Do you need a light over a dining table? Designers offer their expert advice

The pairing of a light over a dining table has its purpose, but is it a necessity? Experts discuss this timeless decorating decision

kitchen painted in pastel green from Dulux
(Image credit: Dulux)

Do you need a light over a dining table? When you consider the practicalities, it may seem like the natural placement to follow. However, just because this may seem like the right decorating decision, it doesn't mean it should always go unquestioned. 

This time-honored placement is a traditional dining room lighting room idea, but should you consider breaking from tradition with another setup? We asked experts for their opinions on lighting a dining room – and their conclusions differ. This advice should help you decide what's best for your home. 

Do you need a light over a dining table? 

'Putting a light over a dining table is not necessary; I look at it a couple of ways depending on where the table is and then the use,' says Joe Human, a designer from Designs by Human, who, amongst other experts, offers his advice below.

1. Observe the size of your space

Beige dining room with contemporary black dining table and chairs

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti)

Whether you need a light over a dining table ultimately depends on the size and shape of your space. 'If it is located in a large formal dining space, then most of the time, I would incorporate one to enhance the room and increase the function,' Joe Human explains. 

However, if you're working with open-plan kitchen ideas, the answer is not as definitive. 'Some open rooms need spaces defined, and adding a light over the table helps define that space,' the designer says. Though, in some other open rooms (depending on their layout and proximity to the kitchen or walkway), it might make the space look more 'awkward'.  Then you also have the question of whether kitchen and dining lights have to match to consider.

If you feel a light will look too forced above your table, Joe recommends opting for an overhead light that may complement your room more seamlessly. 'It is always a case-by-case basis  – one size never fits all.'

modern dining room with green circular table and large paper lantern pendant

(Image credit: Jake Curtis)

Similarly, Rose Zefferino, the CEO and principal designer of Z Domus Designs urges you to rethink the fixture if it will hinder your home's architectural beauty. She avoids a light if 'there is a beautiful ceiling detail that will be disrupted by a light fixture that doesn’t sit centered in any way' – for example – if you have a coffered ceiling.

2. Choose the right-sized fixture

dining room with colourful round table, upholstered chairs in a playful pattern and bright rug

(Image credit: Polly Wreford / Claudia Bryant)

'For sizing, it really depends on the actual fixture; some fixtures are large but have more open space in them, so [they] don't visually feel as large. [Meanwhile] others are denser and can take up a lot of visual space,' Joe says. 

And while it is important to find the right-sized fixture for your space, it is equally important to know how far above a table a light should hang

The designer urges you to keep your light within approximately 6ft to 12in (or more if it's a smaller table) of the outer edge of the table. This will ensure you are not interrupted by your light while eating and entertaining. 

Allison Mattison, a Massachusetts-based designer from Trellis Home Design, mirrors these sentiments. 'As a starting point, the width of the light fixture should be at least 6in narrower than the table. And if it's a round table, I like to use an initial starting point of 3/4 of the diameter of the table, or smaller,' she explains. 'I like dining fixtures to have a presence.'

Dining room with two windows designed by Laura Gonzalez

(Image credit: Stephan Julliard)

How big should a light be over a dining room table?

There are lots of light sizing tips available to ensure your light hangs in the correct proportion to your table. 'We like the fixture to be around 1/2 the depth of the table and at least 1/3 the length of the table. So if your table is 40in x 60in, then the fixture we will start to look for will be around 20in x 20in,' Rose Zefferino, the CEO and principal designer of Z Domus Designs explains.  

The expert suggests that there are always exceptions to this based on ceiling height, style, and the body of your fixture. However, it remains a good rule of thumb to follow. 

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.