AUGUST 2010: Pendants Add Panache

Oct 28th 2015 Staff

Here's How to Use Them to Put Your Home in the Best Light

You've seen pendants attractively illuminate stunning kitchens in home décor magazines and TV shows, but perhaps you've been shy about trying the technique yourself. The American Lighting Association (ALA) offers the following tips for selecting and placing pendants in your home.

The two most common pendant lighting mistakes homeowners make are not placing them at the proper height and not installing enough. "Our relationship to most pendants occurs when we are standing up. Therefore, each should be mounted so that the bottom of the shade is approximately 66 inches above the floor. At that height, it is possible to look across the room below the pendants while they are low enough to create a dramatic focal point," explains Joe Rey-Barreau, education consultant for the ALA and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky's School of Interior Design.

"If the shade is not very deep and there is seating at the kitchen island or peninsula, it might be necessary to install the pendants a few inches lower, say 60 inches above the floor," says Rey-Barreau. "This is because shallow shades allow us to easily see the bulb inside when we are looking across the room and can cause glare."

The general recommendation is for one pendant to be placed at every two feet of counter space. "For instance, a six-foot island would require three pendants to adequately cover the area," says Rey-Barreau. In that example, one pendant would be mounted in the center and the other two would be placed roughly 20 inches on either side.

When it comes to selecting which type of pendant you need, style isn't the only criteria. "The first decision should be whether the pendants will be the primary source of light," says Jeff Dross, senior product manager for Kichler Lighting. "If an adequate layer of general illumination is already in the room, pendants can be selected purely for aesthetic purposes. If they will be the only light in the area, the placement and selection must be more deliberate," he cautions.

The best advice is to visit your local lighting showroom for guidance. The ALA has a nationwide list of accredited experts that can be found on its website: Sitting down with a certified lighting consultant (CLC) or Lighting Specialist (LS) in your area will eliminate all guesswork and make the buying and installation process simple. For example, they can help determine which light source – halogen, LED or compact fluorescent – is ideal for your kitchen.

"If the pendant must perform double-duty, the lighting professional will likely recommend a fixture that has medium-based bulbs with larger wattages," Dross says. "As the use of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) increases, a diffuser that covers this type of bulb completely should be considered. With the inevitable discontinuation of incandescent bulbs, a CFL will ultimately find its way into this socket, so planning ahead can save grief later on."

The size of the pendants can also impact the spacing, according to Dross. "If thin, narrow pendants are selected, you might prefer the addition of one or two extra fixtures than you would have if a wider diameter was chosen," he says. "I like odd quantities of pendants over a counter or island; I think they balance better." Dross concurs with Rey-Barreau's rule of thumb of suspending the middle fixture at the center-point with the others equidistant from the center. "Spacing from 12 to 24 inches will depend on the size of each pendant," Dross notes.

Does it matter what the pendant is made of? Apparently not, according to these experts. It's all a matter of personal taste. Glass is currently the most common material used for pendants, followed by spun metal. "White or off-white colored shades will complement any decorative or interior design theme," says James McMahan, vice president and general manager of WAC Lighting. "Glass styles are offered in a broad spectrum ranging from a neutral color palette that blends into the surroundings to the more vibrant, color-rich pendants that steal attention."

Rey-Barreau makes an additional distinction. "If the pendant will be providing the general lighting for the space, it is important to select a shade that is translucent but not so dark that it prevents light from emanating horizontally. Another important consideration is that the bulb outline should not be readily visible – especially if it's a compact fluorescent," he says.

If metal is more your style, Dross has some suggestions. "Today, we are seeing a split in preferences. Bronze is on one side and silver is on the other. While the rule is not hard and fast, bronzes are typically used in more traditional or transitional spaces, while chromes and nickels are perfect for contemporary settings," says Dross. "For the foreseeable future, both metal families will be popular, but there will be a growing demand for the shiny finishes instead of matte."

ALA-member lighting showrooms offer a wide assortment of pendant styles, finishes and bulb options. To talk to a professional lighting expert about pendant lighting for your home, call or visit an Hortons showroom near you.

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