Ask Athena: How to Mix Lighting

There’s no denying the pure joy that decorating a home can bring but it can also be incredibly daunting. The possibilities are endless, which is exciting, but too many options can often leave us with decision fatigue. So many questions plague us along the way from how to pick the perfect white paint to understanding how to buy a rug (and style it too!)—it’s a creative minefield. So, in a bid to solve these decorating dilemmas we launched the Ask Athena series to give EyeSwoon readers direct access to Athena Calderone’s expertise. Because with a few simple ideas, anyone can execute thoughtful design at home. Up next, how to mix lighting.


Hi Athena,

I love your style and have recently moved into an open-plan home. I cannot figure out how to coordinate lighting. I would love to read your thoughts on how you mix your lighting fixtures.

Thanks so much and love your blog!

Bronwyn Flaherty


Thank you for your question, Bronwyn. This is certainly something that takes thoughtful consideration and planning, especially for open-plan homes. I too had a similar conundrum when mapping out the lighting of our Brooklyn Townhouse as the living, dining, entry, front parlor, and kitchen are all essentially one space. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my initial struggles to configure the lighting here—ensuring each area felt separate from one another yet cohesive all at the same time was certainly a challenge. But one I was only too happy to take head-on! Here are a few tips on how to mix lighting that helped me:

Ask Athena: How to Mix Lighting
Ask Athena: How to Mix Lighting

Create a Lighting Family

When you have an open floor plan, essentially all of the lights will be visible together from across the space, so you need to consider your lighting as a family—they all need to have their own unique voice but be able to sing in the same choir! When choosing multiple pendants as I did, they should tell a cohesive design language.

Use a Singular Palette to Unify Them

Since both the pendant in the living and dining rooms are fairly close to one another, I chose white to unify them. Their individual designs make a statement in each room but they also recede into the ceiling of the same hue to not overwhelm or obstruct. Even though they are very different styles, they speak to one another because they’re within the same palette family.

Switch It Up

For the kitchen, I knew I needed strong functional light so I chose to do that with high hats in the ceiling but they can be really bright. But instead of a pendant overhead, I chose to install three 1950s Italian wall sconces over the marble floating shelf to change where the lighting source is coming from but also create atmospheric light to set an ambient mood when I have guests or want a warmer environment.

Change the Lighting Source

Oftentimes people only consider lighting from above so it’s all down lighting but don’t ignore the many other possibilities. You’ll notice in my home I have multiple light sources: floor lamps, table lamps, task lamps, wall sconces, and candles which not only add visual interest with their unique designs but also layers the lighting—more on that in my next tip!

Layer, Layer, Layer

Yes, you do need bright lighting in certain parts of the home (such as the high hats in my kitchen) but lighting that adds an atmospheric glow from differing heights in a space is also really important. Consider something low on the ground with an accompanying lamp on a side table nearby or a taller floor lamp beside a wall sconce—play around with the layering as you differentiate your source of light and see how it impacts the mood. Lighting can really make or break a space so getting this layering right is key.

Don’t Fear the Mix

While it can be daunting to consider fusing eras, styles, or designs in lighting, when you get it right, there is so much beauty in the mix. Pair a traditional shade with a contemporary base, try a metal shade with holes that offer a pattern play on the wall, consider an exposed bulb or a paper lantern to differentiate the illumination throughout your space—embracing decorative alchemy is fun and can really make your home sing.

Keep scrolling to shop some of our favorite lighting to get started at home:

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