Flying high in the air with the greatest of ease or low over a table to accent your meal, a pendant illuminates the room like no other kind of fixture.
When it comes to interior lighting, we all owe Danish architect Poul Henningsen a huge debt. Having grown up in the glow of gas lamps, Henningsen tinkered for ten years in the early age of electricity before taming the bare bulb. His first PH Lamp -- unveiled at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris -- was an instant sensation and unlike anything that had come before. Its three shades directed light downward while also casting a pleasant ambient glow.
Countless variations have followed, but Henningsen's designs continue to best articulate the basic concept behind a pendant: the blending of focused and ambient light. Darrell Hawthorne, principal of San Francisco-based design collaborative Architecture and Light, agrees. "There's a very simple formula to make a space feel good. You have to have two kinds of light: ambient, which fills up the area and gives it a general structure, and accent, which highlights particular objects and gives your eye a place to go."
We opted for a diverse array of 14 hanging lights hailing from a broad range of points on the ambient-to-accent scale. Alvar Aalto's Bilberry A338, the purple Mhy from Muuto, and Cecilie Manz's Caravaggio are aces at accents, best placed over a work area or to illuminate art on a wall. On the middle of the scale we offer V by Arturo Alvarez and Seppo Koho's Secto 4201, lamps whose slatted structures cast interesting shadows without forsaking a focused downward beam. Naturally, Henningsen's PH Snowball also sits squarely in the center of the spectrum. Gracing the ambient side of the scale are Bertjan Pot's Non-Random Light for Moooi and Achille Castiglioni's Taraxacum '88. Pumped up to full glow, Taraxacum '88&'s bulb-spotted, 20-sided polyhedron will illuminate even the darkest dungeon master's dwelling.
Choosing the right pendant light is ultimately a question of both form and function. Or, as Poul Henningsen famously said, "It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture."