How to Choose the Right Lighting, According to Designers

pendant light in blue and white dining room

Jack Thompson for Hallie Henley Sims

Selecting lighting for a space is a multi-faceted process that takes many different, key factors into account. As designer Marilyn Sygrove explained, "In selecting lighting we take into consideration the following criteria: purpose, amount of light, quality of light, type of fixture, and if it is a decorative fixture. We apply these criteria to all of the projects that we do because the goal is to provide visual comfort to the spaces."

Here, Sygrove and other designers offer step-by-step advice for those looking to outfit their home with fabulous fixtures. Read on for eight tips to keep front of mind during the planning process.

  • 01 of 08

    Measure Your Space

    white pendant lighting in living rooms

    Brantley Photography for Billy Ceglia Designs

    Designer Billy Ceglia shared a key tip to keep in mind prior to making any lighting purchases. "To be sure a ceiling fixture is large enough for your space, especially a chandelier, a quick guideline is to measure the length and width of the room," he said. "Then add them together and convert to inches, and that will give a starting point for the ideal size for a light fixture

    For example, a 36” wide fixture would be ideal for an 20 by 15 foot room." That said, the decision process doesn't stop after putting away the tape measurer. "One also needs to consider the visual weight of the fixture," Ceglia added. "If it's light and airy, it may be better to size up, dark and massive, sizing down might be a better option."

  • 02 of 08

    Think About Both Architectural and Decorative Fixtures

    lighting in closet

    Plot Twist Design

    "There should be a perfect balance of architectural and decorative lighting," noted Barry Goralnick, a designer who has his own line of lighting for Curray and Company and Visual Comfort. Different types of lighting serve different functions. "Integral lighting on the ceiling gives an overall glow, and is best to light art and sculptures and well as the more mundane tasks like cleaning," Goralnick explained. Meanwhile, he added, "table and floor lamps illuminate reading, games, and intimate gatherings." Looking to incorporate some extra pizzazz? "Things like screens and planters can be even more drastic with lighting on the floor," he noted. "All these together create the perfect gestalt of function and form."

    Designer Esther Dormer agreed, noting that primarily, lighting is functional, but "also creates a mood, feeling, and emotional response." Plus, she added, lighting serves an aesthetic purpose. "Lights can be spectacular and the design focal point in a room," she commented. "From ornate chandeliers to simple globe pendants to oversized rustic wood lights, one can create an incredible vibe through lighting alone."

  • 03 of 08

    Incorporate a Variety of Levels of Lighting

    large lantern in dining room

    Bespoke Only

    It's very important when designing a room that you consider having different levels of lighting," Liles Dunnigan, co-founder and designer at The Warehouse Interiors said. This means incorporating lamps, overhead fixtures, and perhaps even dimmers within one singular space. "These levels of lighting are important because it eliminates dark areas in the room, and the different levels create a cozy, warm feel as opposed to being harsh," Dunnigan said.

  • 04 of 08

    Note the Multiple Roles A Room Serves

    pendant lights in kitchen

    Margaret Austin for Cathie Hong Interiors

    Many spaces within our homes serve multiple functions—and this is why dimmers are such a useful feature, Dormer noted. "When you want a romantic dinner versus dining with kids, the lighting should be adaptable," she explained. "Many people don’t have formal dining rooms and want the flexibility of a kitchen counter." This is where recessed lighting with a dimmer or various switches comes in.

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  • 05 of 08

    Determine if Lighting Will "Star" in a Particular Space

    lighting above fireplace

    Charbonneau Interiors

    Keep in mind that lighting won't always be the "star" of a room, as designer Kelly Collier-Clark stated. "If lighting needs to be the star in a space, it’s usually going to be the only source and dramatic in style; like a foyer or a walk-in closet or large wardrobe space," she commented. A stairwell is also an opportunity for what Sygrove calls "'wow' factor lighting—something large scale and bold to fill the space with light and sparkle."

  • 06 of 08

    Play to a Room's Aesthetic

    bright room with pendant light and lamp

    Luke Cleland for Amanda Louise Interiors

    You can either select lighting that directly complement's a room's aesthetic, or veer off the beaten path and purchase fixtures that add some contrast, Ceglia said. "The overall design scheme will inform the style of the fixture and whether it should conform to the architecture of the room, or contrast with it," he explained. "A striking visual can be created by using a Louis XVI bronze and crystal chandelier in an austere contemporary space, provided the proportions of the two work well together, just as an avant-garde fixture can set off the details of a room with more traditional details."

  • 07 of 08

    Think Oversized

    lodge like living room

    Kendall Ristau for Bruce Fox

    When in doubt, a large light fixture is generally a winning solution, according to designers. "In my opinion, small fixtures often feel like an afterthought especially if the room is large or the ceilings are high," designer Bruce Fox said. Designer Hallie Henley Sims agreed. “When it comes to decorative lighting fixtures, don’t be afraid to go big or go home when it comes to scale.”

    That said, balance is still key. Fox said of the above space, "A very large center chandelier might feel lost with the grand ceilings of this space, so four lanterns are placed on the corners of this room to help with overall lighting of the space—one falls over a game table and provides light for the fun that takes place there!"

  • 08 of 08

    Remember That Sometimes, Less Is More

    living room with simple lighting

    Ashley Montgomery Design

    Ceglia follows one adage in particular when it comes to decorative lighting: "When in doubt, leave it out." He added, "Sometimes the surprise of not having a fixture in an expected location like over a dining table can be just the right decision to create maximum drama in a space."