Whether in color or stainless steel, homeowners can't get enough of this versatile lighting fixture. By Nigel Maynard

Time was, people didn't ask much from their lighting--as long as it illuminated the dark, helped them find the mayo in the back of the refrigerator, or guided their shaky gait after a night of imbibing, they were happy. What more do you need lighting to do anyway? Today's homeowners, it turns out, want lighting to make a design statement, and they are using the pendant to do it.

"Homeowners are taking more pride in their lighting," says Diane M. Smith, sales and marketing assistant at Bruck Lighting in Costa Mesa, Calif. "They are finding that they can use lighting as a decorative element as well as a lighting element. As a result, they are shying away from recessed fixtures and turning more to pendants." To prove her point, Bruck says that about 40 percent of her company's leads from builders and contractors are for the company's 40 pendant styles. "We mainly get requests for smaller sizes," Smith says, "because they can be used in clusters of three or four for dramatic effect."

Popular culture

"Natural light is still the most valued lighting element in our homes, but we are finding that pendant lighting is among the most asked-about specialty features," says Kathleen Courtney, director of sales and marketing at William Lyon Homes in San Diego. "We have been offering it for some time in a couple of our projects and are in the process of making it available in more of our homes."

Pendants' popularity is due in part to homeowners who see the styles in magazines, but a great deal of the trend can be attributed to architecture and the way people live. The kitchen, for example, has become an even bigger focal point in the home. "People are upgrading to pendants in the kitchen because it is where they spend a great deal of time entertaining or where children do homework," says Jim Decker, vice president of marketing for Progress Lighting in Spartanburg, S.C.

Moreover, open plan designs, breakfast rooms, and eat-in kitchens have led to the advent of zone lighting. Mini-pendants measuring 6 inches are ideal for these areas, Decker says. Buyers have the opportunity to spice up these areas with color as well.

Fixtures with colorful mouth-blown Italian glass and brushed stainless steel finishes are by far the hottest styles. "The thing about it is that it introduces color to the interior so homeowners can get the warm lighting it throws, but they can also get the decorative effects from the colored glass," says Leonard Schwartz, vice president of sales and marketing for W.A.C. Lighting in Garden City, N.Y. "Recessed lighting and other types will give you good light, but they often do not have warmth." Plus, buyers like the opportunity to match the pendants to the stainless steel appliances, Schwartz adds.

Lamped up

Despite pendants' almost unlimited decorative options, the primary use is still to provide light, so their method of illumination is important. The fixtures can have metal halide, fluorescent, or incandescent lamping. Ira Minkoff, national sales manager for d'ac Lighting in Mamaroneck, N.Y., says incandescent is most popular because it gives off a nice warm light, and its dimming capabilities are inexpensive. The lamp, however, only offers about 800 to 1,000 hours of life. A metal halide on the other hand has a 10,000-hour lamp life. And even though fluorescent lamps last between 10,000 to 15,000 hours, people avoid them.

"There is a stigma that fluorescent lamps throw a weird light and make people look a strange color," says Minkoff. "But that's not true. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference between today's fluorescent lamps and other lamps."

Manufacturers are hoping the popularity of pendants continues unfettered. Many, in fact, are banking on it. W.A.C. Lighting, for example, is in the process of expanding its pendant category due to the success of its current lines. "We believe that trends come and go," Schwartz says. "One time it's the Tiffany-style fixture, another time it's the elaborate crystal chandelier. There seems to be a strong interest in pendants right now--and we expect to ride it."

Mini modern: Contemporary stem-hung mini pendants can be grouped in twos or threes to highlight an eat-in counter or a bar area. The fixture consists of an 8-inch etched glass cone with a 12-inch-diameter curved glass shade, and a brushed nickel stem. Progress Lighting. 864-599-6000. www.progresslighting.com.

Courtesy Luceplan

Off the glass: The GlassGlass fixture features an Italian glass diffuser that is available in a range of shapes. The glass may be either frosted or transparent in white opal, blue, or yellow. The metal support ring, frame, and ceiling riser come in matte gray or matte black, polished chrome, and gold extruded aluminum. Luceplan. 212-989-6256. www.luceplan.com.

Courtesy Luraline Products Co.

Industrial revolution: The Facets pendant is constructed of heavy aluminum with cast zinc alloys and is suitable for indoor or outdoor applications. The shade measures 11 1/2 or 14 inches in diameter, and the bullet diffuser is offered in clear or sating etched glass with an optional zinc-plated wire guard and perforated aluminum enhancement. The fixture is available in eight colors. Luraline Products Co. 800-940-6588. www.luraline.com.

St. Tropez: Tropez pendants have mouth-blown Murano glass and measure 10 inches long and 4 inches wide. The fixture is available in either line voltage incandescent or compact fluorescent lamping. Suspension is a standard 60 inches, but custom lengths are available. LBL Lighting. 708-755-2100. www.lbllighting.com.

Silver bullet: The Mini Corcovado's spun aluminum bullet-shaped housing measures 6 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter at the bottom opening. It has a clear glass lens and uses a 50-watt halogen lamp. Suspended from two metal cables, the fixture can be modified for use on low-voltage track lighting systems. d'ac Lighting. 914-698-5959. www.daclighting.com.

Courtesy W.A.C. Lighting

Marble magic: Measuring 9 inches long and 11 inches in diameter, the line voltage pendant is perfect above bars, islands, and counters. The marbleized glass is available in white, blue, and green. A black or white cord set is available. W.A.C. Lighting. 800-526-2588. www.waclighting.com.