10 tips for choosing the hanging suspension light of your dreams

Suspension lights, often called pendant lights, are lighting fixtures that hang from the ceiling from any number of different styles of cords, chains or rods.

These are the long-necked option in your ceiling light repertoire and can add sleek, slender aesthetic to your room’s decor. Despite the pendant’s gentle, decorative moniker – these pieces can add as much functional punch or bold styling as you care to embrace in your space.

With a wide variety of designs, materials and configurations available, suspension lights give homeowners a unique opportunity to not just illuminate their space but add an instant transformation touch.

Read on to learn how to choose the right suspension light for your home.

  1. Get the height right

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Above: Fabbian’s Loop suspension lights

Designers say that in order to add the right emphasis, a light must participate in the room. That means you never want to mount your pendant too high or you risk losing impact.

So, before choosing your fixture, measure the floor-to-ceiling height of your preferred spot. If the light will be mounted above a table (such as in your dining room), measure the table-to-ceiling-height.

A good rule to follow is to leave seven feet of clearance from the bottom of the fixture to the floor in a living room or open space. When mounting above a table, leave 2.5 to three feet (30 to 36 inches) of room from the bottom of the fixture to the table. These aren’t hard or fast rules, but offer a general guideline, so feel free to play with the measurements. Be sure to also consider the general height of the guests and residents who will use the space – leaving about one foot of space between a person’s head and the base of the light will leave people feeling the most comfortable.

When shopping, remember that most suspension lights often come with standard or fixed cord/stem length. If these don’t fit with the numbers you’ve pre-determined, ask your lighting consultant whether adjustments can be made. New homes often have higher ceilings than older styles, which means that owners of newer model houses often find standard lengths are too short for their space!

  1. Your table is your light’s best friend

When it comes to choosing the right size and style of over-table pendant light, consider the light and your table as an unbreakable pair. That means the look, feel, weight and scale of the pendant should complement the dining room table over which it will hang – not the room it will hang in.

To make this distinction, bring pictures of and dimensions for your dining table when you are out choosing your light. If your table is long, choose a suspension light that can comfortably span it. If your table is round, choose a suspension light that matches that shape instead. (In this case, the light should be about 12 inches narrower than table.)

If you’ve already fallen in love with a type of light, see whether it comes in a linear version (for long tables) or a round version (for round tables), such as Terzani’s Volver.

Although you don’t want to match your room’s interior, you should still be aware of the effect it will have on suspended lighting. To prevent overly harsh, or overly dim lighting, ask yourself how much light the walls, floors and table will absorb or reflect.

  1. Give your light room to breathe

A suspension light creates negative space around it, so the length and style of cord affects how appropriate the light will look it its mount.

Generally, lights that are wider (horizontally) than they are longer (vertically) lend themselves to shorter cords. Longer lights will not look right if you shorten the cord too much. This is important consider when you want to hang a chandelier over a bed in bedroom, for example, or in a general living area.

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Above: Lambert & Fils’ Beaubien suspension lights

Along these same lines, when hanging your light, make sure you respect the light’s intended look, its visual balance. If you find yourself shortening the light’s suspension cord too much to make room for the required clearance below, then you might have to reconsider your choice.

Sometimes the shape or style of the suspension lends itself more easily to a shortened cord. Others simply don’t look good short. If the latter is the case, consider choosing a semi-flush mounted ceiling light instead. Many designs have both suspended and ceiling versions that provide you with options.

If you find your preferred light you like has no ceiling version, don’t be afraid ask your lighting specialist for a similar-looking substitution.

  1. What’s your light’s assignment?

Before you choose your preferred style, consider what you want the light to do. Some pieces direct lighting downward, which gives more direct illumination, while others point upward, or indirectly, for more diffuse light. Ask yourself which type will you need, or would you prefer?

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Above: Delightfull’s Coltrane suspension lights

If you need task lighting, you will want to find a fixture with strong and direct lighting. If the piece is intended more to add ambient illumination to the room, then a lower light level will be appropriate, and the light source can be indirect.

In some cases, the light’s sole purpose will be to add feature lighting. If this is true, you can be more creative and think more about the look and effect of the piece. For example, clusters of pendants add a dramatic effect, or you can consider lights that created dappled, wall-reflected patterns that could highlight a staircase or a beautifully finished wall.

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Above: Terzani’s crystal Mizu suspension lights

  1. Do you need to dim?

The ability to dim your pendant is also an important question, especially for pieces intended for dining rooms, bedrooms and living rooms. When selecting your preferred style, ask your lighting expert whether it can be dimmed. This ability depends on how the light is manufactured and so this option may not be available for all models.

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Above: Delightfull’s Matheny suspension lights

  1. Alternate views

Your pendant light will be more than just a centrepiece for those sitting under it. So, during your search, consider how a fixture will look from all different vantage points. How it will look when a guest is seated versus standing? How will it look from the front entrance? What about passersby looking through your window? If you’re a condo owner who loves your exterior view, choose a light with a streamlined profile, that won’t obstruct it, such as Marset’s Ginger, Lambert & Fils’s Anitpode, Flos’s Long & Hard or Pablo’s Circa.

  1. LED is A-OK

Despite persistent myths to the contrary, lighting aficionados are not afraid of LED lighting so nor should you be! These days, LEDs are available at warm colour temperatures (2500K to 2700K), which makes them perfect for any room.

LED suspension lights offer many other benefits too. They’re highly energy-efficient, which leads to noticeable electricity cost savings. They also come with lifetime warranties, which means no bulb changes are required. Strongly consider LED bulbs for lights mounted in hard-to-reach spaces, such as those hung from a 16-foot vaulted ceiling.

  1. Delicacy versus accessibility

Be sure to ask how sturdy a light is before you purchase it. If you have installed a delicate glass suspension light in an area where people will be able to touch it (such as in or next to a staircase), and it’s touched, the pieces may swing and break when they hit one another. In these cases, go with a more rigid stem, rather than a cable, to suspend the light.

  1. What’s the weight?

Know the weight of the fixture you’re choosing. If it’s heavy, you might require a bit more reinforcement in your ceiling. If you want a large-scale fixture but know your ceiling won’t be able to support it, consider lights made from lighter-weight materials.

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Pendant lights offer homeowners an easy, effective way to freshen up their space and make it stand out. But you won’t achieve this effect with a mass-produced, average-looking pendant from your local hardware store. Instead, be creative! Look at pieces that have different colours, forms, or materials than the usual. Pick something that showcases your personality to make your space feel uniquely yours.

Ultimately, the best rule to remember when it comes to pendant lights, is to always choose the best-designed, highest-quality piece your budget allows. A well-made suspension light will last a lifetime. It’s also an interior design investment – a highly visible design piece that gives you an easy way to bring your space to life.

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Above: Catellani & Smith’s Lederam suspension light

Come visit our lighting showrooms across Canada for help finding the right suspension lights or pendant lights for your space. Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest pages for more suspension light inspiration.