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The Best Way to Light a Dining Room

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

Even if your dining room is more like a breakfast nook—or more like a card table smushed up against the wall—you’ll need to find a way to light it unless you like eating in the dark. True, you could just screw a bulb into the ceiling and call it a day, but what would be the fun in that when there are pendants and chandeliers and flush-mounts to consider? We turned to designers Russell Groves and Sam Allen to hear their best strategies for lighting a dining room, from what to keep in mind when shopping for a fixture to tips for hanging it up just right.

When Shopping for a Fixture

Mirror the Shape of the Table

“They don’t have to be a direct geometrical correlation, but there should be some proportional consideration,” says Groves. A long or unusually large chandelier would obviously overpower a short table, though that doesn’t mean that they need to be the same style.

Don’t Be Afraid to Customize Your Shades

A reflective material inside the shade will help cast light back down towards the table, Groves points out, while perforated shades will turn any bulb into a twinkly light (if that’s your prerogative?)—and that’s just the start of what they can do. “Textured fabrics like raw silk will add a beautiful warmth and shadow to a room,” Groves says, but you might prefer a more directional cast. “An opaque shade wouldn’t give you a lot of glow in the room but would put more on the table,” he says. Just because a fixture has shades you’re not into doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line. Swap them out!

Consider Less Traditional Fixtures

From paper lanterns to pendant lights, the options certainly don’t stop at chandeliers. Groves suggests creating a constellation effect by hanging a group of lights, or by placing a floor lamp placed beside the table rather than mounting a fixture at all. Maybe you’re devoted to crystal (understandable, as Groves says, “it’s been around for hundreds of years for good reason”), in which case consider a more modern shape fashioned from the traditional material.

When Hanging It

Don’t Hang It Too Low

Too high and a ceiling fixture might look constrained, but too low and you won’t even be able to see your guests around it. “When you’re seated, you don’t want [the fixture] to be in your face—the same way everyone gets annoyed when flowers are in the way,” Groves says.

Install a Dimmer

Designer Sam Allen feels strongly about the worth of a good dimmer: “If your dining room chandelier is not hooked up to a dimmer, call an electrician right now. I mean it. Don’t even finish reading this—call your electrician first.” Groves echoes this sentiment in expressing a preference for warm, dim lighting in a dining room. “To me, chandeliers should mmic candlelight.”

Supplement the Light if it’s Too Soft

If you end up with nice, warm candlelight over the table, you might need to add sconces or down lights to supplement the glow when the room is used for anything other than an intimate dinner.

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