The surprising secrets for how to get your pendant lighting the perfect height for your kitchen

These expert tips on proportion will help you perfect the height of the lights over your kitchen island

A modern grey kitchen island with orange bar stools and pendant lighting
(Image credit: Future Owns)

The kitchen is the heart of our homes. They're fun, sociable spaces where families come together or where guests congregate at a party. What's more, those with a kitchen island will know that this specific pivotal point becomes the center of all activity in the room and, as such, the design of our islands shouldn't be overlooked. 

That includes the space above them. The lighting above an island sets the tone for the entire kitchen. Too bright and it risks looking unwelcomingly clinical. Too dim and it becomes oppressive and impractical. And then there's the question of height. There's no denying that hanging lights have the power to elevate a kitchen island, but getting the dimensions right can seem like an impossible task. 

When it comes to choosing the height of pendant lights over an island, Shades of Light CEO, Bryan Johnson, says you shouldn't have to sacrifice on style. 'Home décor is a unique extension of your personality, and a kitchen island chandelier is too important of a design centerpiece for you to settle on a ho-hum, mundane design,' he says. 'Let your inner self sparkle with an island chandelier that is uniquely you!' 

With this is mind, we've compiled some expert advice to help you choose the perfect chandelier lighting for your kitchen island, including all those finer details on the dimensions. No more lighting that's so high it looks unnatural or so low it hits your head - these tips will help you get the height just right. 

Kitchen with concrete floor, bespoke kitchen island in teal with wooden worktop and black factory-style pendant lamps.

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Why does chandelier lighting work well over an island? 

Spotlighting is a great choice for the rest of the room, but your kitchen island deserves a little something extra. From a design point of view, pendant lighting over an island can help add depth and dimension to a space, as well as emphasising the features of the island below. 

'For many homes this is the central point of congregation,' says Volker Haug Studio. 'It’s a place for relaxing as well as a work space, and any feature lighting in a kitchen must be both practical and beautiful as it’s always going to get a lot of use.'

While their design benefits don't need much explaining, Bryan Johnson from Shades of Light says there are some important points to keep in mind when looking for the perfect lighting to hang above your island. 'Chandeliers work particularly well for kitchen islands when they are designed for linear applications,' he explains. 'These chandeliers, aptly named island chandeliers or linear chandeliers, tend to be wider and narrower to spread light across more rectangular shaped areas.' 

On a practical note, this helps inject more light - as well as a little more ambience - into your kitchen. The island is often the countertop you come to in order to prepare food, so extra light goes a long way. It's a good idea to think about getting a dimmable switch for more ambient lighting, however. As David Amos of Amos Lighting + Home says: 'This is so you can reduce the brightness down when you have finished your food preparation and then have a relaxed environment to socialise with guests and family.'

Besides the advantages of perspective and practicality, they also add a little extra flair to an otherwise bland kitchen. As Bryan adds: 'They create visual interest that reinforces the home style and décor, and are a natural focal point that draws the eye to the kitchen island, which is oftentimes the heart of day-to-day activity in the home.'

A large kitchen island with three large brass pendant lights

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti)

How do I choose the best lighting for my kitchen?

There are a plethora of over island lights to choose from, and choosing the right one can be overwhelming. From low hanging pendants to branched chandeliers, knowing what looks best in your space takes some skill and expertise. 

Before entering any showroom, the first place you should look is your own kitchen and its existing furnishings. 'The color of the hardware, appliances, cabinets, as well as the material and color of the island itself, should all be taken into consideration,' Bryan says. 'For instance, an island chandelier that is a brighter, yellower brass may wind up clashing with stainless steel appliances, whereas a softer aged brass may be just fine.'

When it comes to kitchen island lighting, think about the overall style of your island, too. Does it have curved lines, or is it straight and simple? Does your countertop have a gloss finish, or is it a leathered marble? As Bryan notes: 'Kitchen islands that feature simple, elongated patterns in the stone may be accentuated by a sleeker, more modern design chandelier.' 

A series of pendant lights works well for a longer island. Two or three tend to work best, and you could even experiment by making the heights asymmetrical if you're feeling brave. A restrained light can also give a very contemporary look, especially if it's in a matt black finish. 'We love when designers use restrained lighting over islands,' says Volker Haug Studio. 'An attenuated, linear lighting scheme helps emphasize the spaciousness of a room and the impact of the island moment.'

A farmhouse style kitchen with high vaulted ceiling and large metal pendant lights over the island

(Image credit: Chris Snook / The Main Company)

How do I get the right height for the pendant lights over an island? 

Once you've decided on your kitchen island pendant lighting, it's time to turn to the question of height. As Bryan notes: 'Having the right dimensions is critical! If the island chandelier is too small or too large, then it will always stand out for the wrong reasons!'

Many factors will contribute to the look and feel of your lighting, such as the height of your ceilings, and whether your lighting has a fixed frame or a cord, but there are a few points that will help you choose the best placement.

'When choosing a chandelier to hang over your island, there are two measurements to keep in mind: height and width,' says Bryan. 'When it comes to height, chandeliers should fall approximately 30-36 inches from the countertop. The aim is to position the light around eye level to illuminate tasks. That said, don’t be afraid to hang it a bit higher if your chandelier is visually dense!'

The question of width is more dependent on the size of your island itself. 'Still, your chandelier should not overlap with the edge of your island,' Bryan advises. 'A good rule of thumb is to leave six inches of space between each edge of the island and the chandelier. In other words, choose a chandelier that is roughly 12 inches less in width than your island.'

In more general terms, Bryan suggests opting for a chandelier that's roughly one-third to two-thirds the length of the island, and it really is vital you do your best to get these dimensions correct. 'If the proportions are wrong, then no matter how stunning the chandelier is, it will always look out of place,' he says. 

A kitchen island with a statement globe light fixture

(Image credit: James Marrell)

What if I have a low ceiling? 

Chandelier lighting lends itself best to high or vaulted ceilings, so you might encounter difficulty if you have a particularly low ceiling in your kitchen. No matter how hard you try to get the height of your lighting right, it could end up looking too low. 

The trick is to look at the height of your island to ensure you have the right balance. 'Standard counters are 36 inches high (42 inches if you incorporate a bar height eating area),' explains Bryan. 'The chandelier should typically hang 30 inches or more above the counter top, which gives you a mere 18 inches to work with if you have 7-foot ceilings.' 

This is when you might want to avoid hanging pendant lighting and instead choose lighting that fixes straight to the ceiling. 'We would suggest using a flush mount chandelier rather than a traditional island chandelier,' Bryan adds. 

He continues: 'If your ceiling height is 8 feet however, there is a little more room to work with (up to 30 inches from the bottom of the chandelier to the ceiling), in which case we would focus on chain or cord hung chandeliers that can be adjusted height-wise to better fit your space.'

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.