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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.