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Interior Decorating - Artificial Lighting

( Originally Published 1919 )

ARTIFICIAL lighting is an exceedingly important subject, and yet, in many households, it seems to be ignored in inverse ratio to its importance, of course with deplorable consequences.

The whole subject falls naturally into two divisions: (1) fixed lighting, whose arrangement constistutes a part of the fixed decorations and is architectural rather than otherwise in its affinities; and (2) portable lighting, which belongs wholly in the realm of furnishing. The former, as its nature implies, is largely determined by the architectural character of the background, first as regards pattern, material and scale of the equipment, and second, as, regards the placement of lighting appliances. The latter admits of almost unlimited latitude in placement, in the selection of divers types of appliance and in the choice of illuminating medium.

Whether the lights be fixed or portable, certain general principles obtain, almost without exception, and these principles must be carefully observed. To begin with, under ordinary circumstances a blazing glare is painful to the eyes as well as ugly and disastrous to the aspect of any room, even though it be well furnished. A number of dim or subdued lights, therefore, are infinitely preferable to one or two powerful, glaring lights. The diffused glow from the more numerous and mellower lights is vastly more comfort-able to the eye and more kindly to the furnishings. In the next place, it is both unreasonable and uncomfortable either to have one or two blazing illuminations in proximity to the ceiling or to have a number of less vigorous luminaries lighting the upper part of the room and leaving the lower in gloom. Likewise, the various methods of indirect lighting, although purposely devised to eliminate glare and secure diffusion, which they often do admirably, nevertheless throw most of the light on the ceiling. This does very well for public places, but is usually objectionable and ugly in a house. It is not necessary, nor in many cases would it be desirable, to have the artificial light fall from precisely the same quarter as the light by day, but it is highly desirable and eminently logical to have the light at night coming from approximately the same level as the day-light and to illuminate, not the ceiling, but the region of the room humanly inhabited.

With the foregoing dicta the illuminating experts and factors of sundry approved modern and ultra-scientific lighting systems, aye, and various doctors to boot, will probably take serious issue and promptly adduce fifty-seven different reasons to prove that they are right and we are wrong. To their accusations we cheerfully answer that their "systems," their inverted appliances and their fiercely illuminated ceilings blazing above a substratum of milder effulgence may be all very well for offices, shops, auditoria and railway stations—doubtless they are—but we humbly submit that our homes are none of these nor can we, for the life of us, see why we should seek to introduce the atmosphere of those places into our domestic circle.

In the third place, the quality and intensity of the artificial light must also be taken into account. It should not be harsh nor sharp in effect nor of such intensity as to distort the relative values of illumination and shadow. Above all, the colour of the rays must not be of a character to falsify or kill the colours in the furnishing. Mellowness is the chiefest desideratum in domestic lighting, save in such exceptional cases as ball-rooms or salons upon occasion of large and somewhat formal gatherings, when brilliancy is not only quite permissible but often distinctly desirable.

The illuminants to be considered upon grounds of decorative desirability or expedience are candles, oil, gas and electricity. Of these, the first most completely fill all the ideals of quality just mentioned. There is no light so restful and agreeable in quality to the eye as candle light and no light is kindlier to the appearance of a room. The radiance is mild and diffused, shadows are not cut sharp and exaggerated, and the colours in furniture and decorations are not outraged. Incidentally, it may not be amiss to note that ladies are well aware that they appear to greater advantage in the glow of candles than by any other light.

Candles as a means of lighting are perfectly practicable. The only possible objections that can be urged against them with any show of validity are cost and bother. Neither obstacle is very serious; the former can be ingeniously circumvented, if necessary; the small amount of the latter is not worth considering if one values the agreeable effect of their rooms. Wax candles, of course, are desirable, but stearic acid candles and other substitutes for wax are thoroughly satisfactory for general use.

It is well to have a good broad glass bobeche for each candle socket. Any drippings can then be easily removed without dirt or trouble. As a rule, the use of shades on candles is finically effeminate, foolish, fussy, reprehensible and anomalous. A candle is, in itself, an object of grace and beauty, but its chaste and dignified simplicity of line is marred and hidden when its shaft is surmounted with a top-heavy, frilly contrivance resembling an abbreviated ballet skirt. Upon the making of such shades entirely too much valuable energy is wasted. The flame of the candle, too, is an essential part of its beauty and ought not to be concealed. Its gleams are, not distressing to the eye if the candle is of proper height and properly placed. For the dinner table use tall candles, tall enough to keep the flame above the level of the eye. For the library, living-room or drawing-room, sconces will be at a sufficient height and portable candles may be so disposed on mantels, the tops of bookshelves, tables or cabinets that the flames are comfortably above eye level. Using no shades and keeping the flame a little above eye level is one of the secrets of successful candle use.

It is well both to group candles at certain points and also to use them singly or in pairs symmetrically placed. The objections to candle lighting usually come either from those that have never really been used to them and do not know how they should be used or else from those whose ridiculous and savage obsession for a multiplicity of blazing lights prompts them to jeer at candles as antiquated or obsolete. To the latter charge one may reply that good taste, like good manners, is not a thing of the moment or of caprice. Like good manners, it has a permanent, enduring quality, unaffected at bottom by minor ephemeral variations of fashion. And good taste recognises no temporal disability. If a thing is good, as the sound decorative principles on which candle lighting is based shew it to be, it is perennially in order.

Next in place comes oil. The light is agreeable to the eye and satisfactory in its action upon decorations and furnishings. The degree of light and its regulation depend entirely upon the kinds of lamps used and the shades employed. It is a sufficient and convenient illuminant and practicable if the lamps are intelligently tended. For purely practical reasons small lamps are generally undesirable and better results are gained by using medium-sized or large lamps.

Gas, unless shaded and tempered in varying degrees, is trying to the eye, the shafts of light are sharp and harsh in effect and colours suffer under the rays. When burned through chemically prepared filaments or other intensifying devices, the greenish or intense white quality of the light is especially disagreeable to the eye, disastrous to colour and produces a ghastly effect. Heat and a certain amount of smoke are also objectionable features. If gas is used, discreet shading is absolutely necessary. Its cardinal recommendations are convenience and cheapness. Diminutive, dim flames rising from porcelain sham-candle burners are absolutely indefensible on the score of either utility or decorative fitness.

Electricity is convenient and clean and its brilliance commends it to them that like floods of artificial light. When used for domestic lighting it must be judiciously shaded; otherwise, it is even harder on the eyes than gas and casts sharp, exaggerated shadows. The use of either gas mechanically or chemically intensified, or of electricity with high voltage unshaded bulbs may be appropriate and convenient in public places and commercial establishments ; in domestic interiors they have no proper place. Considered from the point of view of either convenience or decorative propriety, it is indefensible to mount electric bulbs atop of imitation candles. They are so patently shams that they are foolish and they have just about as much place in decoration as the vermiform appendix or wisdom teeth have in the human anatomy. Their presence is utterly inexcusable in view of the many really admirable and satisfying fixtures that competent designers have devised. Electric bulbs, whether globular or pear-shaped, are not objects of beauty and should be screened from view by shades or by devices for diffusing the light and when they are perched on sham candles the shade should be large enough and of such shape as to hide the offensive deception.

The. architectural or fixed lighting appliances may be divided into those (1) that depend from the ceiling and those (2) that are affixed to the walls. (The pimples and carbuncles of glass sometimes set in the ceiling we shall not discuss. They are barbarous and would be appropriate only in german interiors.) The first or dependent group includes chandeliers, hanging lamps, hanging lanthorns and drops. The second, or affixed group, includes sconces, wall lanthorns, girandoles, wall lamps and sundry sorts of brackets. Impressive and large chandeliers are appropriate in large or stately and formal rooms or in lofty halls, hanging, perhaps, in the open space of the stair well (Plate 100). In small or informal rooms they have no place at all. The smaller chandeliers with only a few lights, known as "hanging branches" until the early part of the eighteenth century, allow a greater latitude of use. As designers of gas and electric appliances for chandeliers have generally conformed to candle traditions, the principles applying to the use of one sort apply to the others also. When chandeliers are used there should also be sufficient side lights at a lower level. Otherwise, unless it be for a ball-room or some similar apartment, the centre of illumination is too high to be agreeable. It is only in exceptional eases that a chandelier can be used successfully as the sole source of illumination, even when candles are burned.

Hanging lamps for halls, entries, stair wells and rooms, especially large rooms, permit more freedom of use than chandeliers. The same may be said of lanthorns (Plate 100). It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the many admirable designs to be found in both cases. Drops, usually and preferably for electric lights properly shaded, are to be recommended for use above dressing stands.

Sconces, girandoles, wall lanthorns, wall lamps, brackets and all other affixed lighting appliances, every one of which may and ought to have a very real decorative as well as utilitarian function, should be placed ,(1) where they will be useful; (2) not too high so that the major part of the light goes to the ceiling; (3) and, if possible, in a balanced or symmetrical manner. Whether candles, oil, gas, or electricity be the illuminant, equally good designs may be used, wholly consistent with the character of the architectural background and the general decorative milieu. If electricity be used, it is suggested that the bulbs be enclosed in some of the wall lanthorn or lamp forms with ground glass to diffuse the light or with a rice-paper shield, such as they often use in japan. In this way the unprepossessing bulb is completely screened. For many admirable historic designs of affixed light appliances the reader is referred to the numerous illustrations in the fore part of the book, while adaptations and purely modern designs of merit are to be found here and there through all parts. Finally, let the number of the affixed lights as well as their placing be sufficient to ensure an agreeably diffused illumination.

Portable lighting appliances include candlesticks, candelabra, torcheres, and standing lanthorns as well as all the numerous family of lamps.


In addition to their obvious usefulness candlesticks are a strong decorative asset. The soft glint of metal or the beauty of colour in pottery or decorated surface which they supply would be severely missed in many decorative schemes.

As with lamp standards we may say that those of period form are best because they are the best designed (Plate 102). Those of wood, carved and gilded, are excellent, and the simple turned ones either in mahogany or painted and decorated are attractive and reasonable in price. Many beautiful candlesticks have also been made during various periods in pottery, glass and other materials, and among these should not be overlooked the unusual things of Oriental origin.

Even if but occasionally used candlesticks should not be without their candles—otherwise they are as marred as a watch without its hands. A beautiful thing primarily made for use is partially deprived of its beauty when its function is obviously removed. Be-sides, the cylinder of wax is of itself a beautiful thing.

Decorative candles are sometimes useful and among the best are the Japanese ones, larger at the top than at the base, with excellent conventional flower design in red and dark blue. The square white candles with black lines, fit well with some decorative schemes, and those of bayberry are particularly good with odd Japanese or other candlesticks with green as part of their colouring.

Candles are also to be had specially decorated in accordance with period designs, but handsomely decorated candles are so obviously intended not to be burnt that their use is decidedly questionable.

Brightly hued candles, such as canary yellow, are not open to this objection and their use often gives a happy colour note. They are of particular value in "Modern" decoration and they also relieve a candle-stick or torchere of iron or other dull effect.

The present writers have before now shown their impatience of the exaltation of personal preferences into decorative dicta and so far are they from willing to err in this direction that they frankly and perhaps amusingly record a considerable difference of opinion among themselves. One of the authors has an unalterable distaste to "things hanging down from the ceiling." He is doubtless generally right so far as mod-ern decoration is concerned, but another feels that as such "things" have depended in all ages they are permissible in some cases.

The ideal lighting for the dining-room is, of course, side-lights, with lighted candles upon the table, and if further strength of light is required the present writers advise the helping out of these with a pair of torcheres set conveniently near upon the floor. This was advanced as an original suggestion, but, alas for modern originality! since it was written we find in selecting illustrations that precisely this arrangement was used in the fifteenth century Davanzati palace.

There are, however, tasteful but practical people who in the hurry of a dark winter's breakfast, for instance, will "bother" with neither torchere nor candles and for these the writers see no objection to an unobtrusive lighting arrangement above the table. A "dome," of course, is abhorrent, but there are other devices, such as an electric drop, the bulbs and other "machinery" being concealed at the sides by an appropriate shade and beneath by shirred gathered taffeta centred at a button or tassel.


Said the innocent small-householder : "I have just spent $60.00 for a new chandelier." And when we groaned : "Why a chandelier?" his injured surprise was as great as if he had been asked, "Why a breakfast?"

Yet why a chandelier in a small house or apartment? They have their appropriate places—as we have seen—but it is not here. Yet nothing seems so dear to the heart of "the people." Happily it has largely passed out of use with those of taste, except in its proper sphere, but the present affliction is scarcely less intense —the inverted dome reigns supreme! Why should the strongest light be thrown upon the ceiling? The portion of the room to be illuminated is naturally that which we ourselves occupy : the farther corners and the upper and lower areas may well go off to halftone and shadow, thus giving relief and charm.

In general and for the modern well-furnished' home, it may be said that the only sources of illumination worth considering are side lights, lamps and candles. The first and the last may find only occasional employment, but the use of the lamp is constant.

Except for the slender standard, lamp which has no receptacle for oil, the same styles are adapted for electricity, oil or gas. The electric system is the most convenient and the only objection to it is the necessary wire : this we shall have to dispose of as best we can. Perhaps some day we shall have "wireless" lamps. Here Mr. Marconi might help us out.


Henry James, in his novel, "The Ambassadors" gives us the phrase, "a deep suspicion of the vulgar." This suspicion should constantly dwell with the decorator or homemaker in all his work but never more so than in the selection of - lamps. The commercial-fixture man has laid many traps for the unwary in the way of brass and fancy metals with opalescent shades in disagreeable variations of green and yellow: there are pottery lamps—as there are jardinieres—in which the tones or blending of tones have that quality of vulgarity so to be discriminated against; and even not all the Chinese and Japanese lamps of modern make are good.

Apart from its environment no decorative object should for a moment be considered, for, no matter how intrinsically beautiful it may be, if it does not fit both usefully and decoratively into the existing scheme of things, its advent will bring not beauty but discord and discontent.

There are, it will be seen, a few matters to consider before a lamp is purchased :—For what room is it to be used? Should the lamp be handsome or simple? Is a strong light needed over a large area or is a softened illumination desired? Upon what sized table is it to stand? What should be the lamp's height? Should it be slender or of more rounded form? Of what character are the furnishings with which it is to go? What is to be its background or particular situation, and of what colour or combination of colours should or might it be? Should its tone be light or dark? Do you need something striking or restrained, colourful or quiet?

The lighted lamp is likely to be the greatest centre of interest in any room, and attracts attention even when unillumined. For this reason the expenditure of perhaps fifty dollars or more for a handsome and unusual lamp would often prove a better decorative in-vestment than the spending of the same amount on a piece of furniture. A lamp for reading or sewing should be of convenient height to give proper illumination, while the light itself should be strong and unimpeded by fringe. A fringe of beads, particularly, casts a swaying and annoying shadow. For such purposes the light should also retain its whiteness, so that, if shades of a pronounced colouring are chosen, they should be lined with white. If the light is to be diffused over a wide area, it is well that the shade should be light in tone and of sufficient transparency.

Where a room is throughout of a definite period-character the lamp—as other lighting fixtures—should of course follow the period. Where, as in many in-stances, it contains more or less period furniture but is pleasantly and not erratically eclectic, the choice is wide. If the room is of non-committal character, the lamp may be anything that is generally attractive and harmonious. If the room be furnished in the "newer" modern mode, the form of the lamp should be simple and the colour definite.

In a large room, even where side-lighting fixtures are supplied, a pair of matching or similar lamps will often be needed. They may be placed near the two ends of a long table as illustrated in the group of lamps in their environment, or on two smaller ones. More interesting sometimes than this uniformity is a large lamp supplemented by one or two smaller ones of differing character placed elsewhere about the room. These supplementary lamps need not always or generally be lighted, but should be placed in advantageous situations, so that if it is required to illuminate that particular portion or any interesting feature it may easily be done.


The description and picturing of museum pieces would be of little value to the average householder. Far better will be some treatment of such lamps as are not absolutely prohibitive in price, together with simple but, in their way, artistic products. At first the variety seems bewildering, but a little consideration will consign most of them to certain classes.

Bowl or Vase and Pedestal or Standard Lamps comprise most of them, though there are attractive things which do not come under these heads and which must be treated separately. These two may be equally handsome or equally simple, and consequently a choice is apt to resolve itself into the selection of the particular example which best pleases us. It may be noted, however, that, speaking generally, the bowl shape has the more homelike appearance, while the pedestal possesses the more formal quality. If space on the table is any consideration, the pedestal lamp is naturally the one chosen ; or else a tall and slender bowl.


These are made of almost every conceivable material, but among the best are those of porcelain and pottery with silken or parchment shades. These bases may be found in many beautiful shapes, colourings and textures, and in plain tones, mottled, blended or decorated. The shades, likewise, are of many shapes and colourings, and plain, brocaded, embroidered, or with figures, birds, plants, etc. Not only do these lamps of plain or blended colouring come from Europe and the Orient, but it is pleasing to be able to say that many kinds, and some of them among the very best, are made right here in our own land.

Two good styles of handsome lamps without decoration may be especially mentioned: vase shaped bowl of pottery mottled in the baking, soft rose or tan, with dark metal base, with shades in richer tones of the same and handsome silk fringe of the same or of gold : black porcelain, vase-shaped, with teak-wood base, the porcelain having a strongly reflective surface; dome-shaped shade of Burgundy silk with fringe of the same and four heavy silk cornering tassels depending but slightly below the fringe. When illuminated, the effect of the shade reflected in the upper surface of the bowl is of extreme richness.

If the reader has not long ago reached the conclusion that the most beautiful vase, lamps extant are the Chinese, he will probably do so when he studies the examples shown in the accompanying plates.

Of Chinese pottery one almost fears to let himself go in eulogy, but nothing approaching it has ever been accomplished in other Keramic art except in that of their neighbours of Japan. In form the Greeks have always been acknowledged supreme, yet it is doubtful if even they exceeded the grace of some of the Chinese contours, while in the realm of colour, either lavish or restrained, the Oriental stands alone.

For the person of average means there are reproductions. Remarkably good ones were made by the Chinese themselves, and in some of the famous European factories in early days, but these are probably now also practically unprocurable. Modern European reproductions are usually poor and so are some of the modern Oriental ones, but many of the latter are of great beauty—certainly of greater beauty for lamps than any other porcelain at our command.

Though some writers have dwelt upon the difference in spirit between Oriental and European art, Orientalism runs through the whole cycle of Western decoration. It was even rampant among the Italians, many Renaissance motifs being of Asiatic influence, to say nothing of the wave of " Chinese taste' 'which swept eighteenth century England, France and Italy. We, need, therefore, have no more hesitation in introducing Chinese lamps than Oriental rugs into any rooms where the general scale of richness and colour makes them appropriate. Those of simple design and colouring may with equal discretion be used in simple rooms and some of the tones of yellow, grey-blue and green are so exquisite that it seems as if no decoration could enhance their loveliness. A lamp of this simple contour and with a handsome but not unduly elaborate shade is shown at the left of the group of three Chinese lamps illustrated.

One may sometimes see in an Oriental store a vase which particularly takes his fancy and which can be bought for from $8 to $20. Base and fittings can be added by an electric-light fitter and a shade of any desired style made to accompany it.

The art of Japan is second only to that of China. The bronze lamp illustrated is an excellent example (Plate 108 C). The modern work is known to us all. Speaking in general only, the designs in the modern Keramic pieces are apt to be large and effective and usually less adapted to Western interiors than are Chinese ware and the finer patterns in the pottery and porcelain of Japan.

For rooms done in the "modern" vein, some of the plain colours previously mentioned would be admirable. The greys could have shades in rose, or yellow, and a bowl of Chinese yellow might be accompanied by a shade to match, edged and panelled in black or deep blue. A grey lamp with shade of translucent grey edged in the same way with Chinese red would be equally good. The lamps of plain colour Japanese pottery with brown wicker and silk shades—also wickered —are excellent for many simple rooms, and those surrounded with basket work are equally good for porches.

The dull green pottery lamps, both American and European, have been a good deal overdone and they are neither particularly interesting nor individual.

One of the lamps illustrated has a design of peacock-feathers in blue and grey (Plate 104 B), and there are many other charming things of odd design. Wedge-wood ware is dignified and appropriately accompanies eighteenth century English furniture. Those of Dresden and similar European wares are likewise attractive in appropriate situations.

In metal there are many good shapes in bowl lamps; and one should not close this section without a mention of those of this style now made in mahogany. As the wooden bowl, even in this wood, does not seem either particularly logical or elegant they are better painted or decorated. They may simply be painted and then lined about the turning with a harmonising or contrasting colour, or, as their forms are usually classical, they would be excellent with an Adam design on the bowl, or medallions, in addition to the lining. Before painting, the finish should be rubbed down with fine sand-paper, so that the colour will take well and evenly.


The best of the pedestal lamps are naturally those of faithful period styles because they are the best de-signed, but there is nevertheless an almost bewildering array of attractive things of modern origin. `

A word of caution has already been given as to the appropriate employment of period lamps, and one would think that flagrant and evident incongruity would naturally be avoided. Yet we recall a photograph of a particularly ornate lamp and a frivolous bust ornamenting (?) a bulbous Jacobean table in a dignified Tudor hall. Pedestals of simple classical style will accord with Georgian furniture and often with the corresponding classical periods in France and Italy.

The Empire pedestal lamps with frosted and cut glass shades and suspended prisms are excellent and too well known to need illustration.

The wooden pedestals are generally of simple con-tour, being based on the good old eighteenth century Classic, and are among the best reasonably priced lamps for sitting and bedrooms (Plate 110 D). Being, however, so frequently used, they need a rather unusual but appropriate shade to give them originality.

The wooden pedestals may be painted and deco-rated. For rooms in the "modern" style they are excellent in strong colours, striped around the turning in black, deep blue or white and with shades to match.

Pedestal lamps sometimes have an accompanying figure as has one of the charming little boudoir lamps illustrated (Plate 110 B).

Among modern things are pedestal lamps which have been more or less based on period styles but which are sufficiently non-committal for use in most situations.


It would scarely be fair to, apply the word novelty to many of these lamps, because while they are unusual they also possess dignity and value. The central ex-ample of the group of three Chinese lamps (Plate 107) where a figure is employed as a base, is of this character. So also are others in which dainty western figures, Chinese Foo dogs and other objects have been utilised in the same way.

Wrought iron standards are of excellence when well designed.

The writers recall a handsome brass affair where the base was a pan, with feet, from the centre of which arose a plain standard branched for three lights under a metal shade and with a lifting handle at the top. This would be very good for a library or living-room of strong, dignified character.


Candelabra and other standard lights have always played an important part in interior furnishing and they are of equal use to-day. They are especially appropriate with floors of marble, mosaic and tile, and decorated or sand-finished walls (Plate 100 B).

The ubiquity of the standard piano lamp has rather discredited all varieties of the floor lamp with people of individuality unless it and its shade are unusual. Certainly the candelabrum with several candles, or with electric fitting, or with the lanthorn top, possesses far greater distinction.

The suggestion of employing these for dining-rooms has already been made: they are of equal use for the illumination of desks and study tables, and for the bringing into additional relief of some special feature of decoration, such as an unusually handsome cassone or chest, a valuable tapestry or picture. In a rather dusky corner of a library, such a light with electric bulbs, quickly switched on, would prove of value in consulting the volumes.

Such standards, whether of metal or wood, plain, painted or decorated, may either be simple and attractive or highly wrought. Appropriateness in the use of the latter is of course necessary; i.e., a magnificent lighting arrangement naturally should not be used to illuminate an inconsiderable desk or table.


The principal requisites are that shades should be in harmony of likeness or of contrast with the lamp and appropriate to the surroundings.

Such a variety of styles, shapes and materials are illustrated that one may easily find a good model for any lamp, but a few words of caution are necessary.

The pattern, scale and spirit of lamps and shades must not be incongruous if one is conventional in design and the other naturalistic, the spirit in each is opposed and the divergence will annoy; or if the pattern in one is larger than in the other, this will prove equally exasperating.

Shades should not come down too low on the lamp. In the group of lamps in their environment note the rather clumsy appearance given by this fault in the second example as compared with the others. Nor, on the other hand, should they stand too high, as a skimpy appearance will then result. The lines of shade and lamp together should make a graceful and pleasing contour.

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