Ditch The Chandelier: Better Dining Room Lighting For An Open Floorplan

Chandeliers are the most traditional choice for lighting a dining room. But these days, dining rooms are a far cry from traditional. At-home dining in general has a more casual feel than it did in the past. Now, cooking, eating, and socializing all happen in the same space. Add to that the fact that many dining rooms are now part of an open space? And big candle-and-crystal, antique-style chandeliers start to feel pretty out of place. But good lighting is an important part of the dining experience, and crucial for the overall ambiance of your space. The solution? Forget what you know about traditional dining room lighting, and think outside the box.

Who Needs Chandeliers Anyway?

An image of a warm and bright breakfast table topped with a modern crystal chandelier
Even if you like a more traditional look, don’t feel limited to classic chandeliers – simplified designs or even modern, crystal-laden interpretations can give your space a fresh twist (by Martha O’Hara Interiors)

Antique crystal chandeliers are one of the most iconic and recognizable lighting fixtures out there. Even big variations in size, style, and material will leave you with a pretty identifiable silhouette. But what traditional chandeliers bring to the (dining) table is a sense of sophistication and formality. That certainly has its place, but not so much in a casual, contemporary dining room. If you don’t want to abandon the look entirely, shop for very simple, minimal chandeliers in dark, assertive metal finishes like oil rubbed bronze or matte black. The basic shape of the chandelier will say “dining space” while the simple design and darker metal will save it from feeling overwrought in a contemporary home. Alternatively, ditch the iconic silhouette and go all-in with the crystals for a fun balance between old and new.

Think Outside The Box

An image of a dining room looking into the kitchen beyond. The dining table is lit by a three-light billiards light
Billiards lighting might not be your instinctive first choice for a dining room, but it’s a surprisingly logical and stylish choice (by Richartz Studios, Inc.)

That said, “chandelier” is just a label; once you move away from traditional designs, the distinction between “chandelier” and “pendant” is one of size rather than style. So all you really need to replace a chandelier is… a fixture (or fixtures) with a similar number of lights. One of my favorite new trends makes the most of this distinction, replacing chandeliers with… island or billiard lights. It might seem like an odd swap. But pairing a rectangular lighting fixture with a rectangular dining table is actually a whole lot smarter than trying to light the whole space with a big round chandelier.

Billiard And Island Lights For Your Dining Table

An image of a separate dining room lit by a four-light, candle-style island light
The shape of the billiards light is more important than the style – look for ones that will give good all-over lighting that matches the size and shape of your dining table (by TW Homes LLC)

Of course, not all billiards lights are a good pair for a dining table; leave the hefty stained glass for the game room. But the basic design – a bar or rectangle with three to eight evenly spaced lights – is exactly what you want for a dining table. Why? For the same reason you’d want it for a pool table. You get good, even lighting from one end of the table to the other. Where a big chandelier can light a whole dining room, an island light can help anchor a dining table and keep it feeling distinct in a large, barrier-free space. My personal favorites are fixtures that give a little wink to dining room chandeliers. Exposed Edison bulbs are a popular choice for warm, candle-like light; many fixtures use either candle bulbs or frosted glass shades to evoke votive candles, with a more modern industrial feel.

Transitional Trifecta: Decorating With Lantern Lights

An image of a farmhouse style dining room, lit by a black-framed lantern light
Bold lantern lights are a perfect mix of simple modern lines and a subtle traditional feel – perfect for a more casual, transitional dining area (by Bee’s Knees Design, LLC)

All these bits and bobs combine into a bigger trend in dining room lighting that you’ve probably seen: subbing in lantern-style lighting fixtures in place of more traditional chandeliers or decorative pendants. These are simple in design, mostly metal frames (with or without glass) that hearken back to glass hurricane lanterns – but much bigger. I’ve been seeing variations on this theme almost everywhere. This is in no small part because the simplicity of the design makes the look quite versatile. Small changes to the design can give a lantern light a more traditional, industrial, or modern feel. Even changing the metal finish on the frame can have a big impact.

Customize Your Lighting: Small Changes With A Big Impact

An image of an airy farmhouse dining table with shiplap walls, wicker furniture, and a brushed silver lantern light above the table
Identical lantern lights in a lighter silver or gold finish have a totally different impact, but many of the same stylistic benefits (by Pineapples, Palms, Etc.)

Matte black lighting fixtures are especially popular right now (I’ve even seen people using outdoor lantern lights!), but you can find similar lights in polished gold or brushed silver – both of which will deliver a very different final result. There’s also a lot of room for customization in terms of size and number of bulbs. I count those as two different features. The length of the light should approximately match the length of your dining table; the number of bulbs you want can vary based on the light level you want. More, closer-spaced bulbs will give you better lighting at a low wattage; you’ll need brighter lights to get the most of fewer, more spread-out bulbs. Which is better for your space depends on your preference and the lighting in the rest of your greatroom.

Not Just Dining Room Lighting – Coordinate Your Greatroom

A long dining room lit by a matching pair of black-framed lantern lights
Lantern lights are simple in a way that makes them easy to coordinate, whether it’s from one part of your greatroom to another, or even from your dining room to your back porch (by Curated Nest)

Another reason I think lantern lights have been such a stand-out lately is that they make it really easy to coordinate lighting throughout your greatroom. After all, since your dining room doesn’t exist in a vacuum anymore, your dining room lighting demands a little more consideration and coordination as well. The easy answer would be to choose the same island light for your kitchen island and dining table, but I’d caution against this; there IS such a thing as too matchy-matchy. That said, lantern lights have such a simple yet distinct design that you can find them in very different sizes. Smaller one to four light lanterns are perfect for punctuating a kitchen island or breakfast nook. Mixing and matching similar lights in different sizes will give your greatroom a lovely sense of unity and cohesion.

All too often, it can feel like the rules of interior design are set in stone. It can be easy (or even feel necessary) to default to tradition. But as we’ve reinvented the way we use our kitchens, dining rooms, and living spaces, we’ve also had to reinvent the way we illuminate them. Breaking with tradition is the best way to get better dining room lighting – both a look you’ll love, and the amount and quality of light you actually need!