Just like a necklace or earrings complete an outfit, chandeliers accessorize and add sparkle to a room. Choosing a chandelier is not like shopping for jewelry, though. There are some mathematical calculations involved and some practical considerations, including scale and wattage.
When selecting a chandelier, size matters. The rule of thumb is to measure the length and width of the room and add those figures. Choose a chandelier with a diameter equal to the sum converted to inches. In the dining room, the chandelier should be about 12 inches narrower than the table, says Joseph Rey-Barreau, education consultant for the American Lighting Association and an interior design professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Where the ceiling is 8 feet high, the bottom of the fixture should be about 30 inches above the tabletop. Add 3 inches for each additional foot of ceiling.
Where there's no table, a chandelier should be 8 feet above the floor so it won't hit people's heads.
In a two-story foyer with a window above the front door, consider centering the chandelier so it is pleasingly framed and can be seen from outside.
Along with proportion, take into account a room's design style and furnishings. Amid traditional decor, an ornamental chandelier, perhaps with tiers and classic crystal drops, would crown the room beautifully. In a modern room, a simpler chandelier works best.
It's a Balancing Act
Keep in mind basic design principles like balance and contrast. For example, "If you have a glass-top table, you wouldn't want a slick iron chandelier – that's too many cool elements. You'd want a warmer material, like wood, or something with a patina," says Lorrie Brown, founder of Lorrie Brown Interiors in Wellington, Fla., and the blog My Design Secrets.
A chandelier's arms, scrolls and finial should complement the rest of the hardware in the room, including doorknobs and hinges, says Laura Thompson, of Laura Thompson Design in Houston.
In a dining room, consider the style and formality of china and other tableware. "A lot of people don't think of tableware as part of the room's decor, but it's always out when you're spending time in the dining room," Brown says. A chandelier should help set them off to best advantage.
Set the Mood
Chandeliers usually give off more light than is needed. Use a dimmer, especially in a dining room, master bath or powder room where softer lighting sets the desired mood, Rey-Barreau says.
Don't expect a chandelier to shoulder the burden of lighting an entire room on its own, however. It should have a supporting cast of lighting fixtures so other parts of the room are sufficiently lit.
Once you choose a chandelier, add complementary fixtures such as sconces and flush mounts. Lighting manufacturers lately have made this easier on consumers by arranging catalogs into "families" of fixtures, Thompson says, and displaying those fixtures in room settings with the sort of furniture and decor that looks best.
The trend in fixture design is to retain elements of the classic chandelier, such as hand-cut crystals, but with cleaner, more modern lines. And bent-tip light bulbs are dimming in popularity.
"It used to be that the most common chandeliers had exposed light bulbs to mimic the idea of burning candles," Rey-Barreau says, "but we're moving further and further away from that. The trend is toward fixtures with fabric or glass shades."