Right Light for the Right Room

August 01, 2015

Two of the most common questions I receive are about the sizing of a lighting fixture in a room and how high the fixture should be off the floor. So today let’s explore some basic rules of thumb or guidelines for determining size and altitude of a lighting fixture.

When discussing room size, we must consider the ceiling height as well as the floor space. A room is three dimensional, and all three dimensions impact the overall feel of the space. A 14’ by 16’ room with an eight foot ceiling feels very different from the same room with a ten or eleven foot ceiling. How do we determine fixture scale  once we have the room size? First, let’s look at the use of the room. A dining room can easily handle a taller fixture, because it hangs down over the table. Entry halls and dens have very different requirements; people must be able to walk under the fixture without cracking their heads on it. In many entries a door opens directly under the fixture, limiting how  low the lantern or chandelier can hang.

When deciding on the diameter that can be used in a space, try this basic rule: Add the length and width of the space in feet. So our 14’ by 16’ room gives us 30’. With that space, I might use a 30” fixture comfortably. A 12’ by 14’ room would give me a 26” fixture. But this is simply a starting point. The visual weight of a fixture, its density, and the materials used in its production can dramatically impact how large it appears, regardless of its actual measurements. If the lighting fixture is to hang over a table, the size and weight of the table make a big difference. The chandelier should not be more important than the table, any more than it should be insignificant. How high should it hang? From an eight foot ceiling, try thirty inches off the table, which is sixty inches off the floor. Raise the fixture to thirty four inches from a table on a ten foot ceiling. But, again, it is simply a rule of thumb. At all times the height of a chandelier, lantern or sconce is an issue of proportion and balance. There is not one right answer, but instead quite a bit of room for variance. We do not want a light fixture that is stuck on the ceiling with no apparent connection to the seating grouping, or a sconce that sits awkwardly high in relationship to a mirror or furniture piece that it flanks. Trust your instincts. If it looks right, it is right. Ultimately, you are the one who lives with the decision. If unsure, call your architect, designer or lighting consultant. He or she will be happy to help you decide.