Surface mount light fixtures make up some of our most essential offerings here at Schoolhouse. Whether brightening up a breakfast nook or illuminating a lengthy corridor, surface mounts are versatile, elegant, and easy to install. One thing we’ve noticed is that the terms used to describe surface mount fixtures aren’t always broadly understood. Because lighting jargon can be a little tricky to master, we’ve created this short guide to explain key terms and provide styling tips for anyone looking for an easy home upgrade.
Surface Mount Terminology:
First things first, the term “surface mount” refers to any light fixture that is mounted to an architectural surface (such as a ceiling). Here at Schoolhouse, we use the term to refer to fixtures that are made to be mounted to the ceiling. Some of these fixtures can also be mounted to a wall, but unless the fixture was specifically designed for this purpose, we call it a surface mount. We refer to fixtures designed for wall mounting as wall sconces.
The Basic Components:
Canopy – The part of the light that attaches to the ceiling and covers the electrical junction box.
Fitter – The fitter is the portion of the fixture that holds the shade. Usually, it does so using tightening or fitter screws which help to secure the shade in place. Here at Schoolhouse, we offer three fitter sizes 2.25", 4", and 6" (more on this below).
Shade – The shade attaches to the fitter and covers the lightbulb. Often, opal (or milk glass) shades are made to diffuse light, giving the lamp a softer glow. Clear shades can also help direct light.
Tips for Buying Fixtures and Shades:
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as unboxing your new fixture and having it be everything you ever hoped for. To do that, you’ll want to understand how to order and what to order. Follow these tips and you’ll be set up for success:
1. Remember the shade is a separate piece.
While some of our lights come with their own shades, many do not. This modular approach to the way we sell our products allows our customers to get the exact combination of fixture, shade, and bulb that they want. The product page will indicate whether or not the fixture comes with a shade.
2. Match the fitter size to the shade size.
There are many options for shades to match your new fixture but not every option will fit every size of fitter. If you’re buying a light fixture with a 2.25" fitter, you’ll need purchase a shade with a 2.25" opening. The fitter size can be found in the product description.
3. Try different shade types for different effects.
In addition to changing the overall look of the fixture, different shades will offer different lighting effects. For example, an opal shade will spread warm light around while also drawing the eye to the fixture itself. A clear shade will help to direct light to a specific area of focus. You can even forego the shade altogether if you want to make a strong statement. In that instance you'll want to choose a bare bulb fixture.
4. Consider your home's style.
Most of our shades fall into one of three design philosophies: traditional, modern, or utilitarian. Traditional shades might feature painted glass and come in a range of shapes and sizes that reflect a variety of design traditions. Shades designed in the modern aesthetic offer simple geometric forms, clean lines, and minimalist finishes that highlight the materials from which they’re built. For industrial design, our Factory Series offers the best example; their simple form and function are eye-catching but practical.
5. Don’t forget the lightbulbs!
The obvious benefit to ordering your lightbulbs with your fixture is convenience. Simply put, you don’t want to have to make a trip to the store when your new fixture arrives. Ordering your lightbulbs from Schoolhouse will also ensure you have no problems with compatibility because our lightbulbs match both the aesthetic and functionality of our fixtures.
The beauty of surface mount lighting is that it can be easily customized to meet your aesthetic. With so many options out there, we thought we'd share a few of our favorite configurations to help serve as a starting point.
2.25" Fitter Size: While this versatile pair can go anywhere, our go-to install spots include: small bathrooms, closets, pantries, laundry rooms, at the top of the stairs, and over the kitchen sink. To generate impact, install them in multiples in a large room or down a long hallway.
4" Fitter Size: Ideal for guest bedrooms, kid's rooms, entryways, porches, kitchens, and mudrooms. This pair is a perfect primary source of lighting for most standard sized rooms. Keep in mind that if you have particularly high ceilings (8 feet is the standard), you may want to scale up to a 6" fitter combo.
6" Fitter Size: This fixture and shade duo often works well in living rooms, large bedrooms, and dining areas. They are also perfect for making a statement in smaller rooms like a bathroom, laundry room, or entryway.
When all is said and done, selecting lights for your space is a deeply personal exercise. If anything, we hope this guide encourages you to explore what styles you're drawn to and inspires you to see the creative possibilities within your home.