Pendant lights: what they are and their optimal layout - Lifestyle NZ
Pendant lights: what they are and their optimal layout

Pendant lights: what they are and their optimal layout

Looking to instantly elevate the look of a space? Pendant lights offer attention-grabbing illumination and a ton of style, all at once.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

Whether your design aesthetic is contemporary, traditional or somewhere in between, you can find pendants that blend beautifully with the look of your home.

From your kitchen table to your bathroom vanity, these accents offer the ultimate in both form and function. But, it's important to install and arrange them correctly.

Not sure where to begin? Below, we share a few tips on how to use and lay out pendant lights to maximise their appeal.

What are pendant lights?

Pendant lights are ceiling mounted lights that suspend a single light, often hidden underneath a shade. The base of the fixture is mounted to the ceiling and the light drops down vertically from a rod, cord, or metal chain. Sometimes, multiple chains can be grouped together suspending one or multiple pendants.

In this way, pendant lights are different from other household lighting options, including track lights, which feature one linear fixture and several individual light heads.

While pendants may sound simple, rest assured there are many different shapes, styles, and sizes to choose from.

Mini pendant lights, for instance, are usually around 10cm in diameter and offer concentrated light in a small area, such as over a favourite family portrait. Spotlights also work great in areas where mini pendants are appropriate!

You can find pendants in almost every size. The largest ones span 75cm or more across, making a dramatic statement atop a grand staircase.

Pendant Lights are a practical solution to brighten up spaces. Photo Credit: Trenzseater

Using pendant lights at home

In addition to above your kitchen bench, other areas that look great with well-proportioned pendants include:

  • Entryways
  • Stairwells
  • Dining rooms
  • Family rooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Outdoor living areas

You can find pendants designed to accommodate all kinds of lighting needs, including general, task, and area lighting.

General lighting

General lighting, also called ambient lighting, is generally considered the primary source of light in a room.

If you install multiple pendant lights over your dining room table, for instance, these may serve as the central lighting fixture in that space. Or, you may use one or more to brighten up a back hallway.

With these, the light will be evenly distributed throughout the room. Often, they'll also throw some of that light upward, onto the ceiling. This helps illuminate every corner of the space, so users can more freely navigate within it.

Task lighting

Think of the different work areas around your home. This might include the kitchen countertop, your work desk, or even your bed, where you enjoy reading at night.

In all of these cases, task lighting is required.

It’s a more direct, concentrated form of lighting than general lighting. Aside from pendants, you can also use downlights for task lighting. These discreet lights are often recessed into cabinets and ceilings to brighten without obstruction.

If you're using pendants, install them directly above the space you need to illuminate, and they will work to concentrate light exactly where you need it the most.

Area lighting

Area lighting is similar to general lighting. However, the primary difference is that area lighting only illuminates a portion of the room, whereas general lighting brightens up the whole space.

Outdoor pendant lighting is a great example. Installing a few overhead pendants on your back porch is a great way to designate a special conversation space without making your entire backyard bright enough to wake the neighbours.

Often, homeowners will choose to incorporate area lighting in conjunction with general lighting. This way, you can choose whether you want all-over illumination or a warmer, more low-key ambience.

Modern & Elegant Wooden Pendant Light. Photo Credit: Eurotech Lighting

Design principles to keep in mind

When selecting pendant lights for your home, there are a few design tips that can help your final installation shine. Keep these in mind to optimise your layout and bring the look together.

How many pendant lights do you need? 

If you're going to use more than one, then it's usually best to group them in odd-numbered sets. For instance, you can install one, three or five pendants over your kitchen island.

What size pendant lights will you need? 

Allow the dimensions of the room to help guide your decision. You can also compare the size of the pendant's shade to the biggest piece of furniture in the room. You want one that stands out but doesn't demand too much attention or detract from the rest of your decor.

Allowing about 30cm of space around the width of the pendant's shade should offer the balance you need. If you're installing them over a long dining table, measure the width of the table first. Then, subtract 30cm from either side. This way, you avoid accidentally "shrinking" the table with oversized fixtures. Plus, no one will bump their head!

Multi-Light Pendants are great for providing an abundance of illumination in large spaces. Photo Credit: Cult Design

What height should pendant lights hang?

The perfect pendant hanging height varies by room, but the measurements are easy to follow. Let's take a look.

Kitchen island

If you have a smaller island, one pendant light may suffice. In this case, hang it 75cm to 90cm above the island's centre. For larger islands, keep this height but space the pendants out evenly, leaving 45cm on either end.


Are you hanging pendants on either side of your vanity mirror? If so, mount them to hang 45cm inches from the centre of the sink. This is considered about eye level and will help keep shadows off your eyes, chin, and cheeks.


If your home has 2.4m ceilings, hang your entryway pendants at least 15cm from the top, with at least seven feet of space between the bottom of the pendant and the floor. Keep this ratio for taller ceilings, but if yours is higher than four metres, aim for the pendant shade to hit at the midpoint between the floor and ceiling.

Dining table

While exact specifications will vary depending on your table height, most pendants look great hanging about 80cm to 90cm above the tabletop. The lower range is perfect for smaller tables, while bigger ones can accommodate higher lighting.


Replacing your bedside lamps with pendant lights? Hang them 1.25m above the floor for the perfect reading companion.

The elegant and sheer fabric pendant light. Photo Credit: SLOW

All about wattages

How bright should your pendant bulbs be? 

The answer depends on where you hang them and how you plan to use them. For general/ambient lighting, use an incandescent bulb that emits two watts per square foot. If the room is darker, you can amplify this by around 50%.

For task lighting, you want the wattage to increase and be more direct. Around 15 watts per square foot is usually appropriate. Worried that the bulbs will be too bright? A dimmer can add softness and provide mood lighting.

Ace your pendant lighting design

Pendant lights can be intimidating, but they don't have to be. When you know how to place them and where to use them, you're already halfway finished!

The next part is finding the perfect style to make it feel like home. Will you go metal and industrial, or are you drawn to warmer copper or wooden touches? There's no wrong answer so enjoy shopping for the perfect one!

Looking for more interior design advice you can trust? How about professional services or top-quality products? We've got it all, so join our platform today.

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