Set the mood with lighting.
Lighting in the dining room is as much about visibility as it is vibe. Sure, you want to evoke a relaxing mealtime mood, but you must also have enough illumination to walk back and forth from the kitchen, serve at the table, and perform chores like sorting mail at a nearby sideboard. For all you do in the dining room, you need a thoughtfully layered lighting scheme that uses different types of lighting designed for different purposes.
The three main types of dining room lighting are moderately bright ambient lighting that broadly illuminates the walls and floor to improve navigation, bright task lighting that aids in detail-oriented work, and soft accent lighting that casts a warm glow to highlight showpieces. There’s a variety of lighting fixtures within each of these categories, so it can be a challenge to choose what’s best. Ahead, we explain the options and offer recommendations to help you decide which dining room lighting ideas will wow guests and make hosting a breeze.
1. Go big with a chandelier.
These ornate light fixtures hang from a cord or chain that mounts to the ceiling and usually consist of a decorative frame with multiple branches, each with its own bulb. Their drama creates an instant focal point when mounted directly above the dining table. Plus, when paired with a dimmer switch, the fixture can be used as ambient lighting that illumines the walls and the people and objects at the dining table, or, outside mealtimes, accent lighting that puts the focus on the table centerpiece. Traditional chandeliers emit light outward, which makes for poor task lighting, but downlight chandeliers—designed to cast some bright light downward—allow for activities like paying bills and doing homework at the dining table.
Our chandelier choice
Featuring a steel construction, the Asheville Tiffany downlight chandelier from Quoizel was built to light your dining room for a lifetime. Three downlights encased in fire-colored glass housings allow the 22-by-23-inch chandelier to perform as capably as an ambient or task light as an artistic focal point. available at Amazon; $319.99.
2. Install recessed lighting for subtlety.
Placed within hollow openings in the ceiling, recessed lights are small, round ambient lights consisting of a bulb, a decorative circular enclosure called the trim, and a housing for electrical connections. This dining room lighting offers a low-profile look suited to minimalist décor, as the housing sits below the ceiling line, making the trim the only visible part. Generally, multiple lights are spaced equidistant from each other, allowing the fixtures to equally distribute light into all four corners of the dining room so you can safely and easily navigate the space. Look for baffle-trim recessed lights, which have a ribbed interior that absorbs light and reduces glare and eye strain.
Our recessed lighting recommendation
Slot these four-inch white metal baffle-trim recessed lights from TORCHSTAR into a white dining room ceiling, and they’ll light your way while visually vanishing into the paint for a barely-there look. The built-in retaining clips make it a cinch to snap the trim to the housing during light assembly and for future bulb replacements. Available at Amazon; six-pack for $26.99.
3. Pick pendant lights to illuminate various surfaces.
A pendant light is a bulb within a decorative housing that’s suspended from a rod, cord, or chain mounted to the ceiling. Available in a wide range of styles, pendants provide bright, focused light for dining room work surfaces from mini bars to hutches—without taking up space on the surface itself. Plus, when installed in sets of two or more directly above a work surface, these smaller fixtures can create as much illumination as a single larger fixture. Drum pendant lights, which have a cloth or metal surround around the light housing, are the most versatile option because you can further control the light emitted by choosing a paler or darker colored shade.
Our pick for pendant lights
Suspended from a chain, the 22-by-20-inch drum pendant from Kenroy Home houses three bulbs for maximum illumination of hutches and other dining room work surfaces. The oil-rubbed bronze finish and metallic fabric shade suit a host of décor styles from modern to traditional. Available at Amazon; $133.42.
4. Switch on sconces to accent.
Sconces are wall-mounted light fixtures made up of a backplate topped with a decorative housing. They’re designed to emit a small amount of diffuse light upward or downward onto an object on or near the wall, making them a great option for showcasing paintings, decorative china, and other pretty pieces without consuming much electricity. The soft light on the walls also adds warmth to large dining rooms or those sporting cool paint colors like gray or icy blue. For the sleekest option, opt for flush-mounted sconces that sit up against the wall with no space between the light housing and backplate.
Our sconce selection
This 12-inch half-moon sconce from Hamilton Hills mounts flush with the wall to shed light on walls without protruding. While the brushed nickel finish is eye-catching, the frosted housing emits diffuse light that subtly highlights details of your favorite objects. Available at Amazon; $49.99.
5. Use track lighting for flexibility.
Mounted on the ceiling, track lights—usually narrow linear or curved conduits lined with multiple individual lights—are favored for their flexibility. Install just one track above a dining table or hutch for task lighting, or above a china cabinet to accent a decorative display; or multiple tracks for ambient lighting of the whole dining room. You can even move the lights along the track or individually orient them to an angle of your choosing, so the light appears to follow you wherever you go. Flexible track lights with bendable conduits offer even more control over light positioning.
Our top track lights
Lend an unexpected twist to a dim dining room with this flexible and energy-efficient LED track light from Catalina Lighting that you can bend into whatever curved shape suits your fancy. Finished with oil-rubbed bronze, the sleek, eight-foot-long track includes six adjustable lights you can tilt in virtually any direction to eliminate dark corners. Available at Amazon; $183.86.
6. Dress your table with a candelabra.
Candelabras are branched candle holders or lamps that carry multiple candles or bulbs. These accent lights require no assembly; they rest on a flat, horizontal surface, usually the dining room table, and cast soft light on dishware and food to create a cozy, intimate setting. These ornamental lights can even stand in for a centerpiece. To lend light to the table without blocking your diners’ view, choose a low, wide candelabra that casts light over an expanse of the table.
Our favorite candelabra
Enjoy dinner by candlelight with this luminous low and long candelabra from PiersSurplus. Featuring nine glass candle holders of different sizes and at different heights, all mounted to a sleek black pedestal, the 30-by-10-inch fixture makes for an artful asymmetrical centerpiece. Available at Amazon; $53.99.
7. Illuminate recesses with cove lights.
The perfect accent lighting source to frame dining room ledges, ceiling valances, and recesses such as those in tray ceilings, cove lights are usually long, narrow, multi-bulb conduits mounted around the perimeter of a ceiling feature. Primarily used to accent, they cast light upward to draw attention to the depth and dimension of ceiling details and also eliminate pesky ceiling shadows. Cove lighting also brightens wide areas of adjacent walls, thus serving as an effective supplementary ambient light source. The most energy-efficient cove lights come in the form of light strips containing multiple LED bulbs.
Our pick for cove lighting
Play up the unique contours of your ceiling with these cove lights from HitLights. Over 16 feet in length, the LED light strip shines warm light around ceiling recesses. and it’s flexible and dimmable to boot so you can achieve the perfect position and light level for your needs. Available at Amazon; $14.69.
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