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How to choose the right kitchen pendants.

Updated: May 17, 2021

Often times when we see great kitchen designs, the first element we notice are the pendant lights! Whether understated or bold, kitchen island pendants can make or break a design and there are so many things to consider when choosing the right one.

First and foremost to consider, is how much light there is currently in the space. Look at all of the light: natural, recessed can lights, light from other sources nearby etc.. then let your pendant lights help fill in the gaps.

The directional source of the natural light in your kitchen also plays a role in the amount of light and the undertones emitted within the space. For example if your kitchen is positioned where it receives the majority of its’ light from the North, the light will have cooler undertones and may require you to choose a warmer lightbulb, depending on your goals for the space.

What Type of Light and for What Purpose?

So let’s dive deeper into the type of lighting and its’ intended purpose. Lighting comes in four basic forms, and all four can apply to your kitchen: task, ambient, accent and decorative.

1. Task lights. This is lighting that illuminates a targeted area to help you see more clearly while working, such as chopping vegetables or reading a recipe from a cookbook. Task lighting aims the light downward and can create a spotlight effect, depending on the strength of the bulb chosen. You may want to consider a dimmer switch to control this effect.

2. Ambient. General lighting that gently illuminates the whole room or area, is called ambient lighting.

If you want your pendants to help brighten the whole room, you may want to choose a larger shade where the light is dispersed outward. However, keep in mind the material of the shade and its’ shape to determine how the light will be distributed. If your goal is more ambient light you may want to consider multiple lights spread across the entire area, or fixtures with multiple bulbs for an even ambient glow.

3. Accent. Accent lighting highlights a design feature, such as an art piece or a wall décor.

Typically, pendant lighting isn’t used in this way, however, if you have a beautiful wood or stone countertop, a wash of soft light will help highlight them and bring out the various tones in the material.

4. Decorative. This is lighting that exists to be a decorative feature, say the icing on the cake, bling in the room or the primary focal point. The lighting can be decorative in nature by the sparkle or shadow it produces, its’ sheer size, shape, unique materials or general asthetic of the fixture.

If you already have sufficient task lights and ambient lights in a room, feel free to choose pendants that glow softly and make a big impression without casting targeted light.

And if you tend to use your island more for mingling and snacking than for prep work or tasks, choosing a decorative, softer light that creates an intimate mood might be the way to go.

Of course, it is possible for a light to fit into more than one category. A light can be decorative, while still providing functional downward task lighting and some upward or outward ambient lighting that brightens the entire space. However, if you know in advance what role/s the light needs to fill, you are able to ensure all your goals are accomplished while selecting a light that also looks great.

What Height is Right?

There are two approaches to determining what height to place your lights, and they again rely on the primary functional role of your pendants.

As a general rule of thumb, pendants in a space with 8’ ceilings are usually hung 30-36” from the bottom of the pendant to the countertop. Keep in mind that the size of the pendant must be taken into consideration here, as often times this height can place them somewhat in the line of vision, which is not an issue if the pendants are slim. However, if you have larger pendants you may want to hang them a bit higher, although generally you don’t want to hang them any higher than 12-18” above the counter. Also keep in mind the ceiling height, with every foot of additional height, add approximately 3” to the above measurement.

You may also want to consider the height of those living in the space and the intention of the lighting. For example, if the sink is in your island and the intention is for ambient lighting you may want to hang the lights higher so as not to obstruct your field of vision when conversing with others. However, if the intention of the light is for task lighting, you may want to lower the pendants so that you are able to clearly see the task at hand.

If bright bulbs are hung higher, keep in mind that you may be able to see inside the cover, even up to the bulb, using a long, narrow shade opening that won’t expose the bulb from as many angles, or supplement the task lighting with other sources. If it is a larger pendant, hung high, you may want to choose an interesting finish on the inside of the visible shade for added drama.

What About the Spacing?

As far as spacing the pendants over your island here are a few general guidelines.

· If lighting a short island (6′ to 7′ wide), use two pendants that are at least 30” apart and equidistant from the center point of the island.

· In addition to the above you’ll want to measure the width of your island and subtract by 12 to determine the max overall width of your pendants. In other words, you want at least 6” spacing from the edge of counter on either side to the widest outside part of the pendant or shade.

· So a 6’ island (72”-12”= 60”, 2 pendants spaced 30” apart, 60”-30”=30”, which means your pendants should not be anymore than 15” each).

· For example, when lighting a larger island with three pendants, hang one directly over the center of the island, then space pendants about 30” apart (keeping in mind that you want the outside of the pendant to be at least 6″ from the edge of the island)

· When hanging multiple pendants, the spacing will be determined by the diameter of the pendant. Ideally, you want the space between each pendant to be at least the same as the width or diameter of each fixture

· At a minimum, space pendants at least two feet (24″) apart

· If you choose one long pendant, it should be hung centered with the center point of the island and take up no more than ⅔ or the island

· As far as the size of the pendant, there’s a bit of quess work here and you’ll have to use your eye as a judge in choosing pendant sizes that are on scale with your island and kitchen size (i.e. a large kitchen island should have large pendants and vice versa).

I hope this makes your light shopping just a bit easier! Happy pendant shopping!

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