When my husband and I renovated our kitchen and dining area, the very first item we bought for the new space — months before construction actually began — was a pendant light to suspend over the dining table. The George Nelson saucer lamp, picked up on sale at a Design Within Reach store, is a modern classic, and it turned out to be a smart buy. In the finished space, the large, sleek fixture hovers elegantly above our hand-me-down dining table and chairs, elevating the look of the whole room, like a diamond pendant worn with a T-shirt and jeans.
We’re not alone in being drawn to the light. The past few years have seen many more homeowners making bold choices and spending a bit more cash on lighting, said Susan Arnold, lighting designer at Wolfers, which has showrooms in Allston and Waltham. “People are looking to make a statement and have fun with it. We’re selling a lot of pieces with bling in them, a little sparkle, a little glitter. It’s eye candy.”
Of course, the archetypal dining room crystal chandelier is still popular, but showrooms and websites overflow with other statement-making options of all types: glimmering high-tech designs, brawny industrial models, and handcrafted creations of wood or wicker. The dizzying number of choices can be intimidating — but, along with paint, a new fixture may be the easiest and least expensive way to update a room. “I tell people it’s like jewelry,” Arnold said. “You shouldn’t think you’re going to put it on and it’s going to be there for ever and ever.”
As with all accessories, the key is choosing the right piece and the proper spot. Boston-area designers share their pointers for using — without overdoing — fixtures that add a bit of brilliance to a home.
Raise your game
When making decor choices, Rachel Reider
, a Boston-based interior designer, said many of us focus on the bottom third of a room, where the major furnishings sit: “Sofas, chairs, floor coverings —
Reider put that principle to work in the powder room of a Chestnut Hill home, adding a wide border of floral wallpaper just below ceiling level, then hanging a pair of bulbous silver pendants. Both work to shift the focus toward the room’s upper reaches. “It was a pretty stark bathroom, but with those two pendants and the wallpaper, it really changes,” Reider noted. For homeowners who are a bit intimidated by dramatic fixtures, a bathroom might offer a chance to splash out. “It’s not a space that you’re in all day long, so it’s easier to take chances on a powder room, and it’s nice to have a little surprise for your guests,” Reider said.
Go big and bold
Boston-area dwellings can lean toward the traditional and the muted, but a light fixture can offer even the most conservative homeowner an opportunity to reveal a vibrant personality. Kelly McGuill , a Walpole-based interior designer and stylist, advises selecting a piece that’s a dramatic departure from the other elements in the room. “I love to add a shiny fixture to a space that has a lot of wood or dull surfaces or introduce brass into a space with a lot of black,” McGuill said. “Contrast is what makes a home come to life. It’s an unexpected wow that works.”
“As long as the fixture is not competing with something else, then you can go as bold as you like,” Stephanie Horowitz, principal of Boston’s ZeroEnergy Design, advised. Keep the focus on a single attention-grabbing piece and complement it with other, more subdued fixtures, she said. In a South End loft, Horowitz’s client chose an intricate pendant by Filipino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. In the large, open layout, the airy globe, comprised of tiny figures sculpted in metal, provides textural contrast to the clean-lined space and helps define the dining area.
Keep sightlines open
When shopping for a fixture, it’s essential to consider the surrounding space. If the room features lovely views or plentiful natural light, Reider said, “look for an open-framework design, so it doesn’t stop your sightline. A fixture can be impactful, but if it’s open, it won’t feel like too much mass.” For a windowed dining alcove in the Chestnut Hill home, Reider chose an open-work globe pendant made from woven wood strips. The graceful, organic fixture has definite presence but still defers to the natural world beyond the glass.
For her own home, McGuill installed a pair of pendants (E.F. Chapman from Visual Comfort & Co.) above her dining table. Because of their open design, the large pieces worked perfectly, even though the room isn’t vast and the ceiling isn’t towering, she said. “Sometimes you can go bigger and not feel like a fixture overwhelms the space. The key is that it doesn’t block the flow or overpower. Coming up with the right balance is important.” She loves their reinterpretation of the lantern shape: “It has the yin and yang, the modern and the traditional.”
Hold a dress rehearsal
Deciding precisely where and how high to hang a fixture can be another daunting challenge. “I hang lights twenty-nine to thirty-three [inches] above a table or surface, and then eyeball with suspended lights according to ceiling height,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a designer in Wellesley.
Do-it-yourself decorators can look online for standard heights for hanging fixtures, but the rules might not apply in today’s varied, open spaces. Instead, to visualize how a piece will work in a room, designers often create mock-ups. It’s a trick any homeowner can use, McGuill said.
“It’s hard for people to feel confident in something that’s a lot bigger than they’re used to seeing, so we’ll take something that’s the same size, like a balloon or one of those big bouncy balls,” she said. “Or we’ll make a template, very makeshift with cardboard and painter’s tape, and have someone hold it up.” Getting a real sense of scale and positioning can be reassuring.
Add many points of light
That statement fixture will be the star of your room, to be sure, but it will need a cast of supporting players; after all, lighting is a practical necessity as well as a chance to show your style cred. “A bold fixture may be sculptural and a piece of artwork, but it may or may not be functional in terms of throwing light on a space,” Horowitz noted. “So you may want to pair a piece that plays a decorative role with more functional lighting.”
Recessed lights, flush-mount ceiling fixtures, sconces, under-counter strips, or other secondary light sources can fill in the dark spaces. And don’t forget standing pieces. “Lamp lighting is critical for adding warmth, a sense of coziness,” Rosenfeld said.
For a room that works well, illumination should be layered in a thoughtful fashion. “From a practical standpoint, lighting warms and creates atmosphere and mood,” Rosenfeld said.