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River House – How To Choose The Right Overhead Lighting In A Huge, Tall Room With Vaulted Ceilings

The wrong lighting can really kill the experience of a room. Think of being at a restaurant at night when the lights are really bright…it’s such a bummer and can/does (IMHO) ruin the vibe. So yes, I’m EXTREMELY specific and picky about the right lighting for the right rooms in our home. Right now overhead lights are being TAKEN DOWN on social media (with the hilarious latest “don’t use your ‘big light'” trend). But the right overhead light is extremely important to, you know, see to be able to do things. This room – the river house living room – became an exercise in how to plan and choose lighting for a large living room with very high wood vaulted ceilings.

Our Specific Needs/Wants/Restrictions:

1. We need enough light that you can have cozy even lighting in the winter months (when it’s dark at 4:30 pm and the sun doesn’t come up til after the kids eat breakfast).

2. Lights that work on an angled vaulted ceiling (so the pendants had to either be on a chain or with a canopy that allowed for angled hanging).

3. A diffused bottom so you aren’t staring at a bulb.

4. We have these gorgeous wood ceilings and didn’t want to put in recessed lighting, but we also knew that four pendants would be really awesome (and they are).

5. We wanted them to drop low enough to look intentional, but not too low or intersecting with the window in a bad way.

6. Big enough that it feels like the right scale for the room (not dinky). Four small pendants would look just dumb in here, IMHO.

The room is big (about 22′ x 28′) and not having any lighting on this pretty Stuga wood ceiling would be lovely, but I was definitely fearful that in the winter lamplight just wouldn’t be enough. So Max and I agreed that four big pendants were the way to go. It would evenly light the room (versus one big chandelier from the middle that would compete too much with the fireplace), feel appropriate for the size of the room, and obviously be an awesome design element.

If you are wondering what those red things are in the ceiling they are sprinkler covers (which we have since painted to color match the ceiling). We used Stuga’s Drift wood on the ceiling and it’s super beautiful.

For this project, we pitched the lighting partner that we wanted for each fixture in each room. Essentially, designing the room with whatever dream lighting we wanted and going after each partner to see if we could make it happen. For these pendants, I shopped around for a while, but kept coming back to this Conical pendant because it checked all the boxes.

I love how simple it is, which we knew would pop off the wood ceiling well without being too busy. But it’s not just a shade – the metal rods and stem add some architectural interest, making it look really high-end and quality (and not builder-grade).

And yes, I love that there is a diffused bottom (and yet it has multiple bulbs if we wanted it to be BRIGHT).

The good news is that it comes in multiple sizes, customizable stem lengths and multiple finishes, so we had to spend HOURS figuring out what size, finish, and length we wanted.

Choosing The Right Length Of Drop:

This is where elevations (drawings) are nice to have, but won’t always be exactly what you want either. So my brother had to get up on scaffolding and hold a stick with markings on it so we could see how it would FEEL if the lights came down at different lengths.

We specifically didn’t want them to obstruct too much of the top windows – so they needed to land at the perfect place. We settled on the lowest drop length possible (47″).

But Which Size??? 16″ 24″ Or 30″??

This was HARD. The room is huge, the ceiling is big. It can handle big pendants but we also didn’t want to make them feel overwhelming or block the wood too much. The entire art direction of this house is more minimal, not super eclectic and wild. The wood, light, and windows with that view are what the focus should be. Not every fixture – and yet in a house of this budget you can’t have boring/basic fixtures.

We went with 30″ in the white with the satin brass stems. Turns out 30″ was the perfect size as these look incredible, and much smaller could look dinky and dumb.

When I first walked in after they installed I was so relieved at how happy I was – we NAILED the size, scale, and drop of these light fixtures. My gut was screaming, “YES! YES! YES!”

The bottom of the fixture (I’m not sure what it is made out of, maybe some sort of plastic or fiberglass) creates such a soft diffused light underneath, which is awesome because the fixture has 3 bulbs (so ample light if you want to go bright) plus we obviously put everything on a dimmer. Literally, they could not be more soft, ambient, and ample light in this room.

You’ll notice that the stems hang straight off the vaulted lights because we chose a canopy for a vaulted ceiling (meaning it has a piece of hardware letting things hang straight down off an angled ceiling).

Staring at these photos I honestly don’t know how these could be better in any way for this room. They’ll have nice soft light (but also bright should they want it) for the darker months or for cleaning at night. The simplicity of the design of these lights is in line with what we are going for and doesn’t compete with the fireplace at all. Also, they are graphic and simple, pop off the beautiful wood while tonally working with the warmth of the wood. The scale is perfect. The design is spot on, letting everything else shine (but not being boring). It’s a real pat on the back moment when things turn out as you had hoped. And not everything has or does, so I’m a big fan of pointing out and celebrating when all your obsessing over the order before you place it actually pays off.

A huge thanks to Rejuvenation for making such lovely high-quality fixtures that you can customize to your needs/wants. The Conical, 30″ fixtures (with 47″ drop), in white and brass, are going to be used and loved forever.

Architect: Annie Usher
Interior Designers: Emily Henderson and Max Humphrey
Contractor: JP Macy of Sierra Custom Construction

Pretty Photos by Kaitlin Green

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11 days ago

I wonder how much the cleaning is hard. The colour and height should make it not easy, for sure :/

11 days ago

I didn’t like the pendant in the first pic, but then seeing them in the river house I LOVE them. What a lesson in good design, they work so well in that space and the colors/finishes vibe so well. Also staring at them they started to remind me of hot air balloons or lanterns being released into the sky – the rods and stem just give them this lightness like they are floating instead of hanging. And they are so functional. Love it.

11 days ago

This lighting moment was my favorite pic from the River House Reveal. Just spectacularly lovely. Those pendants! The tiled fireplace, the scale of everything in the room and the wood ceilings and windows… the benches… great job!

11 days ago

Does pitching lighting to different companies equal free lights for your brother? I’m a little confused by the addition of that paragraph.

10 days ago
Reply to  Steph

Usually these are partnership pitches. Emily’s team get to pick something from the lighting company’s collection for the house. In exchange, this website agrees to write a blog post about it, which includes pictures and links. I don’t follow Emily on Instagram, but the proposal may have also included posting an Instagram reel. Sometimes it also includes the lighting company being able to use photos of the room in their own advertising.

11 days ago

Such beautiful pendants, both when you need them and when they simply hang there in their gorgeous design.

11 days ago

So lovely. It’s very helpful to hear about the minutiae of this decision, all the factors you wrestled with.

10 days ago

This looks fantastic! We have a 1980’s home that we are renovating that has some mid-century feel to it. Our living area and fireplace is all under one half a vaulted ceiling with a loft on the other half. We currently have outdated recessed lighting and fans over each area. I need a fan (hello FL) but have been contemplating if updating the recessed lights or going with pendants is the way to go. I love this article and seeing a way to do it with beautiful scale.

10 days ago
Reply to  Kirsten

Sounds like I have the same house as you! 1980’s post modern, vaulted ceiling up to a loft! Our focal point is a fireplace with the opposite wall being a TV area which worked out perfectly.
Only difference is I am also in FL but don’t care about a fan in the living room so replaced it with a beautiful modern chandelier from Anthro on a dimmer and the 9 globes are frosted so the light is not too sharp!
There are some nice modern fans now and more interesting canned lights. Plus you can do a floor lamp as well. Good luck!!

10 days ago

How are they planning on cleaning those shades when they get dusty? Get a reeeeally long extension for the vacuum cleaner hose, or?

10 days ago

This is very interesting. To the ‘layperson’ like me (not an interior designer/stylist), it seems like one single chandelier would be less competition with the fireplace than four big lights hanging down. Never would think to do this. I am sure it feels right when you are in the room. Never knew there were lights that could angle like that for vaulted ceilings.

10 days ago

I love that you chose to do 4 pendants, and the fixture you chose is so pretty. Can’t wait to see more developments from this project!

10 days ago

This looks great! But what if you have a slightly smaller room (but still high, pretty ceilings) and want a statement light in the middle, do you still need cans or some kind of other more diffuse ceiling light?

10 days ago
Reply to  Lauren

I have exactly what you described – high vaulted ceilings in a smaller room that could not handle that many pendants, but you still need lighting. In addition to our pendants, I added 3″ cans that pivot so they can point down. Love that 3″ is visually minimal vs 6″. I also added wall sconces to create different sources of where the light comes from. Super happy with our choices.

10 days ago

How would you change a light bulb in those pendants? Maybe you wouldn’t ever have to.
They are very handsome for sure.

10 days ago

Ooo, this room is giving me butterflies already. Can’t wait to see more.

10 days ago

You know, I dislike maybe 80% of overhead lights but NOT ones like this. The bottom diffuser and the drop make all the difference – these do not kill the atmosphere and create shadows on faces like can lights or even flush mount ceiling fixtures would. Gotta use them in conjunction with lamps for best results still!

6 days ago

I love this! But how did you “choose the canopy for the angled ceiling?” I’m trying to order these! Unfortunately, customer service doesn’t know, and we live far from a store. It’s nice to know it’s possible though. I’ll keep trying to get through to a main store.

6 days ago
Reply to  Katelyn

It’s only available on the Conical Pendants. Click “Dimensions” to see how to order it. “Vault Option (located in advanced options): Hang-straight joint up to 45 degrees”