The One Item That Will Instantly Make Your Rental Cool

Updated 09/23/16

Living in a rental can feel like design purgatory. Making dramatic changes to a place that’s not your own can feel pointless, yet you still want to give the space a sense of character—it’s home for now, after all. While a stunning sofa or quality coffee table often get attention as good first investment pieces, we’ve pinpointed one item that will give your rental instant vibes: a statement pendant light.

From an ornate beaded chandelier to a modern glass bulb, this single purchase injects personality in an instant—even if the rest of your décor has yet to be defined. And while they might look dramatic, overhead lights can be easily changed with the help of an electrician, making them the ideal investment piece to buy now and take to your next home. Believe us, this is what your room is missing. Ask yourself these questions to find your perfect pendant match.

Louise Desrosiers

While people often look for pendant lights that match their existing décor style, interior designer Allison Bloom of Dehn Bloom says that’s a rookie error. “Don’t worry excessively over matching the light to the room,” she tells MyDomaine. “Contrast creates intrigue, and if you love the pendant, it will make you happy whenever you see it.”

Bloom says the first issue you should address is what your room is lacking. “Think about what the room needs. Is it overly angular? Go with a circular fixture. Does it feel flat and need some reflectivity or glamour? Go with a crystal or glass pendant. Do you need actual wattage? Get a light with multiple bulbs, and not the Edison variety!” she says. Rather than choosing a light that matches your space, look for pendants that fill a design gap and make the space feel complete.

Michael Anastassiades Tube Chandelier
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Michael Anastassiades Tube Chandelier (price upon request)

Courtesy of Amie Corley Interior Design

If your first impulse is to choose a statement light that’s in line with the main accent color in your home, you’re making a common mistake. “The most prominent color in a room is already prominent, so adding more of it is not surprising or exciting,” says Bloom. Instead, she recommends looking for a secondary shade, found in items like an accent cushion or artwork. “Bring in a color that will register as something fresh and contrasts slightly with the main color. This will add drama and visual excitement,” she explains.

Serena & Lily Malibu Chandelier $1195
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Courtesy of Anne Hepfer

There’s one practical question you should ask before selecting a light: How tall are the people in your house? Even if you’re trying to create intimacy with a low-hanging bulb, Bloom says it’s vital to consider practicality first. “For lights that require passage underneath, the base should be no lower than 76 inches. When the electrician hangs the light, ask him or her to leave 6 inches of extra cord in the canopy,” she cautions. “You can always go higher, but you can't go lower if you’ve cut the cord!” If the light is positioned over a table, don’t forget about head height. Bloom recommends hanging the pendant 36 inches above the table, or 26 inches maximum to create intimacy.

Visual Comfort & Co. E.F. Chapman Darlana Foyer Lantern $690 $483
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Courtesy of Studio Oink

Choosing the perfect height to hang your pendant light should also take into account the size of other items in the room, not just the height of the ceiling. “Pendant lights pull the eye up and vary the sense of height in a room,” says Bloom. “Since most furniture is waist height or lower, rooms without pendant lighting often feel monotonous and flat.” Think about your space like a cityscape that needs both short items like ottomans or a coffee table, and accents that draw your gaze high, like artworks and lighting. If your space consists primarily of low furniture, choose a pendant lamp that varies the levels in the room. 

Sofie Refer x &Tradition Mega Bulb Pendant Light $340
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Courtesy of Katie Martinez Design

Pendant lights have the power to create an instant focal point, so think carefully about what is underneath the light before selecting a style. “In the absence of walls, our eyes define spaces primarily through lighting and flooring. Pendant lights are sculptural arrows directing us to hang out here,” says Bloom. “This is one of the best reasons to use a pendant, other than for actual light!”

When choosing which room to hang the light in, consider open-plan areas that need definition. In her own home, Bloom has positioned a chandelier over a sofa to segment the large loft space. “The chandelier creates the sense of a smaller, cozy hang-out spot on the sofa. It’s like a mini living room within the larger space,” she says.

Dot & Bo Hoboken Pendant Light $1035 $690
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Alicia Taylor for Australian House & Garden

Consider if the pendant light should make a bold first impression, and if so, play with proportion. As an interior designer, Bloom’s pet peeve is seeing clients err on the side of caution when choosing the size of their light. “Nothing deflates the sense of drama in a room more than a light that is too small, unless you are intentionally going spare and minimalistic. Most lights should be 6 to 8 inches larger than you think they should be for impact,” she says.

Grappling with a small space? Try an oversize orb-like pendant. “I especially like a large light in a small room—it plays with the sense of scale and creates a cool Alice in Wonderland effect,” she says. “It’s too big only if you can’t walk under it or if it’s larger than one third of the room. Otherwise, go big, go beautiful, or go home.

Visual Comfort & Co. Middleton 6-Light Chandelier $1679
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Courtesy of Claesson Koivisto Rune

Before you fall in love with an intricate pendant, be sure to check the existing light fittings in your house. If you’re considering multiple pendants in a room, it’s well worth calling in an electrician before you buy the lights to gauge the scope of the project. Many rental contracts include a clause about returning the home to its original condition if changes are made, so be sure the task is possible before you fall in love with a lighting style.

Piet Houtenbos Halo Chandelier $4600
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Maree Homer for Australian House & Garden

While a single statement pendant light can be simple and stunning, some light styles look best en masse—think minimal glass bulbs or basket-like shades. The key to gauging if your room needs more than one pendant is to assess the length of the area and the function of the room. Thin hallways or open-plan kitchens with a long benchtop often call for extra lighting to illuminate the space. It’s also important to consider how the lights might impact your line of sight. “A clear lantern or a wiry chandelier will allow you to see through the fixture, whereas a giant drum fixture will not,” Bloom explains.

Vistosi Naranza SP P Pendant $1637
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Courtesy of Emily Henderson ; Interior Design by Brady Tolbert

Statement lighting can feel intimidating, but don’t be discouraged from taking a risk. Bloom says there’s one type of lighting that people often avoid, but shouldn’t. “While most people think of the classic French [lighting] when they hear the word chandelier, this style of pendant can take nearly any form,” she says. “It simply means a light with branching arms! There is no home that can't handle a chandelier.”

She recommends stepping outside of your comfort zone when researching styles, and browsing vintage sites like 1stDibs and Chairish for unusual one-off finds. “Lighting is a place to have fun and take risks [because] unlike a sofa, it doesn’t have to withstand the rigors of daily life, like dirt, kids, and dogs, and it doesn’t even have to be comfortable. It just has to be beautiful.” That’s a rarity in the décor world, so make the most of this purely aesthetic opportunity and be bold.

Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Tangled Chandelier $385
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