5 Pendant Lamps That Will Always Work (And Why)

by Grace Bonney

When it comes to making your house feel like a home, the best investment you can make is in pieces that will remain timeless. As fun as trend-hunting is (and we do love a good trend), the smartest buy is always one that will allow you to grow and change with a piece, rather than feel like it’s dated six months later. I’ve never been a whiz with electrical work, so I tend to change my main lighting once – right when I move in. Hiring an electrician who will do reliable work can cost more than it should here in New York, so I like to measure twice and cut once when it comes to lighting. Julia and I have been pondering a new pendant lamp for the living room, but haven’t been able to find one that feels quite right yet. Although that perfect find is still eluding me, I kept coming back to the same 5 categories of pendant lamps that always feel timeless in a room: metallic, glass, basket/woven, industrial and paper. No matter the stylistic details and variations, these main categories pop up time and time again in homes across all styles. Sometimes it’s nice to have the basics gathered in a single place, so today I’m sharing these five categories with examples I feel are worth investing in. These are pieces that won’t have you regretting a purchase a year later – they’ll grow with you for many new homes to come. xo, grace

*What’s your go-to pendant lamp? I’m always looking for newbies to bookmark, so if you’ve got a favorite, let us know below!

Click through for all 5 pendant styles (and 20 different options) and WHY they’re our favorites after the jump


Have you ever heard anyone yell, “If I see one more brass lamp I’m going to lose it!”? Nope. That’s because most basic metal finishes (brass, nickel, copper, bronze, silver) are timeless. Used sparingly and simply, these materials will give you a piece that blends well with almost any interior and will stand the test of time. As long as you properly care for them (clean, dust, etc.) they will not only last stylistically, but they’ll last long enough to be handed down to other people in your family. Simply put, you can never go wrong with a simple brass pendant. It’s the little black dress of lighting.

Images above, top to bottom: Isaac 1 Light Pendant $195, FOTO Pendant lamp $30, Fairfax pendant $236, Dolce Brass Pendant $199, Copper Pendant $199


Glass lighting can be tricky, because you’re dealing with a mostly exposed bulb. So I find these lights are the most timeless when given a bit of shading from the glass, in the form of a smoky glass or even a milk glass. That tiny bit of opaqueness will make the bulb seem less harsh without taking away too much light. When going for something that will last a lifetime, simple is best. While it’s tempting to get something dramatic and multi-colored (there are some fantastically dramatic ombre glass pendants out there), you’re going to get the most bang for your buck with something simple like these basic styles here.

Images above, top to bottom: Solitaire Pendant Light $525, Turret Modern Pendant Light $675, Globe Pendant $99+, Luna Pendant $159

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Woven lights are too often overlooked in homes and written off as somewhat retro or 70s-themed. But I find a woven or basket-style lamp to be incredibly neutral and appropriate for a number of home styles. Sure, a heavily textured woven pendant will work in a more rustic or country style, but a dramatic unbleached woven grass pendant works well in the most minimal modern interiors, too. I think of these as the tweed jackets of the design world- they may not be the coolest kids on the block, but they always work.

Images above, top to bottom: Cabrillo Pendant $195, Bungalow Pendant $198

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Paper and paper-like pendants will always remind some people of college. We all had a paper lamp or two that we plugged in and hung from a cord somewhere, but paper lamps don’t need to remain in the dorm. When looking for a new bedroom light, we actually ended up going back to a trusty white paper pendant in a dramatically oversized style. The look is clean, simple and surprisingly modern. Noguchi’s paper lanterns and pendants are always my favorite, but you can pick up similar styles at stores like Pearl River Mart and even most big box stores. If you want something that will truly last a long time, consider investing in a Nelson Bubble Lamp. Though they’re not actually paper (they’re a plastic derivative) they have the look and feel of a thick paper and give the same light-weight feel.

Images above, top to bottom: Nelson Pear Lamp $405, Oblong Origami Paper Pendant $39, VÄTE $7.99 (for shade)

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I have a love/hate relationship with cage lighting. When it’s done well, it’s beautiful and timeless, but when done poorly it can feel alternately too busy and too stark. A single cage light in a HUGE space can feel reminiscent of a construction sight, but when used in a simple row (like over a dining table or above a bar) they can be incredibly elegant. The key is to focus on high-quality materials and cages they have some visual interest. I prefer the thicker brass models to the super-colorful plastic models you can find in stores, but the thin cages painted white also have a nice simple feel. The bottom line is to stick to styles that have more substantial cage architecture and that are made of higher quality materials. Grouping too many together can feel busy, so stick to small numbers in a row or at staggered heights.

Images above, top to bottom: Mini-Pendant Light with Gold Cage Shade $320, Antique Brass Mini-Pendant Light $102, Gold Cage Pendant $79.95, Threshold Industrial Pendant $30, Room Essentials Industrial Pendant $18,
Atomic Topless Industrial Guard Pendant $125

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  • Normally I love D*S posts, so please don’t think I’m a hater. However, I think this post missed the mark in terms of (a) conveying information that is useful, and (b) providing content that is not too trendy. Let me elaborate…

    “Metallic, glass, basket/woven, industrial and paper” are some BIG, HUGE, IMMENSE categories – they encompass 90% of the pendant lamps I can think of. So, assuring me that those categories will always be popular is like assuring me that brick, wood, stone, steel, and stucco houses will always be popular. Perhaps it’s true, but it’s just not that useful…

    Four of the five pendant lamps in the header infographic are super trendy. And they’re trendy in a way that I’m reasonably sure will not stick around… If I look at something and it looks NOTHING like anything that I would have seen a year ago, then chances are, it’s not going to be around in a few years… Sure, sometimes a novel new design really, really sticks (Saarinen tables, ghost chairs, Eames chairs…). But frequently, if it’s not just an update or an improvement over existing designs, but instead totally different, it’s not going to be timeless.

    • Jessvii

      I’m so sorry that this felt trendy or unhelpful for you- that’s never something I want to provide for readers.

      The reason I didn’t stick to only 5 pendants was two fold. First, it’s hard to predict what shops will continue for years from now, so I didn’t want to only select 5 items that could possibly be sold out/out of style, etc. when someone clicked on them 1 year later. Second, people visiting this site have a range of styles, so I wanted to offer a small style range (ie: woven pendants) that I felt people could comfortably pick within for budgets and details that suited their personal style.

      For me, the items in the header (and below) aren’t actually trendy at all- each one is a spin on a style that has been around for a long, long time. The Nelson light has been popular in homes for over 60 years now and the brass pendant is something we’ve seen in homes for over 100 years. Cage lighting, while particularly popular right now, has been used for well over 50 years as well- surviving several major style changes.

      The reason I chose to make this about categories you could pick within, rather than specifics, was for the precise reason you mention above. If the glass pendant pictured above felt too modern or trend for someone, my hope was that they would understand the underlying point which is that a simple glass globe will always be in style at home. If you stick to the colors and styles outlined in the post, I feel confident that you will feel neither overwhelmed with options nor underwhelmed by your choice two years later.

      I’ll do my best to make sure the examples leading each post are as timeless as possible and will always keep an eye out to make sure I’m explaining any broader categories as clearly as possible so you feel like you’re getting the information and advice you need.

      Thanks again for your feedback :)


  • Nice choices! Bear in mind that of the five styles, only the metal ones are totally opaque. What this means in practice is that they direct light downward only–none “escapes” from the top. That means they provide far less light overall to the room (which may or may not be what someone is looking for).

  • I like hybrids of the 5 categories you called out, like paper and metallic –

    or this one, which is paper and glass –

    I also like pendants with shades wrapped (covered?) in fabric, almost like a lamp shade –

    I worry about the durability of just paper pendants, especially during moves or in houses with kids. Anyone have experience with this?

    • Rachael

      Paper is indeed tough to keep safe when you move. But most will flat-pack into something like a flat file box that you can use for transport. The Nelson Lamps don’t break down, so you need to put them in a strong cardboard box for transit. But unless your kids are jumping up and hitting the lights like a pinata, they should be ok with them ;)


  • Thanks for this excellent post! I found it very helpful as I am trying to choose a light for my dining room. These lights led me to more lights when I clicked on the links and explored other options available on the different sites.

    And I would just like to add that good design is always timeless.

  • A lot of these are lights I love the look of until you turn them on, then the exposed bulb / harsh downlight / freaky cage shadows turn me off immediately.

    In Europe all lightbulbs now have to be energy saving and I ‘ve found polypropylene plastic shades really soften the harsh whiteness of their light. I have three, and I’m always on the lookout for more I like. I resisted the Ikea Knappa for years because I just thought it was so recognisably Ikea, but finally I caved and now I love it – there’s a reason it’s so popular!

  • Thank you for highlighting lighting! Good lamps not only are a design statement, but also a room enhancement. I was introduced to what good lighting can do, through classic Danish Designers from louis poulsen’s great collection http://www.louispoulsen.com/usa/frontpage.aspx

    But thanks to Hennepin Made http://instagram.com/p/pBmb7rnWf2/
    I’m so happy to find that local American designers now on par with these classic greats!

    A proud Minneapolis unsponsored design fan!

  • I’m moving into my first home in a few weeks (eeee!) and found this post really helpful. There are old ceiling fans in practically every room with cord decorations. Do you know what I mean? One fan has a teapot & teacup and the other has some sort of animals. Can’t wait to change them out.

    • Owen—you’re right! As you will see, Grace mentions in her write-up that the Nelson Lamp just looks like paper. It is, in fact, made from a plastic derivative.