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Whether the house is flush with the sidewalk of a city street or set back among trees on a suburban avenue, the appearance of glass and metal near the entrance doorway supplies an ornament by day and at night the gleam from the lantern is both cheerful and useful. On houses which hark back to Colonial days for their inspiration an outer hanging lantern of copper or wrought iron with a conical top and suspended from a simply fashioned bracket is popular.
For a dwelling of informal architecture an old ship's lantern with its chimney of thick glass and shiny brass base and top is being used, but appropriately only on houses near salt water. Or, a pair of quaint old carriage lanterns, with black metal tops and square glass sides which once enclosed tallow candles, are placed either side of doorways. Ship's lights, red and green for port and starboard, have also been used in coast resorts or fishing villages as reminders of old shipping days.
Houses in Spanish or Italian style, which are now springing up not only under our Southern skies but even in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the latitude of suburban New York, have a wide range of portal lights from which to choose. Many of these beautiful forms, created by presentday designers, were inspired by the graceful metal lanterns of Spanish and Italian origin. Other designs reflect no period, but incorporate something of the decorative spirit of today.
Some architects have been lucky enough to obtain specimens of the large lights which on ancient galleons illumined the prow. One of these, with a broad expanse of glass on its four sides, the frame tapering downward and the metal work of the base and the top still showing traces of the gilding that was lavished on these examples of the lantern maker's art of the seventeenth century, makes a richly picturesque source of illumination when suspended by a bracket above a suitable entrance. Modern adaptations of this mode carry the elaborations which in the doughty days of Sir Francis Drake or John Paul Jones made their ship lights things of beauty.
The use of exterior bracket lanterns is not restricted to the entrance. Often at a corner of the house it may form an interesting feature and at the same time illu mine a step or a turn of the path. Portal lanterns are not confined now to their original task of exterior illumination. Today, with the tendency toward picturesqueness in living rooms and entrance foyers, a lantern to which time has given associations is permitted by some architects to hang in the interior. Sometimes these hanging lanterns are used instead of the regulation wall-lights. Present freedom in interior decoration apparently allows certain square, foursided glass lanterns of Italian design to illuminate a living room in which there may be an old English table, Chippendale chairs and an Italian cupboard. Fixture designers are using Spanish, French, Chinese, English, Persian and Turkish lantern forms as suggestions for new varieties.
Another variation of the portal light is the enclosed wall light, built in on either side of an entrance door or within the foyer. Though some times New England Colo nial, most of them by their metal or by their polychrome finish suggest Latin ancestry and fit into even formal rooms in which furniture of Italian or Spanish inspiration is found.
Portal lights, in providing an interesting medium in their metal work and an opportunity for individual design, give a chance for the designer and craftsman of today to produce diverse effects. It is encouraging to note that examples of such metal work are being more and more appreciated, both because of their decorative usefulness and also because of the craftsmanship that goes into their making. One characteristic of a successfully decorated home is a certain evenness of craftsmanship in all the furnishings.