If you’re in the know about barn lighting, the answer to the question of which type of lighting fixture is better - pendant or gooseneck barn lights - is most likely going to be: “it depends.” That’s no fun though, everybody wants a winner.
The best type of barn light really depends on the individual, their personal taste, and their home lighting needs. Before we can address the specific uses for each type of barn light however, it will be helpful to define just what exactly a barn light is. Barn lights are, as the name implies, traditionally used to light barns, and their origins are almost purely utilitarian. While there is technically no “official” designation of what a barn light is, they all share the same basic characteristics. Originally they were created to provide light in often dark barns, and not much thought was put into their aesthetic other than that they needed to be durable, and they needed to shield the bulb from the elements often found in leaky barns or outside. Outdoor barn lighting fixtures were, by necessity, metal, industrial and simple.
The barn lights of today are much the same, except they can be used for a wide range of lighting purposes, both indoor and outdoor. Barn lighting isn't just for barns anymore. Barn lights are understated, subtle, and give any space an authentic vibe. If you're really going for authenticity, you can source vintage barn lights and refurbish them for use in your home - though this can be a costly effort, as they're increasingly in demand. For rooms you want a vintage, homey vibe in, barn lights are a great choice. When it comes to picking the barn light for you, however, you’ll have two main styles to choose from, gooseneck barn lights or pendant barn lights. Understanding the differences between them, and the situations they are each best suited for is important in deciding which lighting style is best for your space.
Gooseneck barn lights get their name for the way they resemble a goose’s long, curved neck. Gooseneck lights are attached to the wall and have a long, curved stem that supports them. These fall under the category of wall sconces or fixtures, because they are attached to the wall, and are not movable once they are installed. They are typically all metal, usually of a brushed, matte, understated color. They also have a characteristic barn light shade, which directs all of the light downwards. Gooseneck shades are great for outdoor use, especially in areas with strict “dark sky” laws on outdoor lighting. Cutting down on light pollution is never a bad thing, you don’t want to block your neighbor’s view of the stars!
Because gooseneck barn lights are wall-mounted, you can put them up almost anywhere. From industrial chic lofts, to farm houses, workshops and outdoors applications, the gooseneck light can fit in just about anywhere. Just ask Joanna Gaines, that rustic farmhouse look works every time. The gooseneck barn light is a versatile lighting solution, just be aware that they are called gooseneck for a reason- they can stick out from your wall quite a way, so make sure you have ample space, or your visitors could be seeing stars after bumping into it! If you're using a gooseneck lamp outdoors on a patio or exterior wall, space likely won't be an issue, but for indoor use, avoid narrow spaces like hallways or small utility rooms.
Pendant barn lights, on the other hand, get their names from their flexible, cord or chain-based fixtures. Pendant barn lights are attached to ceilings, and hang down via a flexible stem, allowing them to sometimes swing like a pendant if there’s a strong wind, or maybe your barn isn’t quite sturdy enough. Not all pendant barn lighting is actually able to swing, but that’s where they get their name. We don’t make the rules, we just supply you with the tools. They also feature the all-metal, industrial aesthetic of their gooseneck cousins. Pendant lights almost always feature the characteristic barn light shade that directs light downwards, like gooseneck barn lighting, this makes them great for areas where you don’t want to pollute the night sky with artificial light.
Because pendant lights can only be attached to a ceiling, they must be used in interior spaces- or on porches with a ceiling overhead. That’s not to say they have limited function, however, you can use pendant barn lights in kitchens, lofts, actual barns and more! The understated aesthetic of pendant lights allows them to be used in a variety of room styles, from industrial, modern and minimalist, to charming vintage farmhouse. The vintage pendant barn light is a great way to make an antique home look new, and vice versa!
One note about sourcing and using vintage barn lighting fixtures - while they offer an authentic look, you may struggle to find exactly what you're looking for. If you need several lighting fixtures, finding a matching set may take a great deal of time and frustration, not to mention the high price tag many vendors are fetching for these retro items. Too, if you prefer energy efficiency, a more modern LED gooseneck barn light better fits the bill - and at a great price.
Which Style of Barn Light is Best (for You)?
The style of barn light you need is largely depending on your space. If you’re lighting a large room, especially one with higher ceilings and lots of natural light, pendant lights are probably your best bet. If you’re lighting the exterior of your home, or a smaller space, like over a kitchen sink, or entryway, gooseneck barn lights are optimal. Some spaces, like workshops or man caves, can even accommodate both types in the same room, with wall-mounted gooseneck lights providing task lighting over a workbench, and supplementing the overall room lighting of ceiling-fixed pendant lights.
Let’s get down to brass tacks here though, you read this article looking for a winner in the barn light showdown. All things considered, the ability of a series of sharp pendant lights to transform a room from blase to chic cannot be undervalued. Gooseneck lighting is great for adding that antique charm, but if you want a truly timeless look, pendant lights are almost always guaranteed to be a hit. It really does depend on the space, the look you want, and the light you need though, so buy your barn lights accordingly. Regardless of what you’re using them for, barn lights are great for giving a space a rustic, authentic vibe, but modern barn lights come in so many styles you can find a light for practically any space, regardless of your style.
For a complete guide to barn lighting fixtures, including their history, buying advice and decor tips, check out our Barn Lights Style Guide.