Aesthetic Lighting Help

How Big is Too Big?

Simply add chain!
Photo by Dids on

The Wall Street Journal asked the question, “Are Massive Lights the Next Big Thing?” in a January 8, 2022 article. In the story, radically oversized lighting was discussed, such as a 90” sisal pendant that oddly enough was dwarfed in the accompanying photo, by a huge room with 11’-0” ceiling heights. Personally, I think this was a case of a reporter jumping on a unique situation and turning it into a trend. It did, however raise the very real question of lighting size.

A quick search on the internet will deliver some very solid and consistent size recommendations for lighting size.

  • Add the two lengths of the room together to arrive at a minimum diameter (in inches) for a dining room chandelier.
  • Linear chandeliers should be between 1/3 and ½ the length of the table below.
  • Front porch lights should be between 1/5 and 1/6 of the door size.

I use these numbers, too…as a starting point. I then typically ignore them and think about the whole room, the size of the table and the height of the humans who occupy the space.

With those parameters understood, let’s unpack this reporter’s perception for a moment and think about when “big” (or bigger) could actually work in a design.

Dining Room

I always lean toward a larger chandelier than any calculation suggests. Most dining room tables are 30” wide, but if a larger one is used, that becomes a visual excuse to go bigger. 36” wide? Use a 36” diameter chandelier. A room that can hold a wider table can surely accept a larger chandelier. A 5’-0” to 6’-0” diameter or square table can also easily accommodate a larger chandelier.

Consider too, the ceiling height. Larger should be considered in the verticality as well. 12’-0” ceiling demand some vertical attention. Fill that space with stretched and elongated chandelier designs.

Squares contain more actual area than a round, so simply choosing a 32” square luminaire over a 32” diameter alternative will give you more mass and a bigger presence.

Dining rooms remain a showplace in a home. Allow them to earn that regard with majestically sized lighting.


As we move away from two-story entrance foyers, we still need a dynamic introduction to the home. A one-story home with 10’-0” or even 12’-0” ceilings cannot accommodate a hanging chandelier, but a huge semi-flush, stretched across the ceiling can elevate that space. Unfortunately, not a lot of luminaire manufacturers build oversized semi-flush units. I suspect, if no one asks for one, and they can’t sell the ones they’ve made, there is a good reason for the void. I’d love to see a reverse of that trend.

Until more are made available, I suggest installing a chandelier without the chain or stem, tucked up to the ceiling. We can always find a wide variety of large chandeliers. Pay attention to the height. A chandelier with a body height of 18” will work on a foyer with ceilings as low as 9’-0”, 30” works on 10’-0” and 54” body heights will fit in spaces with 12’-0” ceilings. Not all designs will work hung in this manor, so attention must be paid to the view from below. Once the right piece is unearthed, you might ask why anyone would ever hang it from a chain or stem!

Consider the same thing with sconces. Forego the ceiling lights altogether and use a collection of TALL sconces around the perimeter. A 36” tall sconce will fit nicely in rooms with 9’-0” and 10’-0” rooms. Go longer in 12’-0” ceiling heights.


In the March 2022 edition of Architectural Digest, one of the featured homes used a 36” diameter wicker shade over a 5’-0” Square Island. This is probably larger than most of us would consider, but I think it works. The ceiling was exposed, the space was open and the light cane and whitewashed island material created an airy feel. Square, or oversized islands can be a great place to consider larger than average lighting. They are big and fill a lot of space in the room so, commensurately sized accessories work. The additional lesson here is to understand how the colors will impact the visual proportionality.

With conventional islands, we all know to stay away from the petite pieces that were popular over a decade ago. There is strong evidence we are moving in the correct direction. Larger and especially taller pendants are being used. Continue that trend, stretch the envelope. This is the right direction. The open floor plans of living can readily accept larger island pendant lighting.

Great Room

If you are not already using massive chandeliers, ceiling fans and wall sconces in the great room, start now and disown any previous installations. These rooms are called “great” for a reason! They are big spaces and anything less is a huge mistake. Seek out those 96” fans, 72” tall chandeliers and 36” tall sconces. This room should be the easiest of all to adapt to larger sizing options, especially if you are currently using Lilliputian-sized luminaires.


You may never be responsible for a home that can comfortably embrace a 96” diameter pendant or a 10’-0” tall chandelier. Stretching common norms a few inches is however, a real possibility and should definitely be considered in more “typical” residences. That small difference can deliver a big impact.

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