Pendant Lights

come in many forms, and different decorative styles can achieve similar practical effects. For this reason, it’s wise to start by considering what functional type of lighting you want to achieve, rather than the type or aesthetic style of fixture you desire.

The type of illumination you need from your pendant will depend largely on what types of lighting are already available in your kitchen. A space with many large windows may not need much more ambient light during the day, but you may need task lighting for the counter while chopping. A kitchen that already has many pot lights in the ceiling may just need a little decorative sparkle to catch the eye. Consider what other lighting is available, and let your pendant lights help fill in the gaps.

1. Task lights. This is lighting that illuminates a targeted area to help you see clearly while working.

If you want your pendants to help illuminate kitchen tasks like chopping (or to brighten the pages of a cookbook), you’ll want a fixture that aims the light downward, preferably with an open or translucent bottom to let a high degree of light out.

Keep in mind that open-bottom fixtures paired with powerful bulbs can create a harsh spotlight. If you’ve installed a fixture and the light is too severe, consider using a lower output bulb, or install a dimmer to allow for moodier lighting when the chores are finished.

2. Ambient. General lighting that gently illuminates the whole room or area, rather than targeting a spot (the opposite of task lighting), is called ambient lighting.

If you want your pendants to help brighten the whole room, bigger is not always better. A large pendant light with a single bulb won’t add more light than a tiny fixture with the same bulb, so consider using multiple lights spread across the area, or fixtures with multiple bulbs for an even glow.

It’s also worth noting that some are more serious chefs than others. If you tend to use your island more for mingling and snacking than for prep work, draw inspiration from restaurant tables and choose a softer light that creates an intimate mood.

3. Accent. Accent lighting highlights a design feature, such as an art piece or a beautiful material.

Typically, pendant lighting isn’t used as a targeted accent light the way, say, a picture light would highlight a painting. However, if you have a beautiful wood or stone countertop, a wash of light will help bring out the various tones of the material. Pinpoint lights can also help bring out the sparkle in flecked stone or polished metals.

4. Decorative. This is lighting that exists to be a decorative feature: either the fixture itself, the sparkle or shadow it produces, or both.

If you already have sufficient task lights and ambient lights in a room, feel free to choose pendants that glow softly and make a big impression without casting targeted light.

If you want your lighting to really be a star feature, look for lights that cast an interesting shadow on the ceiling. This is especially effective with a slightly high ceiling that deserves to have the eye drawn up.

A Light That Can Do Everything

Of course, it is possible for a light to fit into more than one category. A light can be decorative and engaging while still providing functional downward task lighting and some upward or outward ambient lighting to help brighten the entire space. If you know in advance what roles the light needs to fill, though, you can make sure all your goals are accomplished while selecting a light that also looks great.