Mad About . . .

Is Your Pendant Light Fit For Purpose?

2nd August 2018
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This is a post about how to get pendant lighting right. It was first published back in January but it’s one of those house decorating issues that affects so many of us and yet so many of us do nothing about it. Pendant lights can be very beautiful and very useful when they are in the right place and have a point. Very often that point is not just hanging about in the middle of the ceiling aimlessly highlighting a bit of floor below. With some new cable and a cup hook you can really make a feature of this oft-ignored light.

a hanging bedside light via shootfactory

a hanging bedside light frees up space on the bedside table (via shootfactory)

This post first  came about following a visit to a client’s house the other day – the first of the year for my interior styling business Mad About Your House. She had recently downsized from a large Victorian town house to a purpose-built three bedroom flat where she lives with her husband, a professional musician. They are now both 70 and wanted a home that was easier to manage.

But she was struggling with her new place: “Help me get mad about my house before I get mad AT it,” she wrote. “I fell in love with the views and the quiet [of the new flat] but I’ve gone about it all wrong. I really dislike the curtains and the lighting and don’t get me started on the full length mirrored wardrobes.” If you noticed the phrase “purpose-built” in the previous paragraph you will know that the ceilings aren’t very high and therein lay our issue.

wall hand lights by mucknbrass

if you don’t to chase out cables then hang a plug-in light on a bracket. Or hand. Wall hand lights by mucknbrass

The problem was she had moved for all the sensible “head” reasons but none of the emotional “heart” ones. It was a move that made financial sense – sense given their ages – as well as the location and the price. It was not driven by a dislike of the old home and a desire to fall in love with a new one.  And, after 30 years in her Victorian house, which she had made “perfect”, she was struggling to come to terms with the bland developer’s interior that she now found herself in.

Well I’m not going to go through the entire flat but after a couple of hours we had come up with solutions which made her very happy and excited for the future. However, she was right about the lighting. A series of blingy, silver and crystal boxes that were stuck to the ceiling and looked like they had escaped from the Christmas tree.

feather vita eos light from graham and green

feather vita eos light might look better beside the bed than over the middle of it (available  from graham and green)

And I wondered (this is the Sex and the City voiceover bit again) Do We Take Pendant Lighting for Granted? All too often we move in, see the resident pendant light and either ignore it or finally get round to sticking a new shade on it and forgetting about it. Or we dislike the original one and spend, what can be a significant amount of money, on a replacement without thinking about whether we really need it, what it is doing there, do we want it? Is it even in the right place. So consider the following:

1 Pendant lights don’t have to be in the centre of the room

pendant lights off centre via shootfactory

pendant lights hanging off-centre (via shootfactory) while the one on the left could be lower, both serve a purpose in their chosen positions

Of course this is where they usually are, but that does often mean they are just hanging there with nothing to illuminate (see a couple of pictures lower down in the bedroom). If you have either a knock-through Victorian room or a long narrow room which you have zoned into, for example, sitting and dining. You can end up with a light in the middle of the two areas that is completely without purpose. So first of all take a look at what needs lighting and move your pendant light accordingly.

2 Consider the off-centre ceiling light

pendant light in corner via shoot factory

this house belongs to a former client of mine. We put the pendant light in a corner where it wouldn’t be in the way and created a quite games area (image via shoot factory)

Unless you have a coffee table in the middle of the sitting room and you want a pendant light to hang directly over it, there is no earthly reason to have a pendant light in that position. It has no job to do. I’m also guessing that if you do have a coffee table in the middle of the room, you also have table, task and floor lights in the same room (if not why not?) in which case the pendant light is hardly ever on anyway. So unless it’s being fantastically decorative or is the only light bright enough for you to read your book by (and it’s too far away from the page anyway) consider moving or dumping it.

3 Give it a job and move it accordingly

pendant lights over a table via shoot factory

my client’s house with the pendant lights fixed deliberately over the table rather than the middle of the roomi (via shoot factory)

If you do want a light over the coffee table, then think about hanging it as low as you possibly can so that it’s a real decorative feature. We can’t do that because the television is on the other side but if you have a sitting room that isn’t also the television room, that can look great and turn your pendant light into a real statement.

pointless pendant light via shoot factory

this pendant light serves no purpose here at all – it should go over by the chair or over the bed( via shoot factory)

If you don’t want it over a table, then think about hanging two at either end of the sofa instead of table or floor lamps. This will free up floor space and mean you can immediately move into soft ambient lighting mode at the flick of a wall switch when you come into the room. You don’t have to get rid of the central fitting but instead, buy a two way outlet and two lengths of cable, and loop the flex along the ceiling to a cup hook over where you want it, or them, to be. This works well in an open plan kitchen where the table may be to one side or at one end and the light fitting isn’t.

loop the pendant light across the ceiling to get it in the right place (image via the modern house)

loop the pendant light across the ceiling to get it in the right place (image via the modern house)

This trick also works if you have a spare corner with nothing much in it. Instead of a floor light, consider hanging a single low pendant light. You won’t have to walk underneath it since it’s in the corner and you can put a low table with a book or vase on it and create a focal point in the room (see picture higher up with the games corner).

You can also do this in a bedroom if you don’t have space for bedside tables and lamps. This is a little more work as, in an ideal world, you want to be able to turn the light off without getting out of bed, so you will need an electrician to install switches and move the cables, which involves chasing them out and replastering. But there is another way (there’s usually another way). If you have the sockets by your bed then you can always attach a bracket to the wall and hang the light over that but keep it plugged in (second image). If you have a decorative cable (ban the white plastic flex) then this can look pretty as well as practical.

4 How much height do you need for a pendant light anyway?

sphere pendant light from westelm

this sphere pendant light from westelm could hang much lower for a more intimate feel at the table

More than you think. This is the key point. Unless you live in a period property with high ceilings – over eight foot – it’s hard to make a pendant light look good. They need distance from the ceiling and they need to still be high enough that you can walk underneath. Too high and they look choked. That is why, if you still want one, you could consider hanging it in the corner of a room as a lighting feature rather than in the middle.

5 If you ain’t got the height then take out the light (but if you have make it count)

dramatic pendant lighting via shootfactory

dramatic pendant lighting (via shoot factory) – if no-one needs to walk underneath or you have the height then use it to make a statement

Here’s the thing – if you haven’t got a minimum of 30cm of flex BEFORE THE TOP OF THE SHADE then I would consider pulling them out all together. And if I’m going to be blunt (I usually am) then 50cm is better.  If you want to be able to turn the light on from a wall switch then wire up a table lamp. Or put your lights on timers.

off centre pendant light via shoot factory

the pendant light has been moved off centre to create a cosy corner in this open plan space (via shoot factory)

These days a pendant light is often a decorative feature – the earrings on an outfit, the statement necklace. They’re not really there to do lighting. Make the statement elsewhere and don’t force it if it doesn’t look good. As Coco Chanel famously said: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” That thing may be the pendant light.

As for my client? Well we decided to get rid of the pendant light in sitting room end of the open-plan living space but leave it over the dining table end. To remove them altogether from two of the bedrooms but to loop it to the corner in the study to hang down and provide light but also free up desk space.

So Pendant Lighting – don’t take it for granted people.


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  • KV GREEN HOMES CREATOR PVT. LTD 4th August 2018 at 6:52 am

    amazing. I just love these ways to use pendant lights…

  • Hilary 3rd August 2018 at 8:41 am

    Great article. I’m potty about lighting and pendants in the middle of a room drive me mad!
    I’ve found this one for my cottage – low ceiling to have over our dining table. I hate being able to see bulbs when sat down and they can very unflattering.
    This gives light, statement and can have minimum drop.


  • Sandra 2nd August 2018 at 7:33 am

    Hi Kate good article although I think this definitely means for me that I can’t have a pendant light in my dining room. My cottage has low ceilings – currently light is not over the dining table and want to move it to central position but really struggling on type of light! Do you have any features/ideas on suitable lighting for an old cottage?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 2nd August 2018 at 10:44 am

      It’s tricky – I think you have have a pendant light if you hang it in a corner so that it’s a feature over there and as it will hang low from the ceiling it won’t take up floor space so will make the space uncluttered. If you choose a really good looking one it will turn that corner into a feature in its own right – something different from a floor lamp. That is one way. Otherwise I think you are looking at wall lights – which is what we have done or if the room is big enough – a couple of table lamps on a sideboard. It’s tricky with low ceilings. You can perhaps hide spot lights by the beams – if you have them – and dim them low when you have friends for dinner and pretend the light is coming from the candles on the table.

  • Denise 18th January 2018 at 11:00 pm

    I have had my sitting-dining room wired for two central lights (with ceiling roses – yippeee!) and then one light fitting to go to one side of one of the chimney breast alcoves. I want it low, and shining in front of a large wall mirror, above a console table.

    So far, so good.

    Can I find lights for any of this which (a) I love; and (b) can afford?

    Nope. I fell in love with some lights by this outfit called Ochre – couldn’t find out anything about their prices, then I mentioned their lights at work, and a colleague said “yeah, I bought the arctic pear light for my vaulted hallway – only £7,500”. Only………I felt faint. Turns out that the Celestial Pebble I loved (just one for the alcove) was a mere £2k’ish.

    Anyone got any suggestions for where to look online? I want two quite trad fittings for the ceiling roses, and then one stunner for the alcove/mirror set-up…

    • Denise 18th January 2018 at 11:01 pm

      Oh, and Ochre turn out to be world-famous, for those “in the know”. I am soooooo far from being in the know about anything, sadly….

  • Ursula in Cádiz 18th January 2018 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for explaining about the drop from the ceiling being vital. I have mine like that but hadn’t really thought about why; I just felt it looked better.

  • Jo Williams 18th January 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Kate. Interesting article. What is your POV on combining spotlights with pendant lights? I live in a new build flat which has spotlights exclusively in the hall, bathroom and open plan living space (pendants in the bedrooms which are in OK position and ceilings are pretty generous). We don’t really use the overhead lights in the sitting area as we have lots of task lamps and are planning to add an interesting pendant in the kitchen when we finally get around to putting an island in, so no issues there, but I’d love to change some of the spotlights to pendants in the bathroom and hall, but would doing that to 1 of 3 in the bathroom (can’t really change the ones over the bath/shower I don’t think) and 3 of 5 in the hall (2 would get hit by doors that open into the hall) look odd do you think? Thanks, Jo

  • Kerry 18th January 2018 at 1:03 pm

    This has got me thinking Kate! I was about to order a pendant light for my office/guest room – at the moment there is just a bulb on a flex – but maybe I need to loop three separate lights in to the key areas of the room to make use of it? Gah!! I don’t know now!!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 18th January 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Well it depends if the room is big enough for three lights to start with. Perhaps loop the pendant to where it would be used most – by the bed or over the desk and then get a table lamp for the other part. You don’t say what the third key area is….

      • Kerry 25th January 2018 at 6:53 pm

        The third area is where my drawing board will go, but as they would be controlled by just the one switch I guess this isn’t the best idea…lamps might be the way forward!

  • Ready Assembled Wardrobes 18th January 2018 at 12:04 pm

    This is amazing. I just love these ways to use pendant lights. Thanks for sharing.

  • Melanie 18th January 2018 at 9:16 am

    Ha! I am just working out how to hang some very heavy old french street lights by looping cable away from the centre of the sitting room and kitchen. My ceilings are very low and stippled artex (can’t afford to redo) going to paint them soft dark something, i have plenty of light from wide windows. What do you think!!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 18th January 2018 at 1:35 pm

      Sounds great!Sounds like they are big too so at the sides will be better perhaps as they will be decorative in their own right without taking up too much space in the middle of the room.

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