The chandelier has been an ideal way to light a home for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest example of a chandelier is in the walls of French caves that were once inhabited by cavemen: there are holes in the walls because the cavemen needed a place to hang their torches. (You can also read more about the history of the chandelier. It’s an interesting story!)
Chandelier design has, of course, evolved over the centuries and now there are more chandeliers available than ever before. Whether you want something ornate and traditional or something modern and unique, whether you need something big or small, there is a chandelier to fit your needs.
This buying guide will help you find your new favorite light by teaching you the basics about chandeliers: types, uses, styles, sizes and more. This guide will help you make the best and most well-informed decision about purchasing a chandelier.
While more specific design styles such as Asian, Mission, nautical, Tiffany, industrial and Tuscan are also available, these are the most common and easily recognizable chandelier types.
Crystal is probably the first kind of chandelier that comes to mind when you hear the word. A traditional and enduring style, crystal chandeliers work best as a focal point in the room because their ornate beauty demands your full attention. Today, crystal chandeliers are available in a range of sizes and prices, so if you’re dreaming of crystal glamour, you can make that dream a reality no matter what.
Contemporary or modern chandeliers can take the shape of anything from a dazzlingly daring crystal confection to a design that looks almost space-age. Common elements in contemporary chandeliers include clean lines, unique shapes and metallic finishes. Many contemporary chandeliers are also “green,” featuring elements like recycled materials, energy efficiency or use of LED lights. Contemporary or modern chandeliers are great for less formal rooms, especially toward the back of the house. People often dress up their front rooms with grand, ornate fixtures so guests will see them, but you need to consider your own lighting needs and decorate the rooms where you do the most living, too.
Transitional is a midway point between traditional and modern styles. (It’s such a common style that you may have transitional pieces in your home right now and not really know it.) Transitional chandeliers generally aren’t ornate, but aren’t offbeat either. Straight lines, simple curves and sophisticated design define transitional chandeliers. Transitional light fixtures are versatile and designed to pair well with anything.
Mini chandeliers, also known as chandelettes, are a great idea for adding chandelier beauty in rooms that are too small for traditional chandeliers. Like their larger counterparts, though, they run the gamut of décor styles from traditional to contemporary and everything in between.
Because chandeliers are available in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes and styles, they can be used in practically any part of the home. The most common uses for chandeliers are in entryways and dining rooms. However, chandeliers hanging above kitchen islands are becoming common, as are chandeliers adding touches of elegance to bathrooms or bedrooms. There are even some varieties of chandelier that can be used outside.
Loop: Connects the chandelier's chain to its body.
Column: The main structure of the chandelier.
Bulb: A chandelier's light source. Candelabra bulbs, which look more like candle flames and are pictured here, are commonly used in chandeliers.
Candle Sleeve: A decorative and protective element designed to look like a wax candle. As shown above, candle sleeves often look realistic.
Candle Cup: Holds the bulbs.
Bobeche: When chandeliers used actual wax candles, these pans played a crucial role--catching wax drippings so people didn't get hot wax dripped on them. While that's not an issue anymore, bobeches are still found in many chandelier designs.
Arm: Structures that hold the bulbs away from the chandelier column.
Finial: An ornament that often hangs alone at the bottom of the chandelier. Crystal finials are common.
Some styles of chandelier, especially contemporary and modern styles, may interpret the anatomy differently by not including some of these parts.
Finding the right size for a chandelier depends on where you are going to use the fixture. If you’re going to use the chandelier above a table or island, measure the width or diameter of that area. That will be the maximum limit for the width or diameter of a chandelier.
A chandelier with a complex design will look bigger than it actually is, so keep this in mind.
If you’re going to use the chandelier as general room lighting, measure the length and width of the room in question, then add them together to find the ideal width of your chandelier in inches. (Example: An 8 foot by 10 foot room can be well-served by an 18-inch wide fixture.)
For rooms with lower ceilings, get a fixture that isn’t too large or else the room will look like it’s caving in. Higher ceilings can handle bigger fixtures.
The standard height for hanging a chandelier is 7 feet off the floor, but you can adjust this as necessary depending on the size of the fixture, the height of your room’s ceiling, how tall the people in your home are and so on. (You can read more specific information about light fixture sizing.)
These instructions are for replacing a previously-existing light fixture. New chandelier installations might require the placement of a new and stronger junction box inside the ceiling to support a heavier fixture.
Turn off the power to the circuit where the chandelier will go or temporarily take out the fuse at the electrical box that would power the chandelier. Just turning off the light switch is not good enough to avoid possible electrical shock. Use a circuit tester, available for about $20 or less at hardware stores, to make absolutely sure the power is off before you begin work.
Read the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully before starting your installation.
Assemble the chandelier before mounting it, but don’t add the light bulbs yet. You can do that once the chandelier is mounted, plus it is much safer to put the bulbs in at the very end of the process.
Determine if the new chandelier weighs as much as the old one. If it’s heavier, you should install a different junction box that will support heavier fixtures (as mentioned above), but you may also be able to use your existing junction box if the new chandelier weighs as much as the old one.
Take out the old fixture and observe how it is wired, especially if you’re replacing an old chandelier. Take detailed notes or pictures before disconnecting the old fixture completely. Then match the wiring of your new chandelier to the notes or pictures you took. This will save you time and keep you from making mistakes!
Wire the new chandelier first, following the notes you took earlier. Then, bolt the chandelier securely into place, add the bulbs, turn the power back on and enjoy the results.
Installation tips: Bring a helper along for installation. Chandeliers are heavy, so one person should hold the fixture up while the other does all the wiring. The helper can also help you bring down the old fixture (since you shouldn’t climb down a ladder with a heavy chandelier in your hands) and install the bulbs at the end of the process.
Don’t be afraid to use a professional for installation. If you feel intimidated or worried, or you physically cannot install lighting fixtures on your own, you can always call a local electrician to do the job safely.
There are three general types of light bulb used in chandeliers: incandescent, fluorescent and LED. Each one has its advantages, though your personal preference should also be considered.
Incandescent is still the most popular light source and used in the vast majority of chandeliers. LED bulbs have very long lives (20 years), although the bulbs are more expensive. Fluorescent is rarely used in chandeliers, but if used, bulbs should be chosen carefully to ensure that they provide flattering light.
A common shape of light bulb used in chandeliers is the candelabra, which is thinner and looks more like the flame of a candle.
No matter what type of bulb you choose to use in your fixture, there are some important numbers you need to look at so you can get the best light possible.
Color temperature: Measured in degrees Kelvin, color temperature means how white a light source is. For a yellowish-white light, commonly associated with incandescent bulbs and sometimes described as warm white or soft white, look for bulbs with a color temperature between 2700 to 3000 degrees Kelvin (K). Cool, neutral or bright white light can be found with bulbs at a color temperature between 3500 and 4100 K. For natural white light that looks close to daylight, look for 5000 to 6500 K. Color temperature appears on bulb boxes as a sliding scale from warm to cool, low to high. Here's a graphic example of different color temperatures so you can see the differences side-by-side.
Color rendering index: Along with color temperature, bulbs are also rated on their ability to be as true to daylight as possible. This is the color rendering index, or CRI. Again, getting the truest and most accurate light possible is important in the bathroom, so look for high CRIs between 85 and 90. 100 is the highest CRI score, but is just for daylight since that is considered the highest ideal type of light.
Light direction: In a chandelier, the light sources will often point either up or down. This is called uplighting and downlighting. Both styles have their advantages, depending on your needs. Uplighting aims light toward the ceiling, providing a wash of ambient light, and is a great style for aging eyes. Downlighting aims light the other way, which is good for more directed task lighting. However, some chandeliers spread the illumination all around instead.
Lumens and watts: When buying bulbs to use in chandeliers, the most important measurement is really lumens, not watts. Wattage means how much power is required to operate the fixture, but not how much light it produces. (Note that wattage is still important, however, because you do not want to use more wattage in your bulbs than the fixture is rated for—that is a fire hazard.)
Lumens are a measure of how much light a bulb will give you. With lumens, the more you have, the brighter the light. This is a table of watt to lumen equivalency rates that use the traditional, not the recent and more energy-efficient, wattages on light bulbs.
Again, that table is based on the traditional bulb wattages, not the recent government-mandated revisions that improve bulb efficiency (which have all gone into effect as of January 1, 2014). Here is a table of those revisions:
If you need more advice about picking out your new chandelier, we have a helpful video! Some things to consider include the size of the room, the style of the room, your budget and what you want your chandelier to do.
Emma Harger - Lights Online