How to Choose Ceiling Lighting

Ceiling lights are a key player in room illumination.


Hanging pendants and recessed lighting in open kitchen and dining room area

Ceiling lights provide reliable illumination for any room -- given you’ve chosen appropriately. Whether you want to place a dimmer switch in your afraid-of-the-dark daughter’s bedroom, or a fancy chandelier in the kitchen, ceiling light shopping can be a difficult elimination process. Here, we tell you what to look for and what to leave behind by shining a light on just a few of the hundreds of options available for purchase. Consider style, size and the mood you’re trying to create and get ready to open your eyes to a brand new space.

Types of Ceiling Lighting

Because there are so many ceiling light options, knowing the type of fixture your room will facilitate best will help you narrow the field. Here are a few main types for your consideration.

Chandeliers

Chandeliers are generally best in kitchen, dining, or living rooms, where they can be noticed and admired. There are countless designs, from basic to large and elaborate and from simple crystal to ornate gold. The defining factor of a chandelier is its multiple light sources, which often hang or stand around a central stem or around a chain hanging from the ceiling.

Island

Island light fixtures hang from the ceiling, often with a single light at the end of a single stem. They may be grouped for added light (meaning increased visibility) and aesthetic purposes. The island light’s chief characteristic is that the point at the end shines downward, creating total illumination of a specified area. They are especially useful as task lights for spaces like the kitchen island.

Track Lighting

Track lighting is similar to island lighting, in that both light types are designed to shine on a specified area. However, track lighting is much more versatile in function. With arms that pivot and adjustable placement along a metal track (which may be a straight line, a circle or a spiral), track lights can be easily manipulated to direct light to a different specified area. Because they are meant for utility rather than style, it can be difficult to find a track light that perfectly matches those unusually colored features in a room.

Pendant

A pendant light, in contrast to a chandelier, only has one light source, but the source may require more than one bulb. In style, pendant lights tend to be simple, though decorative designs and finishes are available for purchase. Because of their simplicity, pendants are ideal for placement in foyers or hallways, where they may complete their function and remain aesthetically inconspicuous.

Flush Mount

Flush mounted ceiling light fixtures do not feature a chain or central stem ceiling attachment, meaning they are very inconspicuous. Generally used for function, rather than as a style enhancement, flush mounted fixtures are designed to blend in with the décor of the home (think white ceiling, white light casing). Semi-flush mounted fixtures do hang a minimal amount, making it easier for the user to change a bulb when necessary.


Recessed

Four-light track lighting over TV and artwork

Recessed ceiling lighting is popular in commercial buildings and homes with a modern flare. These lights are usually found in groups, such as three small lights in one hallway. In bathrooms, recessed lights eliminate some fear of water and electric shock.

The Feeling of the Ceiling - Ceiling Light Styles

While most homeowners prefer their home exhibit a unified appearance, switching up the décor for each room provides exciting variety and visual stimulation. Your personal ceiling light style choice depends entirely on aesthetic preference and in this case, the beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder. Many of the most popular styles are inspired by different design eras. We’ve listed some, but be sure to shop around before making any style decisions.

Arts and Crafts

The Arts and Crafts style features simple, straight lines and natural materials, like copper, mica and wood. It emphasizes the importance of craftsmanship, mainly including designs that are handmade.

Decor chandelier over the brick fireplace.

Art Deco

The Art Deco style is abstract and urban, emphasizing curves and contrast. Art Deco models usually feature synthetic materials like bakelite, but can be found in many light types, designs and materials.

Colonial

The colonial style is known for its unparalleled simplicity and practicality. If your house or space features a minimalist style, the refinement of a colonial style ceiling light may be just the right enhancement.

Three colonial-style lights hanging over marble kitchen island.

Mission Style

Mission style pieces, like Arts and Crafts pieces, feature simple, clean lines. The formal, strong style is revealed in boxy shapes and warm colors. Some mission pieces feature a softer appearance, making use of round glass housings. This style is available in island lights, chandeliers and pendant lights.

Hanging ceiling light with black shade and reflective glass pendants over plate of food.

This Little Light of Mine

Size is an extremely important factor in choosing a ceiling light fixture, because it will affect both function and appearance. The size of the room should influence your fixture choice. To determine the diameter of your perfect ceiling light, measure the room’s width in feet, double it and stick an “inches” at the end of that number. For example, if the width of your room is 10 feet, the diameter of your fixture should be 20 inches. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all light fixtures—it’s mostly a standard for choosing chandeliers.

The height dimension of a fixture is also important. For flush mounted fixtures this is not a concern, making them ideal for rooms with low ceilings. Other fixtures should hang at least seven feet above the floor for optimal light and an aesthetically pleasing appearance. When the light is to be hung above a table, it should be 30 inches higher than the tabletop.

Geometric chandelier hanging over living room with view outside.

Where Will You Let It Shine?

Consider the exact placement of your new ceiling light fixture. In a dining room, centered over the dining room table will provide the most even light. The same is true of a living room and its sitting area. Track lights have the potential for adjustment, but placement is still important. Think about whether the light will hit each point of the room you would like to illuminate when adjusted. If a hallway track light might point into a bedroom when accidentally adjusted incorrectly, it’s probably not the perfect place for the fixture.

Hanging outdoor pendant beneath covered brick walkway.

Other Considerations

Some light fixtures, especially chandeliers, cannot use standard bulbs. Consider purchasing extra specialty bulbs at the time of your initial purchase so replacing them will be a painless process later. Choose the wattage of your bulbs based on your electric box requirements and how bright you want the room to be.

Dimmer switches are a great solution to extra brightness. With a dimmer, you can use the controls (either a knob, switch or remote) to increase or decrease the intensity of the light. A dining room chandelier can be dimmed to set the mood for a romantic dinner, while a flush mount hallway light can be dimmed for overnight use.

Decorative chandalier hanging over bathtub surrounded by white linen curtains.

Ceiling Light Costs

Some recessed lights are as cheap as $12. Other fixture types, especially semi-flush, can also be inexpensive, starting at $30. Most high quality fixtures range in price from $100 to $250, but almost any type can be purchased for less. More decorative pieces made with better materials or craftsmanship will cost more than $250. Chandeliers are generally the most expensive fixture type due to their ornate designs and complexity. Still, a $30 chandelier isn’t hard to come by. If you are interested in a large, crystal chandelier, you may spend over $5000.

Fancy chandalier over billiard table with window view overlooking city.

The Bottom Line

Ceiling lighting can be suitable for any space, the bedroom, the bathroom, a commercial office—even the patio. To create the perfect moods and enhance visibility, choose your fixture carefully, considering placement, size, style and type before making any decisions.