Buyer's Guides, Resources + FAQs

Dining Room Lighting Guide

The dining room is one of the most important rooms in the home. While retaining its primary function for entertaining guests, it has developed into a space intended for daily chores as well. Because of this, getting the lighting design right is key to maintaining a balance between the room’s traditional hosting function and its modern-day use as a frequently used common area.

Here are a few pointers to help you figure out the best ways to light your dining room:

Set the Mood

Visualizer: Ngurah Arya. Image via

Between hosting dinner parties and using it as a work area, it’s important that the dining room’s lighting meets the room’s multi-functional standards. Brighter lighting may be suitable for after dinner working sessions. But it’s not fitting when entertaining guests as it creates glare and reduces clarity (1). At the same time, insufficient dim lighting will tire the eye out quicker, which can only lead you to tire out quickly (2).

Ideally, you’ll want a lighting fixture capable of either occasion, whether that be setting the mood or providing adequate task lighting. This can be achieved with dimmable CFLs, energy efficient LEDs for a warm and glowing atmosphere or halogen bulbs, which give off a bright white light similar to natural lighting (3). This can also be achieved through installing shaded or indirectly aimed recessed lighting, in addition to having a central lighting fixture. This sort of light layering gives you the best of both worlds.

Some sources advise considering wall sconces. However, lighting that comes from over the shoulder can cause glare, too (4).

You’ll also want to take into consideration the color of the room and the finishes used. Darker colors tend to absorb more light, whereas lighter colors reflect light a little more.

Scale to Proportion

Courtesy of Destination Eichler. (Products shown: Nelson™ Saucer Bubble Pendant from George Nelson Bubble Lamps, Eames® Molded Plastic Armchair with Dowel-Leg Base from Herman Miller.) Image via

According to Karen Nepacena, Principal Designer at interior design firm Destination Eichler, “Scale is very important, no matter the shape of the dining table. A chandelier shouldn’t overwhelm the space, nor be so small that its shape and lines are lost when looking at the ‘view’ of the dining table.”

Getting the proportion of the central lighting fixture to the dining table and the room helps the dining room maintain a visual balance. A dining room chandelier that’s too big will dwarf the dining table and create peripheral weight from above; too small and it’ll look puny compared to the table and its space. If you’re starting with an empty room, a good rule of thumb is to add the width and the depth of the room for a well-proportioned chandelier or pendant in relation to the rest of the room (i.e. 12-ft by 16-ft dining room should use a 28-inch chandelier) (6).

If you already have a dining table, then you’ll want to scale the fixture to three-quarters of the table’s width (7). As for how high to hang the centrally located fixture above the dining table, 30 inches is the standard (8). But your main goal is to obtain a high enough position so as to stay clear of bumped heads and make it easy to see others across the table.

Shape Matters

Fun 10DM Brass Pendant Light – 90th Anniversary Edition, Series 430 Chair, Modular Chair and System 1-2-3 Standard Dining Chair by Verner Panton, from Verpan

Simultaneously, you want to think about how the shape of the fixture will look next to the shape of the dining table. Imagine how a linear and long chandelier would look above a circular table– not quite right. Similar to balancing proportions, you’ll want to find the same balance between shapes.

For rectangular or oblong dining tables, a linear suspension, large rounded fixture, two hanging fixtures on either end, or a row of smaller pendant lights can achieve a harmonious design. For square or round tables, you’ll want a fixture with a design contained within the dimensions of the table. Something like a single central lighting fixture or a cluster of pendant lights in staggered lengths would do.

Design Your Style

(l. to r.) Pleat Box 14 Inch Pendant Light, Pleat Box 9 Inch Pendant Light, Pleat Box 5 Inch Pendant Light by Xavier Manosa from Marset. Image via

Before you shoot for that crystal chandelier you’ve had your eye on, think about the architecture of the room and the pieces you already have in your dining room assortment. Certainly, you can go with whatever design your heart so desires, but think about the bigger picture first. This will help you avoid a design that leans on the side of being mismatched (unless being mismatched is what you’re going for).

Fortunately, because there are so many different styles to choose from, finding a fixture that complements your space won’t be too hard. In fact, this is an opportune time to get creative and match designs you find particularly charming, whether that be subtle or dramatic.

Your dining room plays an important role, both functionally and socially. Being the room where guests are frequently hosted and the room where work gets done, its lighting fixtures need to be adaptable, practical and capable of meeting your aesthetic values. Most of all, finding a well-rounded central lighting piece will provide the foundation to getting your dining room lighting–and the overall design of your dining room in general–perfect.

Yvette C.

Yvette C.

Yvette is a Site Merchandiser for YLiving. Her deep appreciation for design stems from a background in art history and interior design. During her off hours, she enjoys ogling cute animals, reading, catching up on TV series, following blogs, and enjoying the quirks of California's Bay Area.

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