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Keeping it Light: Kitchen Pendants and the Details We Obsess Over

IN THE KITCHEN, 3 things to think about when you’re choosing pendant lighting for your kitchen. How to arrange them over your island or peninsula and how many to purchase!

Ceiling Height, Island Dimensions, Fixture Design

#1 Ceiling Height.

The size of your pendants is reliant upon the height of your ceiling and the length and width of your island or peninsula. Pendants want to function as a useful source of light so don’t install them too far away from the countertop. Your electrician will ask, how far down off the ceiling do you want to install the fixture? Here’s the long answer:

With a 9 foot ceiling there is 6 feet above your island. That leaves you with 36” of space from the ceiling down, for a pendant. That puts the bottom of your fixture at 36” off the countertop of your island. That’s IF you’re putting pendants over your island that is 36” high off the floor. If you have a portion of island that is Bar Height or 42” high you need to re do the math. You only have 30” of space for a pendant height now.

With an 8 foot ceiling you have 5 feet above your island. That leaves you with 24” of space available for your pendant height. If you have a portion of island that is Bar Height or 42” high and re-doing the math you’re left with 18” of space for a pendant height now.

Below is a quick diagram to help you understand. It references a 9’ ceiling and a fixture installed a little higher off the countertop than usual.

#2 Island Dimensions

A Kitchen Island width usually runs 36 -40” wide since typical lower cabinets are 24” deep. Add to that another 12” or so, of cantilevered countertop to put a stool underneath. This allows for a wider light fixture up to about 15” or so.

If your island was only 24” you wouldn’t want to hang a fixture wider than 6 or maybe 8”.

If your island width is 48 wide you can do something that has a presence. You could install a fixture that is as much as 24” wide.

The island length varies but if you imagine a 7 or 8 foot long island you would want three fixtures. This island pictured above is almost 9 feet long. The light fixtures measure about 15” wide. They want to sit a little farther apart when they’re bigger and on this longer island they can.

If your island is about 6 feet long you’d want a slightly skinnier pendant maybe closer to 9 or 10” so to leave enough room for spacing the fixtures apart. For instance with three 10” fixtures on a 72” island you could space them about 8 inches apart and have them hang about 13” in from the edge of the island. There is not a formula really. It’s just that all these dimensions are related in a way that they rely on each other.

#3 Fixture Design

This is the fun part now that we’ve done our math and know what size we could work with. Here are 3 important things to notice when choosing a pendant light fixture;

1. How it is hanging from the ceiling

  • Notice that the Thomas O’Brien fixture has a brass rod that suspends it from the ceiling. It is a fixed height. You’d have to have a 9’ ceiling to hang this without customizing the rod. (You can do that by the way.)

  • Notice the earlier other photo shows three pendants from the Feiss Collection. What’s nice about these is that the fixture hangs from a chain. The chain provides flexibility in how high the fixture is positioned over the island, by gathering up some of the chain we can hang it exactly where we want.

2. How the light is cast into the space

  • The pendant designed by Thomas O’Brien for Visual Comfort has a milk glass shade which provides a dreamy glow of light (far left above).

  • The Feiss Collection pendant has metal work above the fixture so the light is focused down. The downward light is through a frosted white glass which also casts a nice glow. (Second from left.)

  • The Aerin fixture is available with a white or gold interior. With the gold, I imagine it casts a warm glow even though there is not white glass over the bulb. Sometimes an exposed bulb can have a harsh light. (Second from right.)

  • As beautiful as this Feiss Clear Glass Globe is, it will require some extra care to keep the glass clean since a kitchen will challenge any clear glass to stay clean (far left above).

3. How the Pendant adds style to the kitchen

  • These flower blossom shapes are so wonderful. What movement they bring! If you had a taller, maybe 10’ ceiling you could hang them at different heights like this over your island. You’d need the extra height to do that. Remember that an 8 foot ceiling only has 24” to work with. A 10’ ceiling allows for 48” inches!

  • The fixture shown at the very top of the page reminds me of a straw hat Audrey Hepburn wore. Lot’s of style. What’s super fun about this fixture designed by Benedetta Tagliabue for Bover (Spain) is the wonderful shadow display on the island shown here. I stood underneath an eight foot wide version of this fixture and was awestruck.

  • In lieu of pendants we hung these fixtures on the wall above the breakfast bar. This is in a Pool House and so a more relaxed solution to this space was these articulating sconces by We chose the gold inside the shade not for the glam factor but the glow factor.

  • This fixture is very reminiscent of a Japanese lantern. Lot’s of style. It has one 12W LED light source that shines straight down. The light is at the top of the ‘lantern’ facing down.

Because we like to share & are routinely searching for fixtures in the lighting world, here are a few of our go to websites; Visual Comfort, Tech Lighting, Sonneman, Bover, Mooi, Crystorama, Hammerton and Generation Lighting Ochre, Alison Berger, Collura & Co, Light Art, Rejuvenation

Need some professional guidance? Please contact us, we'd love to help.


Gretchen Reinheimer Design

Creating extraordinary spaces together


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