Chandelier Buying Guide
Chandeliers bring beauty and drama to your home while adding valuable overhead lighting to your space. Once reserved for entryways and formal dining rooms, these elegant additions have become fixtures in living rooms, home offices, bedrooms and even bathrooms.
With so many sizes, shapes and styles of chandeliers to choose from, here are points of consideration to help you navigate your options:
- Room, Purpose & Lighting Need – study the room, placement in that room and how you use the space, plus think about how much and what type of light is needed.
- Size & Scale – look at the size of your room, type of furnishings in the room and what furnishings the chandelier will hang above and beside.
- Height – the distance of the chandelier from the ceiling, the floor and furnishings it hangs above as well as the height of the fixture itself.
- Style, Shape & Finish – what type of chandelier are you drawn to and what works with your current room decor?
Let’s look at each of these factors in more detail.
Room, Purpose & Lighting Need
As you look at the room for your new chandelier, think about the different ways you will use the space and what your overhead lighting needs will be. Do you need bright direct lighting, soft ambient lighting that fills the space or dramatic upward lighting that bounces off of the ceiling?
Consider how many bulbs the chandelier holds and what wattage to determine how much light it will emit. Additionally, the style and material of shade or covering can affect how much of that light reaches you. Does the chandelier offer direct light, reflected light or is the light filtered through frosted glass covers.
Many rooms may have varied lighting needs. For instance, in the dining room you will want low light for romantic dinners, bright light for holiday gatherings and medium light for everyday meals or family game time.
Pro tip: add a dimmer switch so that you can adjust the brightness and set the perfect lighting levels for any occasion.
Size & Scale
When determining the size and scale of a chandelier for your room, a rule of thumb is to add the length and width of the room in feet and choose a chandelier that is about that same diameter in inches. For instance, if your room is 12 feet by 14 feet (12 + 14 = 26) then you would be looking for a chandelier that is about 26” wide. Some ranges include:
- Small rooms (up to 10’ x 10’) ~ 17” – 20” in diameter
- Medium room (from 11’ x 11’ to 14’ x 14’) ~ 22”– 28” in diameter
- Large room (over 14’ x 14’) ~ 28”– 48” in diameter
You will also want to consider the chandelier scale in relation to the other furnishings in the room. If your chandelier will hang above a dining table, the width of the chandelier should fall between two-thirds to three quarters of the width of the dining table.
And make adjustments based on the style and stature of the piece you are looking at. Heavy and/or complex chandeliers have a larger visual impact and look larger than their measurements while delicate and simple designs have a smaller impact.
There are two factors involved with height: the height of the chandelier itself and the height that you hang your chandelier.
In general, the height of your chandelier in inches should be about 2 1/2 – 3 times the height of your room in feet. For instance, if you have 10 foot ceilings then you should look for a chandelier that is 25 – 30 inches tall.
How high to hang a chandelier:
- Above a table: 30-34 inches
- In open walking spaces (entryway, hallway, etc.): 7 feet or more above floor
- In a bedroom – 30-34 inches over a dresser or night stand, 7 feet from the floor over a bed or open area
- In a bathroom: at least 3 feet from a tub, or 8 feet high if above the tub
When hanging your chandelier, always want to take into account people’s movement though the space and whether it will be over a table, counter or other fixed furnishings. Typically when mounted above a dining table, a chandelier should be about 30 - 36 inches above the surface of the table. This leaves adequate room for movement below and helps ensure that you won’t bump your head when getting up from or leaning across the table. If you are tall or may have reason to relocate the table frequently you may need more clearance so hang the lamp on the high end or even a few inches higher.
Style, Shape & Finish
Chandeliers can be found in any decor style from traditional to modern. Whether you are looking for an elegant addition or a rustic accent, finishes can make all of the difference. Crystal or gold can provide a formal look; iron can provide an old world or industrial aesthetic. Polished chrome is popular in modern pieces. Frosted glass can soften and filter the light while providing a transitional or contemporary vibe.
Popular shapes are varied and continually evolving. Many shapes and styles can be mixed to create exceptional pieces. Here are some commonly found chandelier shapes:
Candelabra – elegant and often traditional in design, these chandeliers have a branched style base that showcases multiple candle style lights.
Shaded – whether traditional or contemporary, shaded chandeliers feature frosted glass cups or fabric shades that surround each individual light.
Center bowl – providing indirect and ambient light, center bowl chandeliers feature a translucent or opaque bowl that contains the lights. The bowl lets filtered light through and stronger light is projected up to the ceiling.
Drum – often offering a streamlined or minimal aesthetic, drum chandeliers have one large shade that surrounds all of the lights.
Crystal – glass crystals reflect light and send sparkles throughout the room. Some crystal chandeliers are completely covered in crystals and others have just a few.
Sputnik – named after the satellite that launched the Atomic Age and featuring distinctly mid-century modern styling, Sputnik chandeliers are composed of multiple arms that each extend to support an individual, uncovered bulb.
Mini – smaller in stature, petite proportioned mini chandeliers work well in bathrooms or in pairs flanking a room fixture to provide balance and symmetry.
Empire – this traditional chandelier is nearly always made of crystal and is defined by its shape. The top portion is a cone shape and below it is a bowl or inverted bell shape. The light is a series of crystals or small lights.
Waterfall – this contemporary style contains glass or crystals that appear to drip down from the top.
Cage - The lights are surrounded by an open cage, often of metal. When the cage is circular it can be referred to as a globe chandelier.
Now that you know the guidelines, don’t be bound by rules. If you want to make a bold dramatic statement, play with scale or style. Consider all factors together, for instance a slightly larger scale a delicate candelabra chandelier still won’t overwhelm the space. A more substantial crystal chandelier may feel too heavy in a streamlined modern space if you go too big but will work well in a formal room with other pieces that also have weighty impact.
For more on chandeliers and using lighting to enhance decor, check out these articles: Using Lighting as an Accent Piece - Unique Chandeliers, Lighting Tips, Layered Lighting for Comfort and Ambiance.