How To: When and Where to Use Pendant Lights

January is lighting month at CASSON, and we want to teach you what you need to know to brighten up the darkest month of the year.

ferm collect pendants

"Design is defined by light and shade, appropriate lighting is enormously important"

Albert Hadley

Introduction to Pendant Light Fixtures

Our first article in our lighting feature focuses on pendant lights, one of the most useful light fixtures in the designers handbook. 

Whether you hang one over a reading chair, group them in a vaulted ceiling, or place a couple over a kitchen island, pendant lights bring practical drama to any space.

What is a pendant light? Is it the same as a chandelier? 

In modern design parlance, the definitions around lighting have shifted. Some people use pendant to mean 'clean and modern' and chandelier to mean 'fussy'. But both terms have specific definitions. 

Chandeliers and pendant lights both bring lighting down from the ceiling, however a pendant light is a light fixture that hangs down from the ceiling with one chord. A chandelier will have multiple branches and multiple lights. 

Due to the number of bulbs, a chandelier may be better for ambient or decorative light, as opposed to task lighting. 

Why use a pendant instead of a chandelier? 

Pendants are considered by some to be the modern and minimal version of the chandelier, with fewer branches and bulbs. These minimal fixtures still bring light down from the ceiling and puts it closer to your table, favourite chair or countertop. However, like chandeliers they can also be the central overhead light in a room. 

The same pendant could function in both ways, as a task lamp or ambient lighting, with the only change being bulb brightness or colour.  

Because they have fewer lights, a pendant light is tends to be brighter than a chandelier. Thus, these fixtures can play double duty. They can be used to light tasks such as food prep, or reading, or to add ambience. Used as accents, they add dimension and focal points to a space the same way a wall sconce might. 

Try replacing a wall sconce with a pendant. We have noticed some of the most exciting spaces use a pendant instead of a table lamp or sconce to add drama to a space.  How can you use try this look out? You may want to try matched pendants on either side of a bed or sofa. Or try one hanging asymmetrically on one side of a sofa or over an occasion chair.  Depending on your decorating style, balanced and matching may feel more traditional, while only one side may feel more modern or eclectic.  

Where do you put pendants in your house?

Pendant lights are most often thought of as the go-to lighting to hang over a kitchen island, where they help you cook or set the mood for hosting. But they can be used in a myriad of spaces.

For smaller rooms a pendant light can replace a chandelier or keep surfaces clear for a side table. 

For large foyers, hallways, and staircases, especially those with tall or vaulted ceilings, multiple pendant lights can be used to light with drama and scale. 

Small Pendant Lights

  • They can make a great first impression in a foyer or hung in multiples in a stairwell. 
  • Over a desk or reading chair as a statement making replacement for a task or table lamp. 

Large Pendant Lights

  • Hung in the centre of a dining room table for flattering overhead light. Put on a dimmer so lighting can be bright for home work (or work from home), and dimmed for ambiance. 
  • Use for drama in a seating area, especially one with a high ceiling. Take note of site lines to make sure no views or television screens are blocked. 
three wallnut wood junit pendants

How do I choose a pendant light?

Your most important consideration should be scale - too large or too small for the space will feel-off and unbalanced. Just remember the 'rules' were made to be broken, and your own eye (or your designers) will tell you more than guidelines ever could. For a deep dive into design guidelines read this post.

If you are "breaking the rules" make sure whatever you do it looks intentional - which is to say, don't make anything slightly off centre. Don't go slightly too large, but instead make an oversized statement.  Commit to asymmetry, oversized or eclectic. Your designs will thank you. 

If you are "breaking the rules" make sure whatever you do it looks intentional - which is to say, don't make anything slightly off. Commit to asymmetry, oversized or eccentric.

Installing Pendant Lights

What height should I put a pendant light?

When hanging pendant lights in arrays where people will be walking, they should always hang a minimum of seven-feet (2.1 m) from the floor. This means they will hang one-foot down from an eight foot ceiling. Add 3" of cord length for each foot. So an 11" ceiling, would have a 29" cord. 

Over surfaces, like bars, work spaces and tables, pendant fixtures should be 30-36 inches (about one meter) over the surface. For ceilings lower than eight-feet, aim for thirty-inches, for one taller aim for thirty-six. 

Won't somebody think of the children?

Consider sight-lines when hanging your pendant light fixtures. What might work for you (or your contractor/designer) may result in a light shining in the eyes of any shorter housemates, especially when they look up for conversation. To prevent this lower the pendant or look for a diffuse light source, bulb or shade. 

TIP: You’re aiming for a fixture height about 6” above the shortest person who will be using the space. 

tr pendants in a group of three over a chair
shneid cone pendant

How many pendant lights should be in a room?

If you're lighting a room with multiple light sources, try to mix up the types of lamps and fixture. A pendant light instead of a sconce, a floor lamp and a table lamp for example, will provide dimension and focal points for the eyes to travel. 

Lights per space?

If youre lighting one "space" in a room, your number of pendant ligt fixtures will depend on tasks and scale. To take the place of a chandelier you may want to hang a group of 3 or 5 pendant lights. For a bar, or hallway, you want to space pendant lights out evenly so the entire area is lit but doesn’t look cluttered. Read our article about the rules of lighting by room for more guidelines. 

The above fixtures both come with slanted ceiling options

Vaulted or Slanted Ceilings

How do I know if a light fixture will work with my slanted ceiling?

Pendant light fixtures are often the perfect solution to tall or slanted ceilings. The majority will work with a slanted ceiling effortlessly, and many come with long - or easily replaceable - cords to adjust for super tall ceilings. Others, may require special mounting and be less adjustable. Finally, for multi-bulbed hanging lights or chandeliers, the process of installation will require working with a designer and experienced contractor. 


Corded pendant lights are the easiest to use with a slanted ceiling, and luckily, also the most common type of lamp. The mounting can be simply installed on the ceiling and the lamp will hang down straight thanks to gravity. Bonus, their height is also easily adjustable by trimming the cord/wire to the desired length. 

Some Assembly Required 

For rodded pendant lights, or fixtures that suspend the lamp via a stiff rod, more thought is required. Because they are designed to hang straight from the ceiling, adjustments are require. Most rodded fixtures will provide an option of a slanted mount, or you can purchase a slant mount from most hardware stores. If your ceiling slants at a non-standard angle, then slightly more work is required. Talk to your contractor about sourcing a more custom mount. 

The above fixtures both require thoughtful installation 

and customization for use on slanted ceilings. 

Experts Only

For multi-branched or multi bulbed pendant lights, like chandeliers, an expert installer is most likely required, even if the fixture is corded. Because the fixture has been designed with careful balance, weight and form in mind, changing the mount requires careful for with a designer.  

For made-to-order fixtures, make sure to send the full measurements for the space the fixture will hang. It should be as simple as designing the mount to fit your space perfectly. Corded multi-pendant lights will need to be installed thoughtfully be an experienced tradesperson to avoid an unbalanced or even dangerous fixture.

Read our next article for room-by-room advice, and tips for perfect lighting in even small spaces.

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