Sourcing lighting is one of the most challenging aspects of a project because nothing defines a space better than the lighting. You can take a simple room, and depending on what lighting you select, shift it from casual to dressy, country to urban, soft to graphic. Like the difference between an exclamation mark and a question mark, lighting can make all the difference! Don’t you think! …or don’t you think? Armed with a bit of knowledge about the different types of lighting, and techniques that can be used will head you off to your lighting showroom better armed.
Prepare before you visit a lighting showroom to save time and confusion
Understanding lighting techniques will help, but this guide will add some key terms so you know what fixture is right for your use. If you have ever questioned how high to hang a light, we feel your pain. We have written about that before. It isn’t always science but there are some key measurements to guide you.
Take this knowledge of the basic categories or types of lighting when you look for a new fixture. Sourcing lighting is tricky, and there is no clear lexicon available to the consumer to understand what type of light fixture you are looking for. If you have browsed a lighting website, or visited a showroom recently you might be confused by a few terms.
The term chandelier used to conjure up visions of ornate showpieces endowed with dangling crystals you might expect to see gracing the dining rooms of a movie set on shows like Bridgerton, the Crown, and Downton Abbey. Originally from the french and latin term for candle, the term chandelier has evolved to a more general meaning in the design industry to refer to any decorative or ornate light fixture suspended from the ceiling that has multiple lights, sometimes with branching arms (to hold the candles).
Typically this term is used to describe larger fixtures. So don’t be distracted when browsing websites and you come across this term. If you are looking for something for over your dining table, or to grace a larger foyer, this is probably where you want to look.
Here are a few popular fixtures that could fall under the category “chandelier” today.
Shop for chandeliers
Suspended like a pendant on a necklace, the term describes any hanging light suspended from the ceiling. Technically, this category includes chandeliers but for grouping purposes, many lighting distributors use the pendant category to show smaller fixtures that may be used alone or on pairs or groups. These are typically used for over a kitchen island or peninsula, but smaller versions find their way into bathrooms bedrooms and anywhere you need a smaller decorative light.
Shop for pendants
A light fixture that is affixed directly to the wall is called a sconce. They can cast light upward, downward, or both and are great for hallways, and bathroom vanities to help even out lighting levels and reduce shadows.
When choosing a fixture for a bathroom, be sure and note whether it is “wet rated” which means it is suitable for a bathroom installation.
Shop for sconces
A ceiling mounted fixture that sits flush to the ceiling. Used for areas where ceiling height is lower and headroom is a concern. Typically these are a good option for 7’ ceilings and you will see them in entryways, bedrooms, kitchens, basements or bathrooms.
Shop for flushmounts
Similar to flushmount, semi-flush-mounts are ceiling mounted fixtures that sits just off the ceiling allowing for headspace but bringing a bit of style to a foyer, bedroom etc. These work if you have a bit more headspace. We always allow for a 6′-4″ person to walk under them without bumping their head, so be sure to measure from the floor to the bottom of where the fixture will end.
Shop for semi-flushmounts
A free standing light source that is plugged into an electrical outlet rather than wired permanently to the ceiling or wall is a lamp. Lamps are great for providing levels of light at eye level when seated for reading.
Note: if you are ever in a lighting store or working with a lighting designer, there is a rather confusing use of the term “lamp”. For lighting professionals, the term lamp refers to the actual device producing the visible electrical energy typically known to the homeowner as the light bulb. Any device that holds a “lamp” and connects it to the electricity source is referred to as a luminaire.
Lamp types (aka bulbs):
Incandescent lamps/bulbs emit light as result of being heated. This is why a lightbulb gets very hot when turned on, and also why it is not a particularly efficient way to produce light It requires a lot more energy to produce light by heating something than other forms of light.
An improvement over conventional incandescent lighting (and a subset of), halogen lasts approximately 3 times longer than traditional incandescent but are not as efficient as LEDs. Because they operate at higher temperatures, they can have higher colour temperatures which means they can produce a brighter or whiter looking light.
Light Emitting Diode or LEDs are all around us in household electronics – in your remote control devices, alarm clock displays, etc., but they have a growing place in general household lighting. LEDs operate at a much cooler temperature so are more energy efficient and can last far longer than incandescent bulbs. They are pricier at the outset but produce greater energy savings over time.
My standard disclaimer: Please note, some of these items may be offered through affiliate links which means I could get a small commission if you order. That will never influence what I find lovely and want to share with you. I always offer suggestions I would buy for my home or recommend to a client. Also, rest assured it won’t affect the price you would otherwise pay.