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How to Light an Entryway

Designers Malcom James Kutner and Sean O'Connor weigh in with expert strategies

The entryway or foyer is a key spot for making a first impression. Whether you pick a bold statement pendant or a subdued, minimalist sconce, your lighting fixtures will set the tone. To understand more about the best ways to illuminate this area, we turned to two experts: Malcolm James Kutner, a New York-based interior designer known for his high-end residential work that balances form and function; and Sean O'Connor, a Los Angeles lighting designer who works on a wide range of retail, residential, and hospitality projects. "We team up together to deliver something beautiful," as Kutner puts it. Here, they offer their respective takes on how to handle common foyer challenges.

Tom Dixon Pressed Glass Pendants
Tom Dixon Pressed Glass Pendants

YLighting: What are some factors to consider when lighting an entryway?

Sean O'Connor: Scale first and foremost. Is this a single-height space or double-height? How is it furnished? Are there mirrors or art? What are the vistas beyond? And lastly, what are the visual cues to keep visitors moving into the next room?

YL: How can lighting help make a welcoming first impression?

SO: This is often very dependent on architectural or interior styles. Regardless of whether a space is sleek and modern versus layered and traditional, I like warmth in a light source because it’s a sign of hospitality and provides a sense of welcome. This means using warm-color temperature lamps like incandescent and halogen, and always on a dimmer. Or, if you're using high-efficacy light sources like LED or fluorescent, use a 2700K temperature.

YL: How do you select the right type of lighting for an entryway?

Malcolm James Kutner: I think it depends on the specifics of the site and the brief. There is no rule of thumb that says ‘problem A requires using pendant, problem B requires a sconce, problem C dictates a lamp.’ Rarely in my experience is there one right way to do anything in design. It's problem solving with aesthetics and function and client disposition in mind.

SO: I agree with Malcolm, but generally speaking I think scale is critical—not in an architectural way, but rather in a human way. How do you humanize a space? I'm a big fan of table and floor lamps, as these are very human-scale elements. I also love sconces and ceiling fixtures. I let the glow of these do the majority of the work, and incorporate accent lighting for contrast and visual hierarchy.

20-Light Agnes Chandelier
20-Light Agnes Chandelier

YL: Which fixtures do you think would work especially well in a foyer or entryway?

MJK: I really like Tom Dixon's pendants. Where a statement chandelier is required, I like the 20-Light Agnes Chandelier for a more contemporary, streamlined effect. Something Venetian, like the Richmond works well in both modern and traditional spaces, as well as in transitional spaces. And for true historical properties, I tend to use antique or vintage fixtures.

Ideas + Solutions: How to light an Entryway

YL: What are some of your favorite fixtures for a long and narrow hallway?

SO: It really depends so much on the style of the home, the amount of wall space, and how the walls are used. This could be done with either decorative ceiling fixtures that repeat, or with recessed architectural lighting such as wall washers or double wall washers that light both walls. This is something that the character of the home really informs, as does the look and feel the designer is trying to achieve.

MJK: If decorative lighting is required, and the ceiling is high, I would punctuate the hallway with a series of pendants. I could see long dramatic hallways punctuated with any of these from Tom Dixon: Pressed Glass Pendant, Lustre Light (Square Pendant Light), or Lustre Light (Round Pendant Light).

YL: Say a client has a big, open foyer with tall ceilings—what's a good light for that situation?

MJK: In that case, I like hanging multiple fixtures at varying heights. For instance, the Tom Dixon glass fixtures hung on a grid, but with each one at a slightly different height, would be amazing. Bocci fixtures approximate this idea in a less-labor intensive way.

YL: What if an entryway has a low ceiling—what works in that case?

MJK: Something that stays close to the ceiling and adds dynamism without drawing attention to the lowness factor. The Link Quintuple Ceiling Light is good in a contemporary environment.

SO: The fixture Malcolm selected is fluorescent, so if that were something he brought to a project, we would look at how to make it feel residential by selecting the right color temperature for the lamps and possibly adding additional color filters to give it more of an incandescent feel.

Link Quintuple Ceiling Light
Link Quintuple Ceiling Light

YL: Are dimmers a good idea in an entryway?

MJK: They are a good idea everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere.

SO: Agreed, dimmers everywhere. They are the least expensive lighting fix for any home. Dimming can transform a room.

YL: If you don't want to go to the trouble of wiring the ceiling, can you suggest a creative solution for bringing more light into a dark entryway?

SO: One option is to change an existing ceiling fixture to one with more sockets, or a different kind of light source. Also consider the direction of the light—is it downward only, upward only or omni-directional? Imagine how the different surfaces will and will not receive light. If the fixture were all indirect, sending light upwards, you may want to consider adding another layer, such as lamps.

MJK: For lamps in a foyer, I prefer something simple—perhaps a pair of floor lamps flanking a console, or on top of a console. I would probably pick something simple and functional like the Buster Floor Lamp and make a custom shade for it. That's a useful way to make simple fixture more interesting.

YL: What's a good way to light art in an entryway or foyer?

SO: I like to use small-aperture recessed accent lighting. I also like picture lights, but with picture lights you have to be careful that the light bulbs are not visible, which means the mounting height and sightlines from various angles will need to be carefully studied.

YL: How can you incorporate modern lighting into a more traditional foyer?

SO: I like to see styles mixed up. I live in a 1930's-period home but have early- and mid-20th-century modern style lighting installed throughout. Recessed lighting can also make a space feel modern and fresh if used carefully and sensitively. To me, that means small fixtures in very intentional locations while relating to the architecture and interiors—no random grids to just light floors.


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