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There is so much more to choosing lighting than just picking out a pretty pendant and hanging it. Light fixtures come in different shapes and lengths, and they come outfitted with different bulbs for a reason. Different fixtures give off different qualities of light—bright and direct versus diffused and subtle, for instance. Finding the right fixture is a matter of choosing a look you love and the type of light you need. For a dining room, you’re looking to create the right atmosphere for entertaining, but you’ll want to choose a light that looks just as good for brunch as it does a late dinner. Here are our tips for buying the best dining room light fixture for all of your entertaining needs.

Get the measurements right

First, measure your room and your table. Your new light should be the right size for both the room it’s lighting and the table it will hang above. If you are dealing with an open concept space, decide what the dimensions of your dining room are. How much space do you want it to take up in, say, a joint living-dining room?

A general rule of thumb:

  • If your room is on the small side—around 10 feet by 10 feet, or less—choose a light that is about 20 inches in diameter or less.
  • If your room is between 11 feet and 13 feet in either length or width, choose a light that is between 24 and 27 inches in diameter.
  • If your room is between 14 and 18 feet or larger, choose a light that is between 24 and 36 inches in diameter

These measurements don’t mean that you must choose a traditional chandelier or single pendant light. Small pendants hung in a uniform line over your table can make a stunning visual impact.

Next, think about the size of the light in relation to the size of your table. The width or diameter of your light fixture should be at least 12 inches less than the width of your dining table.

Consider your current decor

Before running out and buying the first chandelier you see, consider your dining room’s current decor style. Is it traditional, modern or eclectic? You’ll want to buy a light that fits the room’s style. And if you buy a light with metal accents, consider the type of metal you have elsewhere in your home. While you don’t need to match your dining room light fixture to the chrome fixtures in your bathroom, you may want to consider the faucet and appliances in your kitchen, especially if you’re in an open-concept home.

Go shopping

Browse lights online and in stores to get an idea of what style of light you like. Are you drawn to chandeliers, big pendants or little groups of pendants? Once you’ve decided on the shape and style of light you want, explore fixtures in that category from many different retailers, comparing price and quality. Most home decor retailers have an excellent return policy, so be sure to inquire about it. You can take home several options and test them out, if you’ve got the time, energy and money.

Inspect installation instructions

Before buying, review the type of installation required of your light. Most hanging lights will require you—or a more skilled expert—to connect wires and screw a plate into the ceiling (to hide those wires). Some lights may simply plug into the wall. While this sounds easier, it means that you’ll have an exposed cord that now needs to go up your wall and across the ceiling to where the light will hang. This will not look as sophisticated.

Consider light quality

A sparkling chandelier with lots of crystals and bulbs will light up your room and cast romantic shadows. It’s perfect for dining, but what if a chandelier just isn’t your style? While, of course, you can change up the light bulbs in your fixture to adjust how much light it gives off, there are some things to take into account:

  • A chandelier, whether traditional with crystals or more modern, will provide good overall light and the bulbs can be switched up to those with lower wattage to create a moodier atmosphere.
  • A pendant gives off directional light or task lighting. So, in most cases, most of the light will be cast downwards onto your dining table and the people sitting around it. The smaller the pendant, the smaller the area of light it will provide. Some larger pendants may have openings at the top and bottom of the fixture, meaning that light will filter both up and down.

Consider the material your light fixture is made of. If it is a transparent glass, light may be directed downwards but will filter outwards as well. If you’ve chosen a light with a translucent shade, you’ll have less outward light, while an opaque shade will simply direct light through the fixture’s opening. Keep the size of the pendant’s opening in mind as well. While three petite pendants hanging in a row may look lovely, if the opening is small, you’ll have three spotlights on your table instead of the diffused light you may have been looking for.

If you want to be able to switch from bright family dinner to romantic meal for two, you may want to consider installing a dimmer so you can customize the lighting setup.

Measure again

Finally, before installing your chosen light, you’ll need to measure again to determine how low the light should hang. Your light should hang between 30 and 36 inches above your table, and generally speaking, if you’re hanging multiple lights, all of them should hang at the exact same height.

Lights we love

West Elm Short Drum Pendant in Natural Linen, $149 at West Elm.

Ikea Fillsta Pendant Light, $30 at Ikea.

Restoration Hardware Harlow Crystal Chandelier, 31″, $3295 at Restoration Hardware.

Urban Barn Element Chandelier, $199 at Urban Barn.