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  • Writer's pictureErin Hackett

How to Design a Cohesive Decorative Lighting Plan for your Home

How to craft a cohesive decorative lighting plan for your home
Living Room Design by Hackett House Studio

One of the things I notice my clients struggling with the most in their projects is coordinating all of the decorative lighting. And I get it, it can be such a tricky thing to figure out. Not only are there so many decorative lighting options out there, but they all come in multiple finishes, different sizes and shapes, etc. How do you figure it all out and put it all together? It can be so intimidating!

One of the things I notice my clients struggling with the most in their projects is coordinating all of the decorative lighting. And I get it, it can be such a tricky thing to figure out. Not only are there so many decorative lighting options out there, but they all come in multiple finishes, different sizes and shapes, etc. How do you figure it all out and put it all together? It can be so intimidating!

In this post, I want to share my secrets for pulling together a lighting concept for a large scale project. Coordinating lighting between two spaces is tough, but now think about doing it throughout a whole home or even just a whole lower level. One of the many reasons you see so many builders or spec homes using the same lighting in multiple rooms is because coordinating lighting is interior design at a very high skill level. Pick the wrong size lighting, and you're in trouble. Mix finishes wrong, and same thing. Therefore, I want to share my process for brining it all together.

So... what is a decorative lighting plan? A decorative lighting plan is the process of pulling together unique, cohesive, and interesting light fixtures into a home in a way that looks cohesive. Here's how I do it.

Jean Stoffer's kitchen in the Madison, with a unique and coordinating combination of pendants, architectural spots, and sconces.
Design by Jean Stoffer

Step 1: Figure out what lighting you need

My first step is always to go through every single room with a fine-tooth comb and figure out where any-and-all lighting needs to be placed. Does the room need (and can it fit) a chandelier? Or should I use a flush mount or semi flush mount instead? Perhaps this room needs a a ceiling fan? What about cans? Is there any opportunity (or need) to place sconces anywhere in the room?

Figuring out what the room needs is alway step number one. Determining your ceiling lighting needs is usually pretty straight forward -- your room either needs a chandelier or it doesn't. Remember, we try to hang a light at least 7' off the ground, so if your ceilings are lower than 10', you probably need a flush mount or semi-flush for your ceiling.

Wall lighting is where it gets a bit more complicated. Because there isn't always a "need" for these items, it can be tricky to figure where to place them and for what purpose. Sometimes you'll want to illuminate a piece of art with a library light, while other times sconces are used for purely decorative purposes (like above a fireplace). These pieces can have such a huge impact on the overall design of your home because hardwired lighting feels very luxurious and high-end (and this is true even if the fixtures themselves aren't all that expensive). Wall lighting is one area where you can really get creative with fixtures, and it's going to have a lasting impact on the impression of your home.

Katie Hodges interior design, living room with the RH capiz shell light chandelier in extra large
Design by Katie Hodges

Step 2: Measuring

The most important part of selecting your lighting is getting proper measurements and understanding what you have room for. The rule to remember is that you need at least 7 feet of walkable clearance underneath your ceiling lighting. If your household is a bit on the taller side, you may even need a little more. Seven feet is just enough that even someone who measures a little over 6 feet tall can still walk comfortably underneath the light without any fear of bumping their heads. You can occasionally have a chandelier lower than this, for example if it's above a dining table, coffee table, or bed. However, it's important to do your research and be very cautious with your measurements. Oftentimes, the height of the light fixture will be reported by the height fixture itself, and you have to do some digging to find out what the drop is.

For example, if you have 9 foot ceilings in your home then you only have 24 inches of space to play with. So, when you're looking for a chandelier, flush mount or semi-flush mount, you'll have to look for a fixture that measures under 24 inches, and then confirm that the drop is going to keep you within the allotted space.

Tips for measuring for sconces can be a bit trickier since there are so many thousands of applications for them. You'll need to think critically about how the lighting will fit in every direction: up, down and side-to-side. If your sconces are flanking a mirror, or are above a fireplace flanking some art, you'll need to measure those too. Something helpful to keep in mind is that a standard back plate is usually either 4.5 or 5.5 inches. With this in mimd, you can create a template by cutting a piece of paper to the size of the backplate and taping it to the wall. From there, measure in every direction to make sure your selected piece is going to fit.

Bathroom mirrors and sconces with marble countertop and simple black sconces and hardware
Design by JDP Interiors

Step 3: Consult an electrician

If you are working on a new build, you likely have the ability to place lighting just about anywhere you want it. But if you're working on a renovation or existing structure, it's best to consult with an electrician before you begin sourcing your product. Most electricians want to come out to your home to give you an estimate before you begin the work anyway, so this is a great opportunity to find out what it will cost to install your hardwired lighting as well as any limitations you might be up against. We all want to put the most beautiful decorative lighting everywhere in our homes, but those will older homes know that this sometimes means major construction and it's not worth the mess.

Mixed brass and black lighting in this kitchen by Jean Stoffer
Mixed brass and black lighting in this kitchen by Jean Stoffer

Step 4: Determine what finishes you want to use

Ah, and now to the fun stuff! A good lighting plan is going to consist of lighting in at least two different finishes. While most of my large-scale projects include lighting in 3-4 finishes, sticking with two is a great strategy if you're intimated by mixing metals. Some popular metal finish combinations are:

  • Matte black and satin brass

  • Polished nickel and black

  • White and either black, brass, or nickel or copper

  • Polished nickel and copper

  • Antique bronze and brass

  • Brass and Copper

  • Brass, polished nickel and black

  • Brass, aged or antiqued brass, copper, and black

Something to consider before selecting your metal mixture is what metals are currently being used in the home. Look around: are you cabinet knobs brass? Then most likely, you're going to want to use that finish in your lighting. Strategic pairing of these finishes is what is going to make the home feel cohesive and intentional.

Once you've determined which metals to work with, it's time to start sourcing!

Whole home lighting concept from our Hochstetler Manor Project, mixed metals lighting for a new build home
Whole home lighting concept from our Hochstetler Manor Project

Step 5: Sourcing & Mood Boarding

At this stage in the process, it's all about searching, editing and curating on repeat until you feel like you've gotten it. I like to use Canva (or other design software) to mood board my selections together (see below). Of course, you have to be double checking your measurements as you go to make sure you're not importing a light that's going to ultimately be too big or too small. Since my design process is very holistic, I like to select lighting in consideration of the furnishings we are using on the project as well. Typically I will design 2-3 rooms to completion and let the lighting in those rooms dictate our accent lighting through the rest of the home.

For example, if the client has their heart set on a gorgeous, statement chandelier for the Entryway, I will mock up that lighting with the appropriate furniture and decor for the space before I source lighting for the whole home. I'm usually thinking 10 steps ahead about how it will coordinate with the hallway lighting, kitchen pendants, etc. Any space that is going to have really stand out lighting will get designed head-to-toe before much of the accent lighting is selected. Once I have the main lighting pieces sourced and decided upon, I'll look to layer in the sconces, art lighting, and anything else we need.

While I do include lighting on the mood boards or renders for each individual room, plotting them all out on one sheet really helps me visualize if they play nicely together. If you have one that won't work, it usually stands out right away. While this process can be timely (and sometimes frustrating), it's important to remember that the perfect light you're looking does exist. There is more cool lighting out there than I'll ever get to use in my whole career, so I always try to remind myself that if I'm stuck on a certain fixture or space.

After you're confident that your design plan is complete, the last thing to do is have a licensed electrician install your beautiful selections so that you can enjoy them for years to come.

And, as a bonus, here are some other very important tricks of the trade:

  • Before shopping online, visit as many lighting showrooms as you possibly can. Even metals of the same color family can vary significantly, so seeing them in person will be a huge help. It also helps you get sense of the size of the lighting. Until you've looked at a few chandeliers that are 30" in diameter, you really don't know how large that is! Do your homework, and get your booty to a showroom.

  • If you're interested in using a silver tone in your home, opt for polished nickel -- not chrome. This is especially important if you are pairing with brass. Chrome is a little too cool and can pull a little blue. Nickel is warmer, and plays really nicely with brass and other metals.

  • Using large scale lighting can feel very high-end and dramatic, but don't sacrifice clearance. You need that 7' under any light (exceptions can be made, but this is rare and is only for the experienced!)

  • You can mix high-end and budget-friendly lighting. As long as you're following the steps above, price really doesn't matter.

  • Buy from vendors who are flexible with returns and generous when it comes to breakage. On average, I would say 1/8 lights we order from vendors comes with a broken globe or other part. Outside of my to-the-trade only lighting wholesalers, I almost exclusively shop at Circa Lighting - they're the best.

Shop our favorite lighting options below!

If you need help pulling together a decorative lighting plan for your home, why not take advantage of our Concierge Interior Styling Service? This service can be done completely remotely, if needed, so non-local clients are welcome. We'd love to help you build a unique, stylish and cohesive lighting plan that you'll love for years to come.




Need help executing your design ideas in your own home? Hackett House Studio is a full-service residential interior design studio. Using a combination of your exquisite taste and our creative know-how, we bring your vision of a beautiful and balanced home to life. Here at HHS, we use science-backed research to design carefully-styled spaces that have a positive influence on your health and wellbeing.

Our processes have been carefully refined so that we can fully appreciate our clients' personalities and aspirations from the outset. After gaining an understanding of your goals and wishes, we get to work creating functional interiors that enhance our clients' quality of life. HHS designs are timeless, elevated, approachable and, most importantly, a reflection of the beauty and opportunity you desire to bring into your life.

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