your foyer or entryway. For a typical ceiling height of 9 to 10 feet, make sure the bottom of the light is 7 feet above the floor. But if you have an extremely tall foyer, you may hang the light higher. Be aware of any potential glare in sight lines on second stories or other practicality issues in large multi-story foyers. If you have a picture window near the top of the foyer, center the light there so it can be seen from outside as you approach the house.
For bathroom vanity lighting: Measure the length of the bathroom mirror (or mirrors). That number will be your limit for the length of vanity bar lights. Many people choose vanities that are about 75% the length of the mirror and then mount them centrally.
If you have multiple sinks or a very long mirror, consider that appropriately when thinking about how many bars to get or how many lights to choose on a bar.
For table or buffet lamps: Measure the diameter and height of the table where the lamp will sit. Then, keep those numbers in mind when choosing lamp diameters. The ideal lampshade location is with the bottom of the shade at eye level when you are seated—you don’t want glare in your eyes.
Another thing to consider is the type of room where you’re adding a lamp. In living rooms, 26”-34” is a good height for a lamp. In dining rooms, try slightly taller and slimmer buffet lamps of heights up to 36”. In bedrooms, go for up to 30” when lamps are on bedside tables.
A great general rule of thumb is that the lamp should be no more than 1.5 times the height of whatever the lamp is sitting on and lampshade diameter should be no wider than the table top.
For pendants: Ceiling pendants should hang 12-20” below an 8’ ceiling. Add 3” for every additional foot of ceiling. There needs to be at least 1’ of clearance for people walking below the pendant. For hanging pendants above an island or table, start with 28-34” above said table as a rough guideline, but make sure to consider the sight lines of the people in the room so no one gets glare in their eyes or runs the risk of hitting their head on the pendant.
Space a pendant every 2 feet or so above a kitchen island and pick the right size of pendant to suit your island length. Small islands (4 to 5 feet long) can handle 1 large or 2 medium pendants. Large islands can handle 2 large or 3 medium pendants. Subtracting 12" from the width of your island is a good way to determine the maximum width of a pendant light for the island!
If you want to use a pendant above a sink, use a smaller one so as not to block out the view (if a window is also there). Remember to leave lots of room for the tallest person in your house to stand at the sink! Hang it higher up than the general 28-34" advice.
For sconces: The closer you will be to whatever the sconce is lighting, the smaller the sconce should be. So for example, in bathrooms where you will be close to the mirror, go for tiny ones of about 9-10”. In bathrooms, mount sconces 36 to 40" apart, flanking the mirror, 18" from the sink's center line. If the sconces have shades, put the bottom edges of the shades a little below eye level (60 to 68" from the floor). Consider eye level when it comes to reducing glare and ensuring that the tallest person in the space can’t see down into the sconce. Allow 4 inches of space on either side of the mirror you want to flank with sconces. That 4 inches provides the space for the sconce's electrical panel. ADA-compliant sconces are allowed to extend no more than 4” from the surface, which is good for narrow or small spaces.
When hanging sconces beside artwork, pick sconces that will be centered beside the picture. To find the center, measure the length of the picture and divide by 2. When you find that center spot, measure 4 inches away from it. That spot will be where you place the center of the sconce. Avoid disproportionate looks by making sure there are 2 free inches above and below the sconce.
When mounting swing-arm wall lamps beside a bed, get the most ideal height by sitting in the bed normally and then having someone measure the height from the floor to just above your shoulder. The most ideal spot for wall lamps is between your head and the work surface (in this case, things like a book or tablet computer).
For outdoor lights: Wall-mounted outdoor lights should be considered based on the height of the door or surface they will illuminate. For just one lantern, go for one-third the height of the door. But if you’re flanking with two lanterns, use ones that are a quarter of the height of the door. Mount the lanterns slightly above eye level. The center of the bulbs should be 66” above the door threshold. For outdoor ceiling lights, follow the same sort of clearance rules as for pendants. For post or fence lights, go as big as you would like since perspective means the lights will look small from far away.
For ceiling fans: When using a ceiling fan in a bedroom, the best mounting location is centered above the foot, not the head, of the bed. If a bedroom ceiling fan also has a light kit, this means the ambient light will cover a lot of the room and you won't have light bulbs glaring right above your face when you're sitting in bed. In other rooms, ceiling fans are often mounted in the middle of the ceiling. However, make sure to consider the interference of things like air vents and chimneys when deciding where to place a fan.
Learning how to choose the right size light fixture does involve a little measurement and math, but your room will look its best!
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