The right lighting sets the tone for both everyday meals and special occasions, enhancing the food, the mood, and all the various design elements of the room. In addition to a central ceiling fixture over the table for overall ambient light, you may want to bring in some accent lighting in the room—perhaps even candles for the ultimate intimate touch.
Luckily, lighting choices abound for just about every décor style, from formal and refined to cozy and casual to sleek and modern. The bright ideas here should offer ample inspiration, while our tips will help you shop for and install lighting that’s sure to serve your dining space beautifully.
Lighting Ideas for Your Dining Room
A true chandelier—defined by the multiple arms that extend from the frame—is an excellent option for most formal dining rooms. With a crystal version, cut glass catches and reflects the light emitted by the bulbs for an effect that’s traditional yet warmly welcoming. Just be sure to choose the right size, especially when going for an ornate chandelier, since you want it to be grand but not overwhelming.
Rule of thumb: The circumference of the fixture should be about one-half to two-thirds the width of the table it hangs above. Go here for the TOH how-to on DIY chandelier installation.
Looking for serious dining room drama? A waterfall option features a series of tiered shapes that descend, one within the other, using crystals or other transparent materials to drape elegantly around the bulbs providing illumination. These large, elaborate fixtures work best in high-ceiling spaces and function as a focal point for a formal setting decorated in a traditional European style.
Few lighting fixtures capture midcentury style like a sputnik, named to evoke the vibe of the first artificial earth satellite launched in 1957. A sputnik chandelier is characterized by multiple straight rods (rather than curved arms) extending from the center, with a single bulb at each tip. Exuding space-age chic, the shape works well with the sleek lines, pale woods, and cool colors of the design period.
Pendant fixtures, which suspend singularly from a central rod, chain, or cord and usually feature a shade, are often used above a kitchen island for task lighting. That said, two or three pendants can provide perfect illumination above a long, rectangular table to ensure that even those seated on either end get the benefit of equal amounts of light. Consider coordinating the color and material of the shade with other design elements in the room, such as the upholstery, window treatments, and paint or wallpaper.
The curvy oversize shade naturally draws people closer under its warm glow, so it’s ideal above a round or oval table. You may also consider a dome to soften the edges in a room with squared-off furniture. The shade’s material helps ground the mood of the room: Metal connotes modern or industrial, fabric or wicker goes for a casual/country vibe, and glass (clear, frosted, or otherwise treated) lends a vintage charm. Tip: Install any dining room fixture at least 30 inches above the table, a general rule that’s particularly important when working with a big shade.
Long on light
In a modern dining space with a rectangular table that seats six or more, a linear suspension fixture can further enhance the interior’s minimalist feel while providing adequate light for those gathered to see their meals and dinner companions. It can be as basic as a single slender bar that suspends from the ceiling via two rods. Though some linear suspension fixtures are two-sided, allowing light to be directed upwards and downwards. While steel or aluminum versions evoke modern cool, wood models can lend warmth to the space and harmonize nicely with a table crafted of the same species, whether it’s maple, oak, or walnut.
It’s hard to go wrong with multiple globe shades for a look that’s clean and simple yet friendly, ideal for a variety of décor schemes—contemporary, eclectic, even industrial. Options abound: You’ll find globes of all sizes, as pendants and chandeliers, and in glass, metal, mesh, and more.
A set of sconces
Task lighting, essential in the kitchen, is rarely needed in the dining room, but a pair of wall sconces can be key sources of accent light to layer into a room. These fixtures typically added to a wall alongside a dining table will brighten the darker areas of the space and can also put a spotlight on décor. Install a wall sconce[YW1] on either side of a sideboard or hutch used for serving, or to highlight artwork or a mirror. Sconces can match the main fixture above the table or be in a different style for a more eclectic vibe.
Put a ring on it
While lighting can be mounted directly to the ceiling, centering it within a ceiling medallion adds impact to a dining room and brings further attention to the fixture. A circular design element originally crafted of plaster, today’s ceiling medallions may be made of wood or even fiberglass.
Choose an intricate pattern if you’re going for an old-world Victorian vibe (these accents reached their peak of popularity in late 19th-century homes) or select a simple version of a few concentric rings for a contemporary setting. The size should be in scale with the chandelier and the ceiling height: If you divide the square footage of the room by seven, you can use the quotient, in inches, to estimate the ideal diameter of the medallion.
All About Bulbs
Maybe not as exciting as deciding on the style of your dining room fixture, it’s nonetheless important to think about the source of the light itself. That depends on the appearance (or color) of the light emitted in addition to how bright the light bulbs are.
- Appearance is measured in Kelvins. Higher Kelvin numbers (up to about 6,000K for residential use) lend a cool white to blue-white color, while lower numbers (between 2,700 to 3,000K) give off a warm yellow-white, better suited to the ambiance desirable in a dining room.
- Brightness is measured in lumens: Higher lumens suit rooms like the kitchen where even bright light is needed in order to cook, while lower lumens are welcome in cozier spaces. The sweet spot for dining rooms would be bulbs that produce between 3,000 and 6,000 lumens.
- Keep in mind that with dimmable bulbs, you can adjust the brightness level in the room. Not all bulbs are dimmable, however, and they must be used with a dimmer switch. Fortunately, installing a dimmer switch is a snap, with our how-to instructions.