Choosing a Light Fixture

Wicker base lamp with floral shade
Lighting can set the mood of a room -- not just by the light it gives off and the mood it sets but by the actual light fixtures. Consider design, as well as function, when choosing the right light fixtures for your rooms.

Lighting Decorates a Room

Light fixtures are a key element in the design of a room. "Think of decorative lighting as architectural jewelry. It can dress up or dress down the look," lighting designer Randall Whitehead says. Consider style, shape, color, and size when choosing a light fixture as the perfect accessory.


Hang a chandelier in a room to make a statement. The eye is drawn to this light fixture when you enter a room because it is substantial in size and often showy in design -- whether dripping with crystals or shimmering with sleek chrome arms. Chandeliers come in all styles for every design expression.

Pendant Lights

Pendants are smaller hanging light fixtures that draw attention in a room, in part because their decorative portion hangs down closer to eye level on a long poll or wire. Hung individually, they are perfect for smaller spaces or areas that need direct lighting, such as over a kitchen island. When hung in a group, pendants can make a big design statement, similar to a chandelier.

Ceiling-Mount Light Fixtures

To make a more subtle design statement above, try a ceiling-mount light fixture. Kitchens, family rooms, and hallways still deserve a decorative touch when it comes to lighting the room. Ceiling-mount fixtures come in styles to coordinate with all decors and offer more design impact than recessed lighting but more subtle attention than a chandelier.

Wall Sconces

Task lighting is important in many places throughout the house, such as for bathroom mirrors and showcasing artwork. Think beyond standard task lighting (track and spot lights), and seek wall sconces that add design character as well as function. Sconces also offer a decorative way to illuminate a hallway instead of overhead lighting.

Table and Floor Lamps

Portable lighting -- or lamps -- is a popular element of design in every room. On a table or on the floor, they accessorize spaces with interesting shapes and colors. Use them to add scale by mixing tall and short, petite and bulky.

Lamps as Accessories

Give a room an instant facelift by changing the lamps or lampshades. An affordable accessory, a new lamp can give a room a fresh look. Or, redecorate without spending a dime by trading lamps among rooms. There's more than one perfect shade for every lamp base, too. Pick up a couple of new lampshades to refresh a stale look.

Recessed Lighting

The wide selection of decorative lighting offers many design options. Still, sometimes less is more. Lighting that is not noticed can be a design choice, too. In this clean-lined, contemporary room, recessed can lighting is as much about design as it is about function.

Lighting for Traditional Style

If your decorating style is primarily traditional, look for light fixtures with more ornamentation and complexity in their shape. Materials, such as brass and crystal, and decorative finishes, such as bronzed and brushed, also give lamps and chandeliers a traditional look.

Modern Light Fixtures

To blend with modern design, choose light fixtures with clean-line shapes and limited detail. Look for fixtures made from steel, chrome, and glass to coordinate with contemporary furnishings.

Fit for Transitional Design

Transitional design -- a subtle blend of traditional and contemporary -- is popular today in light fixtures to complement our eclectic homes. Fixtures made from simple materials, such as wrought iron, lend themselves to many decors. Chandeliers with curvilinear arms and fixtures featuring subdued ornamentation also blend nicely.

Light Work Spaces

Function rules in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean lighting has to give up design to accomplish its tasks. Hang pendants over islands, sinks, and counters to add splashes of color and graphic shape.

Illuminate the Bedroom

The bedroom offers multiple opportunities for decorative lighting accents. For overall ambiance, hang a pretty chandelier or a quaint ceiling-mount fixture in the center of the room. For bedtime reading, choose stylish table lamps or functional and decorative wall sconces. A writing desk or sitting area offers the perfect spot for task lighting.

New Spots for Chandeliers

Chandeliers were once reserved for grand statements in dining rooms and entries. Embrace their trendy use today in nontraditional spaces, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. A sparkling chandelier is the perfect way to romance these private spaces.

Light Your Vanity

Lighting is an important function at the bathroom vanity. Give it equal importance as a design element by using decorative sconces instead of expected recessed lighting. Various styles can convey a spa mood or an elegant retreat.

Finding the Right Size and Placement

Scale and proportion are important in choosing the size and placement of hanging light fixtures. Consider these measurements:

-- The bottom of a light fixture hanging from an 8-foot ceiling should hang 27-30 inches above a dining table. For higher ceilings, add 3 inches for each additional foot.

-- Select a hanging fixture no wider than the width of a table minus 12 inches.

-- Hang pendant lights 35-40 inches above kitchen work surfaces.

Pick a Perfect Lampshade

Give a lamp a facelift with a new shade. Just make sure it's a good fit. As a rule of thumb, the bottom of the lampshade should be 8 inches wider than the widest part of the lamp base and should be two-thirds the height of the base. Position a lamp so the bottom of the lampshade sits just below eye level, preventing the bulb from casting light directly in your eye.

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