lighting and electrical

Lighting Design with Period Lighting Fixtures

Inappropriate lighting can ruin a period effect. Here's where to find historically authentic fixtures -- and how to use them in creating warm, dramatic light.

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If you're after a traditional look, appropriate lighting fixtures are a must. You may want a true original antique piece, or a good-quality reproduction may serve as well or better. Because of surging demand, there are a growing number of well-made, historically accurate reproductions available.

Antique original lighting fixtures often don't provide the light levels that today's homeowners desire, yet the fixture may have just the look you want. One possible solution is to have a lighting shop re-configure the fixture to incorporate additional illumination power. More often, the answer lies in using a combination of fixtures: historic fixtures that set the style and tone of the room plus supplemental, hidden, modern fixtures that raise the overall ambient light level.

AVOID CENTRAL POINT-SOURCE LIGHTING
Above all, avoid trying to light an entire room with a bright, high-wattage ceiling fixture in the center. This results in a light that is unpleasant to the eyes, creates unwanted shadows and leaves dead spots. A single ceiling fixture produces a central, symmetrical point of light that is monotonous, cold and harsh.

POOLS OF LIGHT
Task lighting is really an historic concept. In the 18th and 19th centuries, lighting technology was such that you couldn't light an entire room with a single fixture. Instead, lights (oil, kerosene, gas and candles provided illumination then) were placed where lighting was needed, such as tabletops or mantels. The result was pools of light throughout the room, which provided a far more pleasing effect than a central point-source light. Pools, or layers, of light create a warm, dramatic mood that imparts a sense of intimacy -- while also placing illumination where it's needed most. Multiple light sources also allow for a lot of personal fine-tuning of light levels, so you can make adjustments depending on the occasion.

MULTIPLE LIGHT SOURCES
Conventional wisdom is that people prefer natural daylight, but, in fact, normal daylight is cold and flat. People actually gravitate toward the warmer, more dramatic sunrise or sunset lighting or the mysterious, moody light of candles. This kind of drama can be created by using multiple light sources to illuminate a space. Table lamps, accent lamps, chandeliers with dimmer controls and bridge-arm lighting are all types of task lighting that have historic antecedents and can be used to define a period space.

Electric candles are still another way to introduce supplemental mood lighting, while also adding to the period effect.

PUMPING UP LIGHT LEVELS
If you're using original antique fixtures, there are a couple of tricks you can employ to increase illumination without detracting from the period effect. Sometimes, inconspicuous downlights can be used judiciously to bring up light levels without detracting from the period feel. An alternative is to retrofit the antique fixture so it can accommodate small, modern, high-output lamps that don't harm the appearance of the fixture. A variation on this concept is to leave the original lamping but conceal additional small, high-output HID lamps that direct light upward to the ceiling, which adds soft, indirect ambient light to the space.

Still another way to pump up ambient light is to conceal modern fixtures behind moldings or ornament near the top of the room.

DIMMER MAGIC
Dimmers are a wonderful tool for adding control and flexibility to any lighting scheme; they make possible a wide range of expression and functionality in any room. For example, dimmers can easily address the varying lighting requirements of the typical multi-purpose dining room: homework, family dining, neighborhood meetings, formal dinners, intimate conversations and many other occasional uses.

Dimmers not only reduce light levels, but they also change the spectrum of the light emitted, which helps change the mood. As the dimmer lowers the light, the lamp will glow a little more yellow -- more like original period lighting.

START EARLY
It's critical that the architect review lighting design with the client early in the project to make sure that both are on the same page when it comes to lighting design. The lighting plan has a direct bearing on the electrical wiring plan. Also, if hidden indirect lighting is wanted, this, too, has to be incorporated into the contractor's working drawings.

Click here for suppliers of period interior lighting
Click here for suppliers of period exterior lighting
Click here for suppliers of custom-fabricated lighting
Click here for suppliers of lighting fixture components
Click here for suppliers of lighting fixture restoration
Click here for suppliers of antique-style light bulbs