By day, the room is bright, lively, and vibrant. By night, a warm ambiance draws you in, simple meals become special events, and conversations simmer down to cozy whispers. It’s the same space, but the mood is drastically different. What changed?
From function to aesthetics, lighting plays a pivotal role in your home. It can wake you up in the morning, make everyday tasks easier, and help you wind down in the evening. It can create drama, connection, and immersive experiences.
However, getting your lighting to do all of these things for you? Not so simple. Selecting the best lighting for your space requires a thoughtful process, some calculations (yes, I do mean math), and an eye for design.
Today, I’m taking you through our 5 tried-and-true steps for selecting lighting. Along the way, I’ll be sharing some inspirational photos, dishing design tips, and answering several FAQs we hear all the time. Let’s shed some light on lighting! 😉
What are the common types of lighting and light fixtures?
But first, let’s cover some basic terminology you’re about to hear more of…
Chandelier: A light fixture that is suspended from the ceiling with multiple branches or arms and multiple light bulbs.
Pendant: A light fixture suspended from the ceiling with a single or just a few bulbs. The shape is more defined, and the light source is typically enclosed in a shade, glass panels, or other frame.
Sconce: A light fixture that is mounted to the wall instead of the ceiling.
Flush (or semi-flush) mount: A light fixture that is mounted directly (“flush”) to the ceiling. Great in rooms where the ceiling clearance is low.
Recessed (can) lights: Lights recessed into the ceiling for a sleek look and overall brightness.
Hello, sexy chandelier.
Step 1: What will you do in the space?
The first step in selecting lighting for a space? Deciding what you need from that space in your home. Naturally, different rooms have different functions, and your lighting should support them. For example, the kitchen is a task-oriented space high in functional lighting. While decorative pendants over the island are important, strategically placed recessed lighting will provide the proper amount of task lighting for nightly meal prep. (Who wants to chop vegetables in their own shadow? Not me.)
By contrast, the living room is less of a task-oriented space. A low chandelier, bulbs on dimmers, table or floor lamps — these all create a space that feels more intimate and cozy. (Isn’t it amazing that lighting can do all of these things?) The same could be said for a master bedroom. Or a powder room. Different functions, different lighting.
So, let’s talk about your space. What will you be doing in this room? Will those functions change at various points throughout the day, week, or year? What do you really want and need from the space? These are great questions to ask yourself before working with us, but don’t worry, we’ll talk about them together during Phase I of our Design Process.
A space designed for lively entertaining by day, intimate gatherings by night.
Step 2: How much brightness does your space need?
The intuitive next step would be to create a lighting plan, but we’re not there just yet. Now that we know the function of your space, we need to decide how much lighting the space needs to be properly bright. This amount changes from room to room based on size and function. (E.g. A kitchen needs more light than a bedroom, a large living room will need more light than a small one, etc.)
Fortunately, there’s a simple calculation that can help us with this, using lumens. First, we find the square footage of your room (length x width). Then, we calculate “foot candles.” Whoa, what’s that? A foot candle is a unit of measurement that tells us how bright a light is one foot away from its source. Sounds complicated, but this chart can help:
Okay, we have your square footage and your foot candle numbers. We multiply the two, and the product is the amount of lumens we need to light up your space (for context, a 100 watt incandescent bulb is about 1500 lumens). Once we know the sweet spot, we can break up the number of lumens into multiple light sources, dedicating some to task lighting and some to ambient lighting.
Before we move on to the next step, this is also when we’ll decide on your lighting’s ideal visual temperature. We use the Kelvin scale, from warm and yellowish light (2700 Kelvin) to very cool, blue light (6000 Kelvin). The more task-oriented the space, the cooler the light. The moodier the space, the warmer the light. We find that the sweet spot for most spaces is 3000 Kelvin; not too warm, and avoids that blue-ish tint.
Design can be a science sometimes!
In this pretty powder room, we installed a sparkling chandelier and miniature sconces on either side of the mirror. This ensures that the whole space is lit overhead and has focused lighting for our clients’ daily routines.
Step 3: What is your space plan?
Your space plan informs your lighting plan, which is why we always create these two in tandem. Imagine an open concept space where light fixtures help create different zones or rooms. If we don’t know the layout of the space or its furniture configuration, how would we know where to install (or wire electrical for) the lighting?
You might sit down on your sofa to read a book and have recessed lighting a whole foot behind you. Or your dining room pendant isn’t centered on the dining table (Yikes!—you can see why planning is so important.)
That’s why we always incorporate furnishings into our initial space plans, regardless of whether that phase involves selecting and purchasing furniture just yet (such as during the planning phase of new construction). Here’s an example:
We start with a simple space plan that denotes furniture configurations, windows, doors, etc. We use this to determine where lighting will go. If your project does not include construction, we’ll work with the existing electrical wiring and outlets.
Step 4: What size fixture will be best for the space?
Now that we’ve established the location of your light sources, we can determine the ideal size for fixtures. Again, it depends on the vibe or feeling we’re trying to achieve in the room. Do we want to create drama? Is the fixture a focal point?
We also have to address the height of the ceiling. The higher the ceiling, the larger the fixture should be; otherwise, it’s going to get lost up there and not create the impact we want. (This is a common mistake we see when homeowners try this on their own.)
Some quick math can help here, too. For example, if the living room is 20’ x 20’, the fixture needs to be just shy of double that in inches, so around 36” in width. That’s substantial!
If we’re working on a project that is getting new electrical (a new build, renovation, or addition), after creating the space plan we map out a Reflected Ceiling Plan (RCP) that denotes all built-in lighting sources and electrical wiring. This ensures that new construction gets the elements it needs to succeed.
Lighting FAQ: Our Rules of Thumb for Mounting Light Fixtures
- Pendants or Chandeliers over a table or island: 30”-36” from the base of the fixture to the table/counter.
- Pendant or Chandelier in an open space: 7’ from the floor to the bottom of the pendant
- Sconces: Bulb should be 6” above eye level
- Table Lamps: Depends on the size of the space, but bigger is always better. (Tip: If your lamp is too big for a table, try a sconce instead.)
Welcome to my house! When designing this entryway, I knew my family’s home would need a large fixture to go with these high ceilings. I chose this stunning, black-beaded chandelier. At 48” x 72”, it is enormous up close! (It was so big, I had to remove the sliding glass doors to get it in!) Once installed, it fit the space perfectly, creating a dramatic entrance. In the right setting, even black can feel vibrant!
This chandelier is similar in structure to the one in my house, but it looks totally different in the Master Bedroom of our Safari Coastal Project. (Could you imagine a dark chandelier here instead? Nope!) Our team chose a neutral canvas tone to keep the room visually balanced and breezy. The large size feels dramatic while woven texture plays up the coastal theme. Win-win.
Step 5: What is the best finish for your fixtures?
Finally, we’re ready to select the fixtures themselves. When choosing the finishes of your fixtures, we always refer to our initial design concept and aim to create both balance and depth. For example, if we have a dark hood in the kitchen and everything else is light, we might want to balance the dark color with a dark finish on the light fixture.
We also have to consider where the fixture sits relative to your eye level. Lower fixture placement creates more intimacy, but we have to be careful not to block the view or make the room feel crowded. Higher placement creates expansiveness and grandeur, but will fade out of sight without some drama.
Here are a few examples that put all of these practices into play:
These lantern-style pendants in polished nickel and clear glass are timeless, elegant, and support the Ocean Meadow project’s initial design concept. They appear lighter in visual weight (compared to the black chandelier, for example), which helps the kitchen stay bright and open.
The powder room in The Jersey Palm Project is a gem all on its own. We used jeweled sconces next to the mirror for sparkle, elegance, and depth. This small space is functional and feels extra special.
We wanted to add a light fixture to the long hallway of the The Jersey Palm Project to break up the space and add interest. We chose a natural woven basket pendant, which repeats the coastal motif of the home, balances the space with a touch of warmth, and creates effortless impact.
In this long entryway, a hanging pendant would have blocked the view and made the hall feel short and crowded. Instead, we chose a brass-rimmed flush mount that adds subtle shine, elegance, and visual length to the space.
Whew — we made it! Lighting isn’t as easy as you thought at first glance, right? Selecting the best lighting for your space takes time and thoughtful planning, but it makes ALL the difference in creating a stunning, vibrant home.