Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pendant Lighting 101

Pendants - lights that hang from a ceiling via cords, chains or poles - are essential to a well-layered lighting plan.  Not only do they channel task lighting where it's needed, but they also offer a prime opportunity to put a decorative flourish on a space.  Consider these pointers when choosing and installing pendants in your home. 

How to choose them.  First, consider the scale of the room.  Does it call for wide, prominent shades or slender, unobtrusive ones?  How many do you need to illuminate your target surface?  Choose fixtures that will neither overshadow the most subtle elements of the space nor get lost amid the strongest ones.  One good rule of thumb:  Scale them directly to the surface they'll illuminate (a dining table for instance).

Decide, too, how transparent or opaque you want the pendant shades to be.  A clear glass shad will allow light to spread throughout the room, while a metal or porcelain one will keep the beam focused downward.  Similarly, do you want the bulb exposed beneath the perimeter of the shade or recessed entirely within it?  Shades with open tops will allow light flood the ceiling above.

Now you can get to the fun stuff, the decorative aspect.  Pendants can be a prime opportunity to add top notes of color and sparkle:  blown or milky glass, shiny and matte metals, fabric and paper.

Where to put them.  They're most commonly seen above kitchen islands, but pendants pop up in every room of the home.  They can define the space above a breakfast bar, take the place of reading lamps in a bedroom, extend into a foyer or stand in for sconces in a bathroom.

Pendants are often grouped in odd numbers - a single drum shad over a dining table, three slim lights over a kitchen island - for visual appeal.  However, it's more important to tailor the number to your space.  If a kitchen peninsula has room for only two well-placed fixtures above it, that's better than cramming in three just for the sake of design maxims.

How to hang them. Generally, pendants are installed 28 to 36 inches above the surface they will light, 60 to 72 inches from the floor to base of the shade, and 24 to 30 inches apart (in case of multiple fixtures grouped together).  In bathrooms, hang the lights at eye level.  Over a kitchen island or other work zone, pendants should be mounted in a position and at a height where they'll stay
out of the way.  In a hallway or foyer, be sure people won't bang their heads on them. 

What you'll pay.  First let me say the easiest way to save money is to work with a designer who is familiar with lighting design and has access to an electrician that he/she is used to working with.  Second,  you can find pendants in an enormous range of price points, from inexpensive models to thousands of dollars.  The good news?  While price and quality go hand in hand, even the most affordable pendant lights come in stylish shapes and finishes.  Buy the best your budget can afford, because most likely this is something that you will use on a daily basis. 

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