5 Lantern Lighting Ideas & Design Tips

Published By: Shades Of Light

Date Published:

Last Updated: May 12, 2022

Lanterns in kitchen

If typical chandeliers or pendants just don’t feel right for your latest lighting project, turn your attention to lanterns for a timeless focal piece with historical roots reimagined for modern settings. Before the advent of electrical lighting, when torches and candlelight were the illumination standard, lanterns were used to enclose the flame, making the light both safer and more portable. Modern lantern designs still reference the shape, style, and function of vintage candle lanterns with frames that surround the lamps. But without the need to guard a flickering flame from wind or other hazardous conditions, certain design details can be altered to add creative twists to traditional shapes and materials and make this fixture type suited to any contemporary home aesthetic.

1. Learn the Differences: Lanterns vs. Pendants & Chandeliers

Black metal hanging lantern light fixture Black metal pendant light fixture Black metal chandelier light fixture

Black Metal Lantern (Left), Black Metal Pendant (Middle), Black Metal Chandelier (Right)

Because lanterns are a style of hanging light, it is easy to group them with pendants and chandeliers. But a few key differences set this style of light apart from other hanging lights. Because modern design innovation is constantly updating and reframing traditional lighting shapes, the exact definition of ‘lantern’ may vary slightly from specific design professionals or lighting retailers. At Shades of Light, we distinguish lanterns from pendants and chandeliers based on the shape of the fixture, where it is placed, and the directionality of the lamps. Most importantly, lanterns will always feature a framework that encloses and surrounds the bulbs, and while certain designs can be used in other areas of the home, these lights are most typically hung in foyers, hallways, or outdoor areas.

Lantern vs. Pendant Light

To distinguish pendants and lanterns, consider the main function of the light. Pendant lights usually only have one bulb and the light is directed downward. They are most often used for task lighting, and have slim, streamlined silhouettes.

Conversely, lanterns usually feature a cluster of lights that work to illuminate a generalized area. While both fixtures may have frames that surround the lamp, lanterns feature a fully enclosed design while pendants have openings at the bottom of the shades to help direct the light.

Sometimes a fixture may blur the lines between these two designs— one trendy example consists of a single bulb surrounded by an oversized globe frame. In this case, the directionality of the light can help you best determine where the fixture falls on the pendant/lantern spectrum. Lanterns are best for ambient lighting and will light a whole space, while pendants are best for directional task lighting.

Lantern vs Chandelier

There can be significant overlap in the designs of chandeliers and lanterns. Both are multi-light fixtures and both can be used most effectively as ambient lighting. As a general rule, chandeliers tend to be larger with lamps positioned at the ends of multiple arms. Chandeliers are also less likely to feature the kind of fully enclosed framework that lanterns do. Because lanterns are more compact than chandeliers, they make good alternatives to larger fixtures if you want the centerpiece pizazz of a chandelier but lack the space.

2. Decide Where to Place Your Lantern

Rustic living room lanterns

Two Weathered Oak Lanterns in an eclectic living room

Foyer Lanterns

While lanterns can be used in most rooms of your home, they are especially suited to placement in the foyer or entryway. This room needs lots of ambient lighting to keep walkways safe and functional and the configuration of bulbs in foyer lantern fixtures is perfect for casting that kind of light. These fixtures are also stylish statement makers and can add a dash of wow-factor at the front door that sets the tone for the rest of your home.

To choose the right size lantern for your entryway, you can reference the same rules used to determine chandelier and pendant sizing. First, measure the length and width of your room and add those two numbers together. The resulting sum is the diameter or width in inches of an appropriately sized hanging fixture. (For example, a room that is 12’x12’ needs a light that is 24” in width.) Usually one foyer lantern will suffice, but if you have a large foyer or select a small fixture, multiple lights can create a unique aesthetic. Your lantern should be hung in the center of the room, and the bottom of the fixture should fall about seven feet above the floor. If you have high ceilings, you can mount the lantern higher but it should never be hung closer than seven feet from the floor, or else you will create a safety hazard. If you have a two-story foyer or entryway, hang the bottom of your entryway lantern level with the second floor for the best visual effect.

Hallway Lantern

Interior hallways without much natural light can be a bother and lighting this space can often be overlooked. Ceiling lights and sconces are typical finds in this room but hanging lanterns here is a creative and stylish alternative. Depending on the size of your hallway, one fixture may suffice, or you may consider hanging multiple hall lanterns at different points down the hallway. If you adhere to the sizing rules above, you are sure to create a look you can be proud of.

Once you have determined the best lantern size, you should also consider the wattage and illumination offered by your chosen fixture. Exact formulas for determining how much light a room needs can be complicated and consider many different factors. A simplified formula to determine the recommended incandescent wattage needed for any given room is to multiply the length and width of the room, and then multiply the answer by 1.5. The number you get is the total wattage needed for your fixture. For example, a room that is 12 feet long by 10 feet wide requires a fixture that provides 180 watts (or (12x10)x1.5=180). However, this formula assumes the use of incandescent bulbs. With recent innovations in LED technology, you can find low wattage LED bulbs that help you customize the look of your space. LED bulbs offer incandescent equivalencies at lower wattages so if you find your lantern feels too bright or too dim for the room using the above formula, swapping in LED bulbs allows you to tweak the lighting output of the fixture to your liking. The recommended color temperature for ambient lighting in hallways and foyers is 2700-3000K, often called ‘soft white’ or ‘warm white,’ and installing your fixture on dimmer switches can personalize your look even further.

Kitchen and Dining Room Lanterns

Kitchens and dining rooms are classic spaces to show off stylish hanging lights. If you want to incorporate the lantern look in these rooms, many suggestions and style tips for hanging pendants and chandeliers here will apply to lanterns as well. The biggest difference between kitchen lantern lighting or lantern dining room lights and other hanging lights designed for this space is the type of illumination each fixture is capable of. Pendants bring focused task lighting—so if you want to hang a lantern over your kitchen island or sink instead of typical pendants, be sure you chose a lantern that casts light directly down onto the workspace. Some fixtures offer ambient lighting and task lighting in one, but you will find your area hard to work in if you chose a lantern that is best suited to ambient lighting only.

Lanterns in Living Rooms

Living room lanterns add class and elegance to living rooms that need a chic focal point but might be overwhelmed by a traditional chandelier. Since lanterns enclose the light in a framework, they can appear more contained and streamlined than sprawling chandeliers while still creating a refined aesthetic. Lanterns chosen for this room should generally be intended to fulfill the ambient lighting needs of your living room. Use the above formulas to determine the size and height of your fixture, and be sure your light doesn’t block your view to the TV or any important architectural features. Installing your lantern on dimmers will ensure you can keep your living room comfortable and functional no matter the mood.

When choosing your living room lighting, it is important to keep in mind that ambient lighting alone is not enough illumination to successfully meet all the needs of a room. Don’t forget to layer your lighting. Mantels and wall décor are good places to aim smaller accent lights. A floor lamp with a reading light will make your favorite chair even cozier. Table lamps bring an extra layer of ambient lighting that can be easily switched on and off as needed. Your lantern should work in tandem with all these lighting layers for the best experience.

Lanterns in Bedrooms

The bedroom is another often overlooked space when considering hanging lights, but mounting a lantern (or chandelier or pendant) in your bedroom is a striking choice that offers lots of customization. As with the living room, bedroom lanterns should be paired with other lighting layers (like sconces, desk lamps, and tables lamps) to create a truly well-lit space.

When hanging lanterns in bedrooms, there are two main placements that you should choose between. Most commonly, you will either center the lantern to the room as a whole or center the lantern to your bed. If you choose to center the lantern to the room, you can reference all the above tips for the best size and placement. If you choose instead to hang the lantern over your bed, you may consider a fixture that is proportional to your bed rather than to the room itself. For king- or queen-sized beds, fixtures should not exceed thirty-six inches in width. Smaller beds will look best with lanterns around twenty-four inches wide. Always ensure that your lantern does not pose a safety hazard—it should be at least seven feet from the floor, but if this placement poses a risk when climbing in and out of bed, mount it higher.

Outdoor Hanging Lanterns & Wall Lanterns

Because the lantern design was originally intended to protect firelight from the elements, lantern-style fixtures are disproportionately represented in outdoor lighting! These lights more closely resemble traditional lantern designs than some modern, indoor versions, and while there are many hanging outdoor lanterns, there are even more outdoor wall lanterns. Wall lanterns are great for framing a doorway in style and upping the curb appeal of your home, but they are also incredibly important for safety reasons. Adding outdoor lights to your house is a valuable security measure in addition to the obvious function of lighting your way to your door at night.

To make them safe for outdoor use, wall lanterns and outdoor hanging lanterns protect the light source from the elements with glass. Lights that do not fully enclose the lamp may be best suited for indoor use, or for covered areas that will not come into contact with rain or snow. Look for lanterns with wet safety ratings if the area is subject to the elements, and damp safety ratings if the area is covered and unlikely to be directly exposed to harsh weather. Shades of Light offers a wide array of outdoor lanterns suited for this task, including a range of exclusive fixtures handcrafted by local artisans in our Richmond, VA facility. These lights are designed in styles, shapes, and materials that embrace the history of this style of fixture but reimagined for modern contexts.

3. Find the Lantern That Fits Your Style

Rustic lanterns above a farmhouse dining table

French Country Scroll Lanterns above a farmhouse dining room table

Our Most Popular Lanterns

Our Heritage Hanging Lantern is a perfect example of a light with vintage inspiration but modern appeal. Candle bulbs and sleeves and glass panes in the frame are reminiscent of traditional candle lanterns while the shape of the frame calls to mind the classic portable lantern look.

Heritage Hanging Lantern

When you picture lantern lights, you might have trouble imagining anything other than a traditional black metal and glass frame enclosing a lamp. But today’s lantern light fixture designs are often creative and unexpectedly striking. From modern and contemporary designs to rustic, farmhouse, and bohemian looks, there is sure to be a lantern light out there to fit your lighting design tastes. Add drama and a timeless yet exotic element to your boho or eclectic living space with a Moroccan lantern like this one, which encloses the light in an elaborately shaped copper frame.

Pierced Moroccan Lantern

Bring an abundance of natural charm to your room with wood lanterns like this one which merges classic elegance with a countryside appeal.

Demi Wood Bead and Metal Lantern

Rustic lanterns come and all shapes and sizes and bring a cozy ambiance to homes with farmhouse inspirations. This exclusive design from our Young House Love collection is striking, stylish, and casual, perfect for rooms that blend chic style and comfort.

Young House Love Wicker Bell Lantern

While overall they tend to be smaller than chandeliers, large lanterns are still common finds in foyers in entryways. This example from our stunning Lustre En Transition collection has a roomy four-light cluster and a breezy open frame to help fill your space.

Lustre En Transition - Large Lantern

Metal lanterns look right at home in modern and industrial rooms. This globe lantern generates a big impact with a series of crossed straps that are equal parts playful and rugged.

Rustic Metal Strap Globe Lantern

Glass is a timeless lighting material that imparts a clean, open feel to your space. Glass lanterns like this one look great in smaller spaces where heavy frames can feel too crowded.

Urban Coastal Lantern

If a focal point fixture isn’t your style, consider mini lanterns instead. You can use one to illuminate a small area or group several together for a unique spin on typical pendant lighting arrangements.

Harrington Lantern Chandelier

Star lanterns offer a striking take on typical lantern frame looks. The faceted glass frame is sure to turn heads and add interest wherever you hang it.

Superior Moravian Star Light

Modern lanterns cover a wide range of designs. This example has a playful vibe with an oversized globe shade formed from linked wire circles.

Circles Sphere Pendant Light

If the look of a classic paper lantern like the kind used for memorials, celebrations, and party decorations speaks to your sense of style, look for permanent, hardwired fixtures inspired by this shape and design. This fixture showcases the type of ribbed globe shape common to paper lanterns reimagined with a rope frame to maximize illumination.

Seafaring Sphere Pendant

4. Choose a Bulb Style to Complement Your Fixture

Once you’ve selected your perfect lantern, you can add the finishing touch by selecting the correct bulbs. Bulbs and fixtures are sold separately on shadesoflight.com (unless otherwise noted) so you can completely customize your look.

Many, if not most, lanterns will use candle base bulbs. Candle lantern bulbs are a timeless choice for this type of fixture because they bring to mind the lantern’s original function and use with candlelight. Choose candle bulbs with a flame tip, like the bulbs below, for an authentic aesthetic.

Contempo Arabesque Chandelier - Small

While the bulb base that you use for your light is not interchangeable, the bulb shape often is. Decorative lantern bulbs come in many shapes, some more common than others, so you can choose either a classic look or something more unexpected. This lantern uses tubular bulbs to contrast the geometric shape of the frame.

Modern Diamond Prism Lantern

LED lantern bulbs use less energy and are available in a wide selection of wattages and color temperatures. You can find LED bulbs that will fit in any lighting fixture, or you can find fixtures with integrated LED arrays like this one. Whatever you choose, this long-lasting bulb technology makes it easier than ever to truly customize the lighting output of your fixtures.

Medium LED Spiral Chandelier

If vintage appeal is what speaks to you, you can’t go wrong with Edison lantern bulbs. The exposed filament in these bulbs add an unmistakable historic charm— you can even find LED versions!

Glass Jug Pendant

5. Read Customer Reviews & Photos to Get Inspired

For a dose of inspiration and creativity, check out how these Shades of Light customers are using lanterns to brighten their homes!

Fasciati Glass Lantern

Fasciati Glass Lantern

Helen says: “I saw this type of fixture on my trip to Venice this summer. I did buy a small chandelier while I was there but did not manage to get a lantern. Yours was the only one that I could find on-line that had that traditional Venetian look! I love it.”

Lustre En Transition – Convertible Lantern

Lustre En Transition – Convertible Lantern

Ty says: “Loved this light and it looks even better in my new home’s entry foyer. Love the finish, brushed nickel. Easy to install and ceiling mount is perfect for 9’ ceilings.”

Circle Lattice Hanging Lantern

Circle Lattice Hanging Lantern

Kate says: “We love our lantern. With a pending large more dramatic fixture coming to the adjacent great room, we wanted something that was simple. Love the open frame (no glass cleaning) and the way it looks from the outside through our Palladian window above our front door. The white wood finish is perfect too - just something unique and different, not adding more metal.”

More Lantern Ideas


Foyer Favorites

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Outdoor Lanterns

Durable Designs

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