Lighting Guidelines and Tips

As I mentioned in my “About” post, I started this journey for a new light because I decided my dining room light was the wrong scale.  I love this light for its shape, the way it looks when it’s lit (it takes on a darker hue), and how it adds a different dimension and gives some relief from all the straight lines in my home.  It’s from Design Within Reach (though I think it’s no longer available).

But it’s actually too small in scale for the room.  That became particularly noticeable after I renovated the kitchen and opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room.    This led me to do some research on what the design guidelines are for lights.  Here’s what I have found.


Dining Room Light
Dining Room Light

Dining Room Light Guidelines

Using the Room dimensions

Measure the length and width of your room, add them together, convert it to inches, and that gives you the correct diameter for the light.


1.  The Length of my dining room is 10’, the Width is 11’

2.  Add them together:  10+11=21’

3.  Convert that 21’ to inches:  21”.

21" is the dimension of the light I need.



Using your Table as a reference

If you want to use your dining room table as the base for estimating how large your fixture should be (especially useful if you have an open floor plan and no definable room), here are the general guidelines.  Your dining room table should extend 6” on either side of the light fixture.


The London Chandelier pictured here is 41" long, and 8" deep.  So, doing the math in reverse, your table should be 41” + 6” +6” = 53” long and 8” + 6” +6” = 20” wide to accommodate this appropriately.

Interestingly when I use this method to determine the best light for my dining room, it's 26".  (The width of my table is 38”, less 6” on either side is 38” – 12”=26”)    This method then gives me a larger light size than using the dimensions of the room to calculate it.  That's where my judgment will have to come into play.


Consider the height

You also need to consider the ceiling height of your room.   This London Chandelier fixture has an overall height of 38”.  The bottom of the fixture should generally be 30”-36” above the table (not in your way while sitting but at eye level while standing).

Given that average dining room table height is 30”, your ceiling height for this fixture needs to be 30” (Table height) + 30”-36” (height to fixture) + 38” (fixture height) = 98”- 104” or 8 feet 2 inches to 8 feet 8 inches.

Lastly, consider the weight of the fixture.  This London Chandelier is 60 lbs, so it’s going to need a very solid installation.

Another option I considered for my light is this Vertigo light from Corbett lighting.  However, since my ceilings are only 8 feet, there wouldn’t be enough room to hang the light which is 18.5” to give it the space it really needs.   I have 69” from the top of my table to the ceiling.  Consider 30” for the space from the light to the table (the lower of the range fits with my sizing), add the 18.5” for the light, and I only have 20” from the light to the ceiling.  At almost the same amount as the height of the light, it seems too short (it definitely seems wrong for the space between the top of the light and the ceiling to be equal to the height of the light.  I would definitely make sure that doesn’t happen).    I have seen some people recommend a dining room pendant needs at least a foot of chain to hang from, which would make this light possible.   That said, overall it’s too dramatic for my space.


Foyer/Entryway Lighting Guidelines

Bubbles glass chandelier

Bubbles glass chandelier

General guidelines for foyer lights is to have it hanging 7’ from the ground.  This particular light comes with an adjustable cord length, so it could be adjusted to your space.  All lights should tell you the standard drop (how much cord comes standard with the light) or its OAH – Overall Height – if it doesn’t have a cord.    I think the same general guidelines would work for a great room as well.   But rules are meant to be broken, so if you love the ceiling light and the diameter is right for your room, I say go for it and adjust the length of the drop of the light (if you’re able).

Some designers advise that for two story foyers with a window that you center it in the window so it can be seen from the outside, but I think that depends on the light and where the window is.  The main thing is to make sure you have a tall ladder, and someone strong enough to hold the lights while you consider them from multiple places and angles.


Sconce Lighting Guidelines

The general rule for wall sconces is 60” from the floor, and 6’-8’ apart.  Consider adding wall sconces to a space if it’s really large, or to provide more light in a hallway.  Sconces add a nice additional layer of lighting to a space.   Sconces don’t need to match your light fixtures in the room exactly, they just need to relate.  For example, if your chandelier is iron, the wall sconces could be iron but in a different design.   Or if your pendant light is a white globe, having wall sconces with white glass but in a square shape could be interesting.    I just wouldn’t mix a very modern light with traditional wall sconces.


Double check the dimensions

Robert Abbey Echo Wall Sconce

Robert Abbey Echo Wall Sconce

Walker Table Lamp

Walker Table Lamp

Pictures of lights can be deceiving, so make sure you double check the dimensions.  This table lamp is one of the most startling I have come across yet.  Based on my impressions of previous lights, I imagined this light to be 10 or 12" high.   It's actually 26" tall.  Quite a surprise when the box shows up.  That would be even more surprising if the chandelier or pendant you receive is twice as big as you think.  So get out the measuring tape and really take a look at the size of your potential light fixture.


Other considerations:

  • Don’t have the light shining in your guests eyes – consider if there is a diffuser at the bottom of the light to keep eyes comfortable (and frankly make it a more flattering light)
  • Consider the other shapes already in your space.  If you have a lot of straight lines in your walls or furniture, think about adding a circular, drum shaped, or otherwise organically shaped fixture.
  • Consider chandeliers in unexpected places – bathrooms, small ones as bedside lights, over a console table, in the corner of a living room
  • Dimmer switches are wonderful, and can really help to set the mood.  They are also not that difficult to install (but make sure you turn off the power first!!), and you don’t need to have a special light to enable it.  It’s all about the switch.

Break the rules sometimes

After all this, I should mention that these are general guidelines, and sometimes rules are meant to be broken.  So if you have a creative brainwave about lighting, I say try it out!  In fact, if you have an unusual light placement, email me a picture and tell me what you were thinking (  I would love to show other people some of your great ideas.