How to pick a light fixture


by Marni Jameson

It’s happened to all of us. You look up one day and see this really stupid looking light fixture hanging on your very own ceiling, and say to yourself. Holy schmolly, how did that piece of junk get up there? I need to change that – STAT!

Next thing you’re online surfing through thousands of light fixtures nursing a migraine. This happened to me just last week.

See when home builders build homes, they don’t know what you’re going to want. So they tack up a bunch of generic, lackluster light fixtures that go together like uniformed kindergartners. The builder hopes you won’t notice, and assumes that eventually you’ll come along and change the fixtures after you move in, but you don’t.

You don’t because as soon as you think about changing one, the place begins to unravel in your mind. If you change one to something truly nice and reflective of your taste and style, it won’t match the others. To make the new light in the entry work, you’ll need to change the one in the dining room, too, and the kitchen, and the master bath, and on and on, until you’re six to eight fixtures in.

To buy all of those at once requires a calculation, which involves asking your kids if they can please finish college in three years. It also involves, hiring an electrician who will put holes in your drywall, which will require Mr. Patch and Mr. Paint to come by, and looking through a gazillion eye-glazing options, at which point you decide to just stop, and live with the ugly.

Until you can’t.

Last week, I decided I could not go one more day getting dressed in my master closet under a large rectangular fluorescent light that looks like something you would see in a prison cafeteria. I wanted something pretty instead, and, most important, I wanted light that I could dim down to say the two-watt level, which is important for women my age.

I then learned something else I don’t admire in myself: What I like and what goes in my home – if I’m honest — are not the same. Dang it.

Those of you who know me know I like bling — diamond jewelry, Swarovski figurines, light fixtures dripping with crystal pendants. Only my new home is more clean lined; it’s not a crystal chandelier kind of place. And while I occasionally fancy myself dressing for the Oscars from time to time, I am really a blue jeans and blouse kind of girl. Let’s be real.

Fortunately, I sought counseling from a lighting designer who talked me off the ledge, and saved me from myself.

“In the most successful interiors, fixtures flow throughout house,” said Michael Murphy, interior design and trends producer at LampsPlus, in Los Angeles. “Your goal, whether building or remodeling is to tell a cohesive story,” he said.

Discipline. It hurts.

“You don’t want to walk into a home and see a traditional light fixture in the entry, an industrial fixture in the master, and contemporary lighting in the bathroom,” he said. “One way to avoid that is to be sure the finishes and styles go together, or at least get along.”

I sent him pictures of my master closet, along with links to fixtures I was partial to. (LampsPlus alone has more than 45,000 light fixtures to choose from, so I’m not kidding when I tell you it’s overwhelming.)

We wrangled a bit, then agreed on a contemporary style drum shade fixture for the closet, with a bright orange silk shade. The finish is oil-rubbed bronze, which matches all the other fixtures and hardware in my home. “I know you’re drawn to bling,” he said, “but the color is enough of a wow factor. It’s unexpected in a safe way.”

As opposed to an unsafe way.

When I gently pressed for some bling over the bathtub, he steered me to an artistic modern piece with hand-blown glass, special, but not over the top. Neither has a speck of bling, but you know what, they’re exactly right.

As we dialed them in, I asked him how others, who are paralyzed at their thresholds by the thought of changing their light fixtures, can go about getting this right. Here’s how:

Use this light-fixture checklist:

  • Architecture. A common fixture faux pas, said Murphy, is mixing fixtures from different periods – say Victorian with Mid-Century Modern. Don’t do it. You don’t have to treat your home like a period museum but you do have to honor its architecture. “For instance, if you live in an arts and crafts style home, you don’t have to have all mica shades. They could be copper and provide a nod back to the time period.”
  • Finish. Consider the metal finish of your other fixtures and house hardware (knobs and pulls). Ideally, they should match the new fixture’s finish. “Think big picture,” said Murphy. “Light fixtures are long-term investments. While some designers mix metals, keeping all the finishes similar is safer. You can add personality with accessories and paint.”
  • Style. Determine your decor style — traditional, modern, industrial, rustic, or something else — then pick and stick to a style. “It’s far better to be true to your home than to indulge your whims,” he said. It’s like with fashion, I said. I love a lot of clothing styles that work on other people. Through trial and humiliation, I’ve learned what works and what needs to stay on the rack. The same is true for light fixtures. “Deep down, people know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Murphy said. “Overindulging in a style you like can backfire.”
  • You. Now, do you like it? “It’s not all about catering to the house,” he said. “It’s about finding a fixture that is true to the house, but that also reflects you.”

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).