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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Lighting For Your Home

( Originally Published 1935 )

Artificial light has been an important influence in the growth of civilization. The development of lighting is an interesting study because of the constant changes in it. Electricity effected the greatest single improvement in lighting, since it reduced simultaneously the labor, dirt, heat, and the danger of fire that were connected with other forms. Electric light is also cheap enough for all, wherever it is not controlled by private interests.

The appearance of a home at night depends considerably on the way it is lighted. Lights that are too strong or are badly placed can spoil an otherwise beautiful room. Central ceiling fixtures were customary when electric light was first used, but experience has proved that they are undesirable, because the single source requires a powerful light that is necessarily glaring. Ceiling lights naturally attract attention to the ceiling, an uninteresting place, and are unsatisfactory for reading or special work. Wall lights too are being dispensed with, which is a relief to anyone who likes a room to be restful in effect, or who objects to fixtures that interfere with picture hanging and furniture arrangement.

It is now generally agreed that two types of lighting are required for comfortable living, namely, localized and general. Localized light, which is direct light, is produced in particular places by portable lamps. This type of light is necessary for reading and working and is often desirable for conversation. It is important to avoid unpleasant glare in direct light. Several lamps distributed throughout a room give the mellow light that is generally wanted in a home, and light up the part of a room that is used.

General light, which is usually indirect, is thrown upon a lightcolored ceiling and diffused over the entire room. It is intended for those occasions when uniform lighting is desired. The easiest way to procure this is by means of indirect floor lamps. These sometimes look like other lamps but have a special reflecting device which can throw a powerful light upon the ceiling, without revealing the source. Some of them can also be used for reading, as they are equipped for both types of lighting. In new houses an indirect lighting system should be installed above the picture moldings, above windows and doors,, or elsewhere in the structure. Lights can also be placed behind ground-glass panes set flush into the walls or ceiling. The criticism is made that indirect lighting attracts attention to unimportant parts of the room. Although the criticism is justifiable, indirect lighting is the only restful general lighting that we have to date.

Moldings for indirect lighting may have interesting concealed borders of tin forms, such as triangles, that throw shadow decorations on the walls and ceiling. These shadow forms can be varied considerably by turning on every other light, or every third light, or in similar ways. Colored bulbs can be used too so that a change of color scheme can be managed as well as a change of design. When this idea has been well developed it is possible that we will no longer be satisfied with permanent decorations, but will want patterns that can be changed by pushing buttons.


Great care should be taken in selecting lamps and fixtures. One should not skimp on them in order to buy more valuable furniture, because at night lamps are the most evident articles in a home.

Design.     The designs of lamps and fixtures obtainable in the shops are generally poor. A woman of taste might look at hundreds of lamps without finding one that she could use. Possibly the designs are thus inferior because electricity is so new that it is hard for designers to think of suitable media for it. For example, electric-light globes are sometimes made to represent flame on imitation candles, or electric light is used with containers suitable for holding kerosene, because we are accustomed to light in these connections. But such mistakes are mild compared to the confused, elaborate designs of most of the lamps and fixtures available. The greatest need is for more simplicity. The conveyors of light should be quiet, since light itself is so conspicuous. When the people demand simple designs, the merchants will provide them. As it is now, many decorators have special fixtures made from their own designs, and many home makers make lamps from attractive pottery or porcelain bases.

The relation of the base to the shade is an important factor in the design of a lamp. The shape of the base should determine the shape of the shade; for example, an angular base and an angular shade are harmonious, and a round base usually calls for a round shade. The relative sizes of the base and the shade should be carefully considered, because both top-heavy and base-heavy lamps are common. It is important also to have the shade come down over the base just enough to make the lamp appear to be a unit. It is well to try many different shades with each base before making a selection.

Lamp shades should have little or no decoration. Unfortunately pictorial lamp shades are still to be found in the shops. It ought to be evident to anyone that landscapes, portraits, or flower pictures do not belong on lamp shades but in frames hung on the wall. An ornamented base requires a plain shade, and an ornamented shade requires a plain base, unless the same design is used on both. Restraint in the decoration of both shades and bases is recommended, because electricity itself is so unsentimental that it should be clothed in a very tailored fashion.

Color.      All lamp shades should have warm colors as it is natural for light to be warm. If an otherwise satisfactory shade is not warm enough in color, it can be lined or interlined with warmcolored material, or it can be painted a warm color inside, or colored bulbs can be used to provide colored light. Soft rose, amber, or cream throw a pleasant glow on faces, whereas cool tones take the color from them. Since lamps should harmonize in color with the scheme of any room, it is unwise to use white lamps unless there is white elsewhere in the room. In a violet room, it is sometimes necessary to have a violet light because ordinary light is yellowish and will gray the violet. With silvercolored-metal lamp bases, cool-colored shades are good, but they should be lined with warm colors; warm-colored shades are better with brass, bronze, or copper bases. With an ornamented porcelain base, it is sometimes well to use a shade decorated only with a few stripes of the same colors as are used in the base.

It must be recognized that colored bulbs, colored lining in lamp shades, and colored ceilings and walls absorb light, and necessitate the use of more light than white ones. The artistic effect produced by the use of color usually makes up for the additional cost of lighting it.

Character.  Lamps and fixtures must, of course, agree in character with the other furnishings of a room. They should be fine in an elegant home, and sturdy in a more unaffected home. Of the metals, brass, copper, and silver should be used with fine furnishings; pewter, aluminum, tin, and iron are better with heavier or plainer things. Porcelain bases are suitable for polished surroundings; pottery, heavy glass, and wood, for unpretentious homes. Shades of silk or pleated parchment are suitable for use with the finer bases; plain parchment, metal, coarse cloth, paper, composition, or mica shades harmonize with the heavier bases used in less elegant homes. Fortunately the much beruffled, befringed, and bedraggled boudoir type of lamp shade is now a thing of the past.

Rooms definitely period in feeling should have lamps and fixtures that are in keeping. One decorator says that she can make a period room out of any plain room by providing the correct lamps and curtains.

Lamps and fixtures are often too large for the rooms in which they are placed. This is sometimes the result of selecting them in large rooms for use in small rooms.

Making Lamp Shades.     Since it is possible to buy ready-made wire frames, it is easy for a woman to make some of her own lamp shades. Those that are covered with textiles are easily made because the stitches can be hidden with braid. Very rough cotton fabrics or gathered chiffon are equally satisfactory to use. Unusual textures should be sought for this purpose. Paper and parchment are more difficult to use than textiles.


The lighting used in any room depends upon the needs of the occupants and the activities carried on there. When a house is being built the location of the lights should be carefully planned to suit the family needs, because the initial installation should be complete if possible. There is an instrument that tests the amount of light in any part of a room and is helpful as a guide for proper lighting.

Hall Lights. A hall may have a direct or an indirect ceiling light. It is also possible to use a table lamp or a floor lamp as part of a group of furniture in the entrance hall. In the main hall there should be switches for upstairs and down.

Living-Room Lights. Portable floor and table lamps for reading or conversation, and indirect ceiling lights for general illumination, are the best solutions for lighting the living room. There should be an adjustable lamp for each member of the family. A double or triple outlet in the baseboard or floor beneath each wall is not too many for convenience. It is well to leave some corners in a room unlighted for contrast with the lighted places. Candle light is often pleasant for the living room. It is easy to find good-looking candlesticks, but it is difficult to find simple, well-designed sconces, candelabra, or torcheres for candles.

Some special lights for the living room include those for statues and pictures. People who really love pictures want to see them in daylight, because artificial light changes their colors. Special blue bulbs help to give the daylight effect. This light can not be used throughout a room, however, because it is unbecoming to people. The mantel shelf should have a depressed place in which to conceal the lamps for the over-mantel picture. Some pictures are lighted by special lamps standing on tables under them. Special lighting arrangements attached to pictures are too elaborate for home use and usually result in electric cords being strung around untidily. They also make the pictures seem more important than the people in the room, because lighted areas attract the attention. A house built now should provide architectural lighting for pictures. The bulbs might be concealed under a cornice board that throws the light downward on the pictures.

A piece of statuary might be placed on a cabinet that has a glass top over a concealed light, all above the eye level. Sometimes lights concealed inside cabinets and desks are desirable.

Dining-Room Lights. There is a difference of opinion as to the use of ceiling lights in dining rooms. Among several possibilities is indirect lighting reflected from the ceiling, produced by reflector floor lamps or by bulbs concealed above special moldings. Lights behind ground-glass panels in the ceiling are very satisfactory. There are interesting modern table centerpieces and lamps combined that give out a pleasant light. Hollow glass sculpture with fixtures inside, which is suitable for table illumination, is also available.

The most delightful way to light the dining table is to use tall candles which are above the eye level of the diners. Candle light is soft, friendly, and becoming, and its flickering, uneven quality gives it additional interest. There should be no shades on real candles.

Bedroom Lights.   Bedroom lights should usually be local lights, in the places where they are needed. There should be no fixed wall lights, but a good solution for the lighting of the dressingtable mirror is to use a pair of portable wall lights on tall standards that stand with one side flat against the wall. Lights attached to either side of the mirror are satisfactory, if they are not too close together. A light at the top of the mirror is often used. An excellent dressing-table light is one that hangs over the table not far above the head of the seated person. A pair of tall decorative lamps on the dressing table are sometimes preferred to lights attached to the mirror. The important point in placing the mirror light is to see that the light falls on the person rather than on the mirror. Some women think it necessarv to have a strong central ceiling light in a bedroom, to be used for a critical appraisal of one's costume and for fitting clothes. The lamp for reading in bed should be whatever kind one prefers, except that it must be adjustable so that the light will shine on the book and not on the face of the reader. A desk should have its own lamp. In at least one bedroom there should be a special master switch to light the whole house, in case of an emergency.

Bathroom Lights. Bathrooms usually have a ceiling fixture, which should be near the mirror, if there is no mirror light.

Kitchen Lights. The kitchen should be particularly well lighted. It is better to have wall or ceiling lights over the working places than it is to have one central ceiling light which throws the worker's shadow over the sink or stove. A central light in addition to the ether lights is convenient. Some of the new compact units of sink, work table, cabinet, and refrigerator have concealed lights that illuminate only the table and sink and the inside of the refrigerator. This is very pleasant as well as useful lighting, but must be recognized as additional expense in installation and operation.

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