Where would you like a chandelier? The traditional locations -- over your dining table and in your foyer or entry way -- are still the popular places to hang a chandelier. But anywhere you have the ceiling height to accommodate a chandelier and think one would look good is worth considering. Your bedroom, if it has a raised ceiling, for example.
What style do I want? Chandeliers are available in styles that will fit with almost any decorating theme from medieval to post-modern.
If you decide first on the look you want in your house or in that room, then look for a chandelier in that style, it will help you focus your shopping.
How large should it be? A chandelier should be sized in proportion to the room it's in. In a dining room that's 12 feet by 12 feet, for example, an 18" to 24" chandelier might be appropriate. In an entry hall with a very high ceiling and minimal furniture, you might prefer one that's 2 or even 3 feet across. Bear in mind that, in general, the height of the chandelier will increase with the diameter. While the proportions vary by style, a larger diameter chandelier will usually hang down further than a smaller diameter one will.
Will it need special support? Most chandeliers are heavier than other light fixtures, and chandeliers with crystals can be particularly heavy. If the chandelier you want weighs more than 15 pounds, you'll need to install a special electrical box, just as you would if you were going to install a ceiling fan.
In fact, it's the same box.
It will be a metal box and it will have a message such as "Rated for Fan Support" stamped inside it. Those boxes are typically rated to hold light fixtures that weigh up to 150 pounds. If your chandelier weighs more than that, it will require special mounting hardware that should be supplied with it.
There's one special case. If there are gas lighting pipes in your ceiling that are no longer used, you may be able to use an ordinary electrical box to enclose the electrical connections and a hickey to support your chandelier. The electrical box is slid over the gas pipe and held there with lock nuts and the hickey itself, which is threaded onto the pips. A threaded electrical nipple -- a hollow piece of "all-thread" -- is then screwed into the top of the chandelier and the bottom of the hickey and locked into place with nuts. As with the fan-rated electrical box, this mounting method should be used for a chandelier that doesn't weigh more than 150 pounds.
How far down should it hang? You want your chandelier to be low enough to give good light but high enough to be out of the way. This means that if you're going to hang it where people will walk under it, the lowest part of it should be no lower than 7' above the floor. In a tall foyer, it might be 10' or more overhead. If you're hanging it over your dining table, most people find keeping the bottom of the chandelier between 30" and 36" above the table to be a comfortable height.
What is it with crystals on chandeliers? Chandeliers existed for centuries without crystals. First of all, clear glass was only invented in the 15th century, and lead crystal glass was invented in 1675. Even then, as nice as it might have been to have them in a chandelier, they were simply too costly until, in the eighteenth century, glassmakers learned to make lead crystal less expensively. That's when the "crystal chandelier" caught on.
Once they became more affordable, crystal chandeliers became popular for two reasons. One is simply that many people find the crystals, and a crystal chandelier, attractive to look st. The second, more practical, reason is that lead crystal "sparkles." That is, it scatters light. At the time, the light itself was still produced by candles. Adding crystals to catch and scatter the light made the chandelier a more efficient light fixture.
Of course neither lead nor glass is particularly light. A true lead crystal chandelier is heavier than one without crystals, and will definitely require more support than an ordinary hanging fixture would.