PHILLY.COM: The Light Stuff

CTW Features

by Marilyn Kennedy Melia

In every room of the house, good design is going to new heights.

Chandeliers, once relegated to formal spaces, "are being used everywhere from bathrooms to stables," says Walter Froh of the Richmond, Va.-based

Lighting is a necessity, but the chandelier adds form to functionality.

“It sets the tone of the room design-wise,” says Jo Ann Alston of the Berndardsville, N.J., design firm, J. Stephens Interiors.

The trend toward larger rooms and higher ceilings of the past couple of decades has helped fuel the market for chandeliers, and their close cousin – pendant lights.

“The ‘shabby chic’ movement” has also fueled the explosion of options in chandeliers, Froh says, since it popularized mixing formal and informal design.

“There are choices in all price points and all styles,” Alston says.

Here, experts share some illuminating tips on when a chandelier is the right light touch:

Measuring Up

How low can you go?

Well, that depends on the room, and who will be using the space,” Alston says. If a chandelier in a kid’s bedroom hangs down to a six-foot clearance, that may not pose a problem, especially if the grown-ups who enter aren’t exceptionally tall, she says.

Besides clearance considerations, how far a chandelier hangs will depend on how it will complement the room.

“It has to have the right drop or it will never look right,” explains Lucy Martin, author of “The Home Lighting Effects Bible” (Firefly Books, 2010).

Models are now available that hang no lower than 18 inches, designed for lower ceiling heights, Froh adds.

Design Match

Chandeliers add another dimension – literally – to a room’s design. “It draws your eye to the ceiling, which designers call the ‘fifth wall,’” Alston says.

The fun is to find the right look so the ‘fifth wall’ enhances the other four and the entire space.

Katie Hixon, a Columbus, Ohio-based interior designer, recently used two modern reproductions of an old style wrought iron candle chandelier in a family room with 18-foot ceilings. “The fireplace in the room had decorative moldings reaching all the way up to the crown molding,” she explains. The twin chandeliers “were needed to balance the details of that particular wall elevation.”

There are thousands of chandelier styles, from the whimsical for a child’s room, to the unusual. Indeed, designer Darlene Molnar of shares, “With industrial chic on the rise, nearly anything can be remained or repurposed into a chandelier. For example, a cluster of bulbs in the safety cages they use on construction sites makes for a simple DIY urban chandelier.”

Shades, which may cover individual chandelier bulbs, or may be large and cover an entire chandelier, are adding to the design possibilities, adding fabrics and patterns to the metal and material of the fixture. “Manufacturers are geared up to do more brand-related shade designs,” Martin says.

Pendant Power

If it hangs, it may not be a chandelier, but a pendant light.

“Pendant lights are normally smaller in diameter than chandeliers,” Hixon says.

Often used in tandem, pendants can provide a good balance in a room also containing a chandelier. Hixon, for instance, shares that she designed a kitchen with a chandelier over the large eating table, and then two pendants lights over the breakfast bar, giving the overall room a feeling of symmetry, plus lots of visual interest on the ‘fifth wall.’”

Cleaning Concerns

Pretty yes, but what about the practical problem of cleaning a fixture that resides far above the floor?

Martin likes to see an electric or self-winding mechanism whereby the fixture can be lowered for easy cleaning.

Barring that option, “No one has come up with an easier way to clean a chandelier, other than using a spray clean solution with a lot of newspaper on the floor below. It really does work very well,” Martin says.