What to Consider Before Hanging Pendant Lights
Suspended from the ceiling, pendant lights are popular fittings, but where’s best to hang them, and what should you know before you do?
Contemporary designs are developing the pendant model, though. ‘Some pendants throw light onto the ceiling and walls, too,’ says Luke, ‘while new, tiny LED lights are challenging how pendants look.’ You will be spoilt for choice when shopping for pendants, so go armed with a little knowledge on where and how to hang them, and what features to look out for.
Professional advice from:
Luke Locke-Wheaton, lighting designer at The Lighting Design Studio
James Poore, creative director at James Poore Lighting Design
Begin by thinking about the space you plan to hang a pendant light in and what you are trying to achieve with it. ‘Work out whether it’s for providing useful task lighting or an essential level of ambient light,’ says James Poore.
He recommends asking these further questions: is the light purely decorative? How big is the space it will hang in? How high is the ceiling? What natural light does the space get? Does the vernacular of the pendant fit in with the rest of the room, and do you want it to blend in or be a statement piece?
‘If it’s providing task lighting, then it will need a downlighting element with a more controlled beam of light,’ says James. ‘If the pendant is providing essential ambient light, over stairs for example, then be sure the light output is sufficient. If it’s purely ambient or decorative, then a diffused or lower light output might be more appropriate. Whatever you need, it’s always a good idea to have some dimming control on the fitting.’
The size of the pendant in the space needs consideration. ‘A small space with a low ceiling might not be suitable for a pendant at all,’ says James. ‘While if the space is vast, with very high ceilings, then a small pendant close to the ceiling would be lost and not only appear proportionally incorrect, but also provide little or no light.’
In a small, low-ceilinged room, a small pendant with minimal drop could work, while in a stairwell, where the vertical floor to ceiling height is huge, a more dramatic pendant with a slender form but considerable drop would work and provide more uniform ambient lighting for the stairs.
‘It sounds obvious, but it’s essential to think about the proportions of the space you’re working in,’ says James. ‘It might be appropriate to have more than one pendant to create more of a statement. Three smaller pendants over a breakfast bar, for instance, might have more impact than one central one.’
Think about the overall light levels in your room when planning in pendants. ‘It’s about building up layers of light,’ says Luke Locke-Wheaton. ‘A uniform wash of light through a room is what you choose for offices or public buildings, but in a home you want a bit of drama and atmosphere, with the light levels dropping off in some areas and big pools of light in others.’
Pendant lights can help with this, creating warm light over tables, breakfast bars or, as here, lounge seating.
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Kitchens and bathrooms can both be very hostile environments, with steam, water vapour, heat and cooking grease in the air. ‘If these rooms are also small, it might not be suitable at all to install a pendant,’ says James.
Check the IP (Ingress Protection) rating of the fitting to see whether it’s suitable for the environment. ‘Remember that cooking grease gets everywhere and is difficult to remove, so if you go for pendant lighting in the kitchen, keep the style of the fitting simple, so it’s easy to clean,’ says James. ‘Otherwise, within a couple of weeks it will look awful!’
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Not all pendants simply send light down onto a surface. ‘Indirect pendants throw light onto the ceiling and walls, too,’ says Luke. These pendants are Artemide’s Castore lights, which create a general wash of light.
‘There are two important considerations when choosing your lights,’ says Luke. ‘Colour temperature and colour rendering.’
Colour temperature relates to the perceived warmth of the light source, which can range from warm (ideal for homes) through to cold (used in offices, for example). ‘It’s measured in kelvins,’ says Luke, ‘and any light with a rating of around 3000K will give out a nice warm tone.’
Colour rendering is about how colours appear under artificial light. ‘It is scored out of 100, with daylight being a perfect 100,’ says Luke. ‘Artificial light is not the full spectrum, so colours can look altered in it, but any score over 80 is good for a home, so check with the manufacturer before you buy.’
Halogen, LED and fluorescent bulbs are the three main options for residential lighting, and all are available in formats that look identical to the traditional lightbulb. ‘Historically, most homes have used halogen bulbs, which are easy to dim,’ says Luke. ‘When planning in pendant lights, we would suggest fitting a standard E27 lamp socket, which will take a basic halogen bulb, but you can also retrofit it with LED fittings.’
Installing pendant lights over a breakfast bar is a safe idea, as this is a fixed piece of furniture. ‘It’s also somewhere that people are not going to walk underneath, so they don’t bang their heads on the lights,’ says Luke.
‘A table, on the other hand, may need to be moved sometimes, or you might buy a different one that’s not the same shape,’ he says. This can mean you are left with a pendant light that has no relationship to the furniture below. To avoid this, aim for flexibility. ‘If you’re hanging a light over a table, one idea is to use ceiling hooks and long cable [as shown here], so that if you move the position of the table, you can also move the light,’ says Luke.
‘Clients often want pendant lights over the table and the breakfast bar,’ says Luke, ‘but we advise them to choose one or the other location to avoid cluttering up the ceiling.’
A single pendant can work beautifully as a feature. ‘A feature pendant is exactly that,’ says Luke. ‘It draws your eye. Be careful about any other lighting you fit or hang alongside it, though. Unless it’s smaller or part of the same range, to complement the feature pendant, the lights will compete for attention.’
Think about how you are going to maintain and clean the pendant. ‘If you need to erect a scaffold tower every time you want to access it, then think about the style of the fitting and whether it will need regular cleaning,’ says James.
He suggests considering fibre optic or LED lights for hard-to-access locations. ‘Fibre optics can have a remote light source away from the pendant in a more accessible location,’ says James, ‘while LED sources have a longer life expectancy than traditional light sources so require negligible maintenance.’
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