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What's the Best Fixture for Your Ceiling?

Here’s something you may not have considered: is there a right choice when it comes to installing a new ceiling fixture? Short answer: not always but often there are better answers than the one you first choose. Are you looking for a fan? Is your ceiling sloped? What’s the aesthetic of your room? Does the room have windows? All of these, and a few others, are important when it comes to selecting the type of fixture (and whether or not you should have a ceiling-mounted fixture) for your room. And just in case you missed one, the standard ceiling fixtures are:

  • Ceiling Fan
  • Chandelier
  • Recessed Lighting
  • Bay Lighting
  • Suspended Lamp
  • Surface-Mount Fixture
  • Track Lighting

A Few Questions About Your Ceiling

First off, what do we see when we look at your ceiling? Is this the top floor of your home or is there another room above? Is the ceiling sloped? How high up is the ceiling?

Sloped ceiling are a little harder to work with. They often necessitate suspended fixtures such as bay lighting, ceiling fans, and track lighting. Anything that can be mounted with an angled base and a downrod or suspension cable is ideal.

You always want to have at least eight feet of clearance from the lowest point of your fixture to the floor. This prevents people from banging their heads on the fixture. That said, if you have an eight-foot ceiling, consider either a flush mount fixture or a recessed fixture. We’ll get into cave-lighting effects in a minute, but if you’re worried about shadows from a fixture mounted on a low ceiling, consider using a floor lamp instead.

It’s important to consider whether or not the ceiling above leads into the attic or another room because of potential insulation between floors. If the ceiling leads up to the next room, the fixture you use can typically be mounted without worry. On the other hand, if you’re having to work around insulation, you need to select a fixture that can work in contact with insulation or you’ll need to find a way around the leaks from having a hole in your insulation around the fixture.

Some Questions About the Room

Does the room have windows? Rooms with windows can often get away with a floor lamp or a single recessed fixture to provide lighting at night. There’s very little reason to add ceiling fixtures to a naturally-lit room. It’s cheaper to install a floor lamp here.

How small is the room? Are you looking at a large living room or a tiny, cramped utility space? Smaller rooms benefit from flush-mount fixtures and recessed lights while larger, open spaces can use ceiling fans and track lights. If it’s an open room that’s about aesthetics, install a large fixture to clear up floor space and open up electrical outlets (keep clearance height in mind). For utility closets, stick to a recessed light that’s functional. If you’re worried about feeling closed in, use a light bulb with a higher color temperature. You’ll need to keep the room cleaner but a clean room and a high-temperature bulb will feel more open and less cloistered.

Consider the effects of lighting. Most ceiling fixtures aim light down, towards the ground. This is especially noticeable in recessed fixtures and some ceiling fans. When lights are aimed down exclusively you’ll get an effect known as ‘cave lighting,’ where dark shadows appear in corners and along walls near the top. This can feel a little oppressive at times. If you’re installing a ceiling fixture solely to get rid of a few floor lamps or to close the curtains during the day, consider keeping a floor lamp or adding some light-color furniture to the room to reflect light back up and clear out the shadows.