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How to Hang Pendant Bulbs (And More!) from Your Ceiling

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There's certainly something inviting about a low-slung interior: a platform bed spilling its duvet onto hardwood, poufs and floor pillows in beckoning piles, stone slabs as coffee tables. Your shoes can come off; your body can puddle. It's very undeniably cozy, a room that clings to the floor.

But what about looking up? It's easy to forget that your airspace—in addition to your floors and your walls—is a canvas to decorate. And all the easy ways to do it (think: single dangling pendant bulb, a glinting mobile, a little planter dangling from twine) have one thing in common: They require that you put a hook in the ceiling.

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Photo by Mark Weinberg

Experienced home renovators will want me to scream this next part: To hang anything remotely heavy—a ceiling fan, a chandelier, a bike rack, a Calder (you've got one, no?)—from the ceiling, you'll want to mount it directly into a joist (that is, the wooden structure of the house itself).

But if what you'd like to hang is more of a delicate flourish (and well under ten pounds) and it can simply be looped over a hook, you can actually suspend it from your a drywall ceiling.

Photo by Linda Xiao

Here's how to mount a small hook (a "swag hook") to your drywall ceiling using a butterfly clip—and ten ideas for decorations to sling from it.

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What you'll need:

A swag hook and fitting butterfly clip (they come together in a nifty kit—more on that below), plus an electric drill with a bit that's just larger than the butterfly clip itself.

A matching-sized toggle clip and drill bit.
A matching-sized toggle clip and drill bit. Photo by Mark Weinberg

A butterfly clip (or a "toggle bolt," a "snap toggle," or a "molly bolt") is a type of hollow-wall anchor: You actually drive the clip part of it through a relatively wide hole in the wall, at which point it springs open on the other side of the hole and can be screwed to fit like a clamp, hugging the inside of your ceiling.

A note on max capacity: Beyond the weight of the object you're hanging, there are other factors that affect how much your ceiling can bear: The age and quality of your drywall, its thickness, the direction of the force you're affixing to it, and, of course, the size of the butterfly clip-swag hook set you choose. Even if your bolt can bear 30 pounds, your drywall might not! Here's a helpful chart that can help you make an educated guess at the weight limit of your ceiling—aim below it!

Here's the whole process, broken down into steps.

1. Assemble the hardware

  • Screw the swag hook to one end of the bolt, the butterfly clip to the other end. Be sure the clip is oriented so that when you pinch it closed, the two "wings" bend in towards the bolt itself.
Photo by Mark Weinberg

2. Drive it through the ceiling

  • Mark the ceiling spot where you want the hook.
  • Drill through it there using an electric drill, fitted with a bit that's barely larger than your closed toggle bolt. (This hole will feel very large—mine needed to be a half-inch in this demonstration—but don't despair: It will be covered up!)
  • Pinch the clip closed and guide it through the hole in the ceiling. (If it won't budge through, make your hole a bit wider!) You'll hear and feel the clip spring open on the other side, though you won't be able to see it.
Photo by Mark Weinberg

3. Make it flush

  • Screw the swag hook counter-clockwise while pulling gently down; the clip will stay stationary against the other side of the wall and eventually your hook will come fully and cleanly flush with the ceiling.
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Now 10 ideas to hang away!

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Have you ever hung accents from your ceiling? Share your tips in the comments!

Tags: ceiling, decorations, interior design