Small dining room lighting ideas – 10 ways to illuminate mealtimes in style

Discover dining room lighting ideas that can transform the fortunes of any eating area with less-than-generous dimensions

Neutral dining room with tall cupboards either side of bench seating and soft blue pendant lights over the table
(Image credit: Future PLC)

A well-planned lighting scheme is one of the most important small dining room ideas for anyone serious about maximising the sense of space where they eat and entertain. Small dining room lighting ideas come laden with decorative benefits, especially now there are so many gorgeous designs in eye-catching shapes, colours and patterns to dress your dining room in style.  

Before you begin drooling over all the beautiful light fixtures available, first think about how you use your dining room. Is it a separate space used only for high days and holidays, or is it within your main living space and constantly evolving from workplace, art and crafts station to wine bar? The different light levels and flexibility required will impact your light fitting shopping list, as well as the wiring plan.

‘A beautifully lit dining room that is carefully illuminated to avoid dark shadows, can feel far bigger than reality and will provide a more relaxed environment to socialise in,’ says David Amos, CEO at Amos Lighting + Home.

Small dining room lighting ideas

With any dining room lighting ideas, it helps to establish a furniture plan. In a small dining room this will most likely be the dining table. Start by deciding the type, height and position of your preferred lighting above the table, then work outwards to wall lights, lamps and candles. 

1. Light in layers

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Rob Ellis, head of design at dwell, recommends a variety of lighting options to make it easy to change the mood in a small dining room. ‘Over the table, go for a striking pendant light as this will create a focal point to draw the eye up – plus it makes a good conversational piece,’ he explains. ‘Pair your pendant light with a floor lamp or table lamp to create other areas of interest within the space and use dimmer controls for even more flexibility.’ 

Layering your lighting adds warmth and cosiness to a small dining space, and it also offers an opportunity to have fun with different light-fitting designs. Don’t feel obliged to buy rigidly matching fittings, a more eclectic mix will look more relaxed and comforting. 

2. Use lighting to zone

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Open-plan kitchen ideas has undoubtedly ushered in a more relaxed approach to dining but, if space allows, it’s still nice to retain an air of distinction between eating and relaxing. Lighting can be a saviour when establishing clear boundaries. 

We love how the festoon lights are used to frame the entrance to the compact dining area in this open-plan home. Go for battery powered string lights, available from £10 at Amazon to reduce the eye-sore of trailing cables. Also consider a trio of pendants, or one out-sized chandelier, to clearly define the dining table if the eating area lacks hanging opportunities. 

3. Choose a statement chandelier

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Don’t be fooled into thinking a small dining room can’t handle the glamour and opulence of a chandelier! By contrast, going bold with your chandelier selection – in both size and design – can be all it takes to make a diminutive dining room sing. 

‘A show-stopping chandelier can seriously impress when hosting family and friends around the dining table,’ enthuses Julian Page, head of design at BHS. Look for chandeliers with interesting, conversation-starting designs. ‘Tinted shades, unusual metal finishes and multicoloured glass will all create a stunning focal point in a small space,’ adds Julian. 

As chandeliers tend to have a lot more bulbs than other fittings, it makes even more sense to switch to energy-saving LEDs. They also last longer than halogen and incandescent bulbs so you won’t spend your life teetering on the dining table trying to replace them.

4. Source see-through shades

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

The design of the light fittings you buy for a small dining room can have a big impact on the sense of space in the room. If you are trying to make the room appear larger, steer clear of large solid light fittings and dark coloured shades that will dominate and draw in the room. 

Instead, source transparent materials, like clear glass, or spun shades that literally let the light through. If a shade is see-through, you can afford to go far bigger without fear of overpowering your other dining room décor ideas.

5. Be bold with colour

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Fentiman Design)

While neutral dining room ideas are renowned for boosting the sense of space in any room, they can lack character. Lighting is a great way to get your colour fix while enjoying the expansive benefits of pale walls. This small dining room, designed by Ciara Ephson, founder of Fentiman Design, features a bright mid-century vintage pendant that helps draw attention to the room’s generous height. ‘Floor lamps with interesting shades, like these from Pooky, will also add a pop of pattern at eye level,’ Ciara adds. 

6. Reposition pendants

lighting over dining table

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Like any room, small dining room lighting ideas should be planned at the very start of your decorating schedule to ensure the electrics are exactly where you want them. Ceiling lights should be centred on the table, which can mean buying, or at least choosing, the table before the room is decorated. 

If the existing light fitting isn’t where you want it, install a longer cord, add a hook and drape the cord across. Allow around 70-80cm between table and pendant light to avoid obstructing interaction between guests.

7. Switch up your lampshades

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Invest in light fittings with removable shades to make it easy to change up your small dining room lighting ideas without breaking the bank. You can even learn how to cover a lampshade and create different shades to suit the seasons. 

‘Switching out lampshades can instantly change the accent colours in a small dining room. I particularly love shades in navy blues, reds and browns for injecting moody glamour into lighting schemes,’ says Mary Buchanan, creative director of Laura Ashley Lighting and Mirrors. 

8. Work the walls

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Wall lights are a big design trend, and in a small dining room they can also prove a space-saving choice as they don’t block sightlines in the same way as pendants. Wall lights are also ideal if your dining room ceiling is low. If wall lights are your only light source, do get them wired to dimmer switches – making sure the light fitting and bulbs you buy are dimmer-compatible – so they can provide both bright task lighting and dim atmospheric illumination.

To avoid the expense and upheaval of hardwiring new wall lights, go for plug-in designs with stylish cables that are simply screwed to the wall above an existing socket. Don’t miss the opportunity to bring in some design interest with your wall lights, the latest designs are more like works of art than mere light fittings!

9. Make it yours

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Don’t miss the opportunity to add a touch of individuality, fun and texture with the lighting in your small dining room. Individual lighting components, like flex cables, bulb holders and ceiling roses, are now readily available and can be used to create custom designs like this smart industrial-look design featuring reclaimed timber. Using Edison-style bulbs in a variety of shapes is a clever way to save on pendant shades.

‘The benefit of building your own light fitting is it allows you to position the light source exactly where you need it, and control the length and width of the illumination,’ says Marketa Rypacek, managing director, Industville. ‘Further individual flair can be added with coloured flex or lightshades, to either make a statement or complement the décor of your small dining room.’ 

10. Add sparkle

lighting in dining room

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Candlelight is the unsung hero of all small dining room lighting ideas. When space is at a premium, a few strategically placed candles can make the room feel deliberately cosy, rather than cramped, and prove all you need to set the mood to relax. 

‘An assortment of candlesticks and tealights in eclectic bowls displayed on the dining table and mantle will bring some sparkle to any evening, not just when entertaining,’ says Rob Ellis, head of design at dwell. Fairy lights are not just for Christmas. Use them, in glass bowls and along a table runner, to provide a similar twinkly atmosphere to candles without the potential fire risk! 

How do you light a small dining room?

Lighting can make or break the atmosphere in a small dining room. A layered approach that can be dialled up, or down, is the best way to make sure the space is illuminated right into the corners. Interior designer Nicky Dobree recommends using plenty of lamps to cast a soft, warm light across the room at lower level. As well as pendant(s) centred on the dining table, she likes to use indirect ceiling spotlights, on dimmers if possible. 

‘They’re more discreet and can be hidden in the beams, used to highlight the artwork in the room and accent other areas of interest, like a nice sideboard,’ she says. Use floor lamps if there isn’t space for any lamp-bearing furniture. If you can comfortably accommodate a small dresser or shelving unit, add discreet LED strips under the shelving to bring in some cosy mood lighting.

What light is best for a small room?

A small room will benefit from flexible lighting with brightness levels that can be adjusted at the flick of a switch. Dimmer controls are the easiest way to change the light levels according to what you are doing in the room. Don’t forget dining tables are often used for working from home and homework, when brighter light levels will be beneficial. 

In a small room dedicated to dining you should choose light bulbs that provide a fairly warm white light of around 2,700 Kelvin (cold light is less flattering and harsher on tired eyes). Wall uplighters are great dining room wall décor ideas as they illuminate the ceiling to boost the impression of height, which can be a huge boon in a small room. 

Linda Clayton

 Linda Clayton is a professionally trained journalist, and has specialised in product design, interiors and fitness for more than two decades. Linda has written for a wide range of publications, from the Daily Telegraph and Guardian to Homes & Gardens and Livingetc. She has been freelancing for Ideal Home Magazine since 2008, covering design trends, home makeovers, product reviews and much more.