How to Use Kitchen Pendants for a Beautifully Lit Space

Learn about pendant light style options—and where to hang them—to add a hardworking light source and a stylish focal point for your kitchen.

Whether you need to illuminate a specific task or update your decor, the right lighting makes all the difference. But before you start installing fixtures, it's important to consider what type of light you'll need. Ambient or overall light, for example, is used for all-purpose illumination, while task lighting focuses on a specific work area. Accent lighting highlights specific areas, and can serve as a decorative element. While certain fixtures are better suited for specific lighting needs, pendants can do it all, which makes them a popular choice for kitchens.

Often hung over an island or sink, kitchen pendant lights provide brilliance and make a design statement. They can direct light down toward prep surfaces, define the room's focal point, and highlight a contrasting color or finish, all while contributing to the kitchen's overall brightness. Use our guide to kitchen pendant lighting to learn about the various styles available and how to use them.

white kitchen with exposed wood shelves and patterned backsplash
Peter Molick

Kitchen Pendant Lighting Styles

Pendants hang from the ceiling to illuminate spaces from overhead, and they're available in a wide variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. To help filter and direct light, many feature drums or shades made of materials like glass, metal, fabric, and more. These fixtures are often a prominent presence in the room, so it's best to choose a style that reflects your decor. Pendants made of glass or chrome, for example, often exhibit sleek, modern style. Fixtures with woven shades can lean into boho or coastal styles. Industrial-style metal shades or exposed bulbs fit well in farmhouse-style kitchens. As you shop for pendants to match your style and lighting needs, keep in mind that most lighting showrooms allow you to customize fixtures.

black and white kitchen design with black pendant lights
Werner Straube

Choosing a Kitchen Pendant Light

For task lighting, choose a pendant that's open at the top, such as one with a traditional drum shade, so the light underneath is not too harsh. Translucent glass shades reduce distracting glare, while opaque shades will provide a softer glow. To avoid circles of super-bright light, consider a pendant with a light-diffusing shade, or use semi-opaque bulbs.

If you need overall light, space pendants evenly throughout the room or over the work area. Cluster small pendants or hang a pendant with three or more lights over a dining table or kitchen island. In general, the larger the area you want to light, the bigger the pendant light should be. A small one is effective over a sink or desk area, but you'll need a larger fixture (or a series of pendants) over an island.

white kitchen marble island rattan chairs
Joyelle West

Hanging a Kitchen Pendant Light

While the decorative options for pendant fixtures are vast, installation is also a key factor to consider. As a general rule, pendants should hang 12 to 20 inches below an 8-foot ceiling. For each additional foot of ceiling height, add three inches. For example, in kitchens with a 9-foot ceiling, the pendant should hang 15 to 23 inches below.

The pendant height can also be measured up from the surface you intend to light. For the most practical height for task lighting, provide a 30- to 36-inch clearance above tables and countertops. Additionally, consider sight lines, and adjust the chain length as needed. Pendants should hang over work surfaces at a height that doesn't block views across the kitchen.

Kitchen Pendant Lighting Features

Look for features that can help your pendant lighting better serve your daily needs. For instance, pendant fixtures with retractable cords ($168, Wayfair) are easily adjustable to suit lighting for different tasks. Retract the light for all-over diffused light, or pull it close for intimate dining.

You should also choose lightbulbs that best suit the pendant's function. Color and intensity influence the mood of the kitchen and the effectiveness of the light, whether its purpose is ambient, task, or accent lighting. Dimmable bulbs ($15 for four-pack, Target) offer opportunities to adjust the level of light to adapt to a project or mood. You can find these long-lasting, energy-efficient bulbs in an assortment of attractive styles, as well as some with smart capabilities that allow you to control the light's temperature and brightness through your phone or voice.

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