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Artificial Lighting

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



To light a room successfully appropriate lights must be placed where they are needed to keep the feeling of balance and proportion and bring out the charm of the room by their relation to its furnishing. They should also be so placed that the life of the household can go on as cheerfully and smoothly in the evening as in the day time.

The position and style of lighting fixtures is decided by the type of house, the size and height of the rooms, the amount of wall space, the use for which the rooms are in-tended, their style of furnishing, the chief centers of interest, such as mantels, doors, furniture, and pictures of importance, and also the manner in which the walls are treated, whether paneled or papered. If one is building a house one should give all possible data to the architect in regard to any special pieces of furniture or pictures which one may wish to use in certain places. By doing this the tragedy of a slightly too small wall space will be escaped, and the lights will be properly placed in the beginning.

One must always remember in planning the position of the lights for a room that the eye naturally seeks the brightest spot, and badly placed lamps and sidelights will upset the balance of a room. The room must not be glaringly bright, but there should be a feeling of a certain evenness in the distribution of light. A top light makes the light come from the wrong direction. Artificial light in a room should take its general idea from the lighting of the room in the day time. The daylight comes from the windows, the sides of the room, and the decoration of the room is built up with that in mind ; so when we are planning the lighting scheme we should remember this and realize that the light should come from lamps placed advantageously on tables, and wall lights placed slightly above eye level.

Living-rooms should have a sufficient number of well placed sidelights to enhance the beauty of the room, and they should be placed near centers of importance such as each side of the fireplace, or wide door, or on each side of some important picture or mirror. If there is a group of two or three windows which need to be more convincingly drawn together to form a unit, lights may be placed on each side of the group. Sidelights can be placed in the center of panels, thus forming a decoration for the panel, and, flanking paintings or mirrors or tapestries, make beautiful and formal rooms, especially for the different periods of French, English, or Italian decoration. This treatment with simpler forms of fixtures may also be used in our charming, but more or less nondescript, chintz living-rooms and country house drawing-rooms or dining-rooms. With a sufficient number of lamps in the room the side- or wall-lights need not be lighted during the average stay-at-home evenings but are ready if there is some special occasion for brilliancy. There are some rooms which are much improved by having no side-lights at all, all the light coming from lamps. There should be plenty of floor sockets so placed that lamps may be used on tables near sofas and armchairs and on the writing table or large living-room table. It is this proper placing of lamps which has so much to do with the charm and comfort of a room when evening comes.

In the average home there is no greater mistake in the matter of lighting than having a room lighted by chandelier or ceiling lights. Lights at the top of the room, or a foot or two from the ceiling, break up completely the artistic balance of the room by drawing attention to them as the brightest spot. They make the room seem smaller both by day and night, they cast ugly shadows, they do not give sufficient or correct light for reading or writing, and the glare above one's head is nerve destroying. When the sun is directly overhead we hasten to put up sunshades, so why should we deliberately reproduce in our homes the most trying position of light? The fixtures also are usually extremely ugly. One sees some-times in private houses what is called the indirect method of lighting, which is usually an alabaster bowl suspended by chains from the ceiling in which the lights are concealed. The reflected light on the ceiling is supposed to give a suffused and bright light. To my mind there is something extremely obnoxious about this method used in homes, for it smacks of department stores and banks and public buildings generally. And then, too, the light is unpleasant. If I were the unfortunate possessor of such a light I should have it taken down and use the bowl on a high wrought iron tripod for growing ivy and ferns, and thus try to get a little good from the ill wind that blew it there.

There are a few cases, however, where top lights may be used, such as large drawing- or music-rooms, rooms in which formal entertaining is to be done. Crystal ceiling lights are then best to use, or chandeliers with crystal drops or pendants. If these rooms are Italian Renaissance in style, the center lights must naturally harmonize in period. Large halls with marble stairs and wrought-iron balustrade can have this elaborate kind of light, but the average hall demands a simpler chandelier. If one is to be used there are some very good copies of old Colonial lights and lanterns, but personally I prefer wall brackets and a dignified lamp, or a floor lamp. Torcheres or lacquered floor lamps may be used in pairs if the hall is large enough to have them placed properly. In a long, narrow hall they would look a bit like lamp posts. Rather close fitting round shades, nearly the same size at top and bottom, made of painted parchment give a decorative touch and sufficient light. As one does not need an especially bright light in a hall, a beautiful lamp can be made of one of the fine old alabaster vases which many people have by dropping an electric bulb in it. Placed on a consol table before a mirror it makes a delightful spot in the hall. These lamps may also be used in other rooms where a light is needed for effect and not for use. In placing lamps the charm and utility of a reflection in a mirror must not be overlooked.

A vestibule may have a lantern of some attractive design in harmony with the house, or side lights, if they can be so placed as not to be struck by the door.

Dining-rooms are far more beautiful and also better lighted if sidelights are used, with candles on the table, rather than a drop light. Dining-room drop-lights or "domes" have all the disadvantages of other center lights and are extremely trying to the eyes of the diners, as well as being unbecoming. Even when screened with thin silk drawn across the bottom there is something deadening to one's brain in having a light just over one's head. Side lights with the added charm of candles will give plenty of light. It is a cause for thanks-giving that drop-lights over dining-tables are rarely seen now-a-days.

Bedrooms should have a good light over the dressing table, and to my mind, two movable lights upon it, which may be in the form of wired candlesticks or small lamps. These are much more convenient than fixed lights. There should be a light over any long mirror, and one for the desk and sofa or chaise longue, and one for the bedside table. The dressing-room should be supplied with a light over the chiffonier and long mirror, and there should also be a table light. Clothes closets should have simple lights.

And do not forget the kitchen if one wishes properly cooked meals. A light so placed that it shines into the oven has saved many a burned dish, and a light over the sink has saved many a broken one. The servants' sitting-room should have a good reading lamp.

The question of the style of the fixtures is important, for if they are badly chosen they will quite spoil an otherwise perfect room. They must harmonize in period with the room, and also with its scale of furnishing. There is a wide choice in the shops, and some of the designs are very good indeed, having been carefully studied and adapted from beautiful museum specimens of old Italian, French, English, and Spanish, carvings and ornament. Some of our iron workers make very fine metal fixtures which are beautiful copies of old French and Italian work. There are graceful and sturdy designs, elaborate and simple, special period de-signs, and many which are appropriate for rooms of no particular period. There are charming lacquer sconces to go with lacquer furniture, and old-fashioned prism candelabra and sconces, and fixtures copied from choice old whale oil lamps in both brass and bronze. There are suitable designs for each and every room. The difficulty lies not in finding too few to choose from, but too many, and, growing weary, making a selection not quite so good as it should be. One should take blue prints to the shop if possible, but necessary measurements without fail. One must know not only the width of the wall spaces, but the width of the pictures and furniture to be put in the room, or the calamity may happen of having the fixtures a bit too wide. When fixtures are meant to be a special part of the decorative scheme, and sup-port and enhance pictures and tapestries, they should have an appropirate decorative value also, but in the average home it is better and safer to choose the simpler, but still beautiful, designs. It is better to err on the side of simplicity than to have them too elaborate.

Lamps should be chosen to harmonize with the room, to add their usefulness and beauty to it as a part of the whole and be convincingly right both by day and night. There are many possibilities for having lamps made of different kinds of pottery and porcelain jars; some crackle-ware jars are very good in color. Chinese porcelain jars, both single color and figured, make lovely lamps. Old and valuable specimens should not be used in this way, for they are works of art. Many modern jars are copies of the old and these should be used. There are lacquer lamps, bronze, and brass, and carved wood lamps, and lovely Wedgwood and alabaster vases. There are charming little floor lamps, some of wrought iron with smart little parchment shades, some in Sheraton design, some in lacquer or painted wood, which can be easily carried about to stand by bridge tables or a special chair. There are dozens of different jars and lamps to use, but the one absolutely necessary question to ask one-self is: is it right for my purpose?

Lamp shades are a part of the scheme of the room's decoration and should be chosen or made to order to achieve the desired effect. Special shades are made by many clever people to harmonize with any room or period and are apt to be far better than the ready made variety. There are all manner of beautiful shades, lace, silk, plain and painted parchment and paper, mounted Japanese prints, embroidery, and any number of other attractive combinations. To be perfect, beside the fine workmanship, they must harmonize in line with the lamps on which they are to be used, and harmonize in color and style with the room, and have an absolute lack of frills and furbelows. The shade for a reading lamp should spread enough to allow the light to shine out. Lamp shades simply for illuminating purposes may be any desired shape if in harmony with the shape of the lamp. Lacquered painted tin shades are liked by some for lamps on writing tables. There should be a certain amount of uniformity in the style of the shades in a room, although they need not be exactly alike. Too much variety is ruinous to the effect of simple charm in the room. The chintz which is used for curtains will supply a motif for the painted shades if one wishes them, but if there is a great deal of chintz, plain shades will be more attractive. Side lights may have little screens or shades, as one prefers, or none may be used. In that case the bulbs may be toned down by using ground glass and painting them with a thin coat of raw umber water color paint. Bedroom shades follow the same rule of appropriateness that applies to the other shades in the house. There should be several sets of candle shades for the dining-room.

There is really no reason why so many houses should be so badly lighted. Often simply rearranging the lamps and changing the shape of the shades will do wonders in the way of improvement. Radical changes in the wiring should be carefully thought out so there will be no mistakes to rectify.



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