The choice of styles, colors, materials, finishes, shapes, and sizes has never been greater. In fact the selection may seem down right overwhelming, but this means that for every taste in interior design there is almost certainly the perfect chandelier. Today’s decorating is all about choices. No longer dictated by style conventions, today’s homes are often eclectic mixes-- shabby chic, colonial, French country, modern, classical, traditional, and everything in between.
Chandeliers have a long and stellar history although, until rather recently, they have been out of fashion for several decades. Once considered Grandma’s quintessential dining room fixture is once again assuming its rightful place as a popular light source. No longer simply providers of light after sunset, chandeliers have become a sculptural presence, a personal style statement, even a visual stimulation as the focal point in a room. From the dining area to the master suite, kitchen to bath, chandeliers have been rediscovered.
In the past chandeliers reflected social status and wealth. The earliest chandeliers illuminated cavernous interiors of castles, cathedrals, abbeys, and chateaus throughout medieval Europe, the purview of the ultra wealthy. For lesser folk, a simple cross brace or wheel hung from a chain holding a few candles sufficed to chase away the gloom.
As the world exited the Dark Ages, chandeliers became more sophisticated and ornate. Turnings of gold, silver, brass and bronze were created by master craftsmen for those who could afford them. On the Venetian island of Murano, fabulous glass chandeliers emerged around 1700. At the same time advances in glassmaking resulted in lead crystal from England that artisans fashioned into magnificent stained glass windows and multi-tiered chandeliers. Turned wood, wrought iron, and pressed tin were fashioned into lighting fixtures to satisfy the demands of a burgeoning merchant class. Before long, chandeliers had made their way to the New World.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, chandeliers had reached their zenith around the world, setting ballrooms, castles, great estates, town homes, even sailing ships and railroad cars ablaze with light. No longer mere lighting fixtures; they were works of art. As the upper class demanded ever more gracious and opulent chandeliers, the growing middle class, seeking to emulate them, demanded affordable but equally grand versions for their own homes.
By the mid 20th century however the fickle winds of interior design had changed. With the advent of natural gas, followed by electricity, some chandeliers were converted over from burning candles to gas jets and electric sockets, but thousands of others were discarded as archaic relics. Severe minimalism, moderne, and comfy traditional designs favored table and floor lamps in lieu of hanging fixtures. Recessed and track lighting became the overhead lights of choice and chandeliers seemed relegated to the trash heap of history.
In the past few years, however, decorators and homeowners alike have rediscovered the charm and ambiance chandeliers bring to a room, and lighting designers are busy creating contemporary versions of these timeless classics. You needn’t own a baronial castle or have soaring ceilings to appreciate what chandeliers have to offer. Your personal style may be all that’s needed to find the perfect chandelier for your home.
Lets start with the one room in the house that has benefited the most from chandeliers in the past—the dining room. Proper lighting over the table is the key ingredient of the perfect room, whether you select a single light source or layers of light. Selecting a chandelier that is too small for the space becomes immediately evident. Interior designers recommend erring on the side of too large instead.
Mixing materials and styles within one fixture has become a popular design trend. It is not uncommon to find a rustic metal fixture hung with crystals or glass beads, or metal or glass fixtures topped with linen or silk shades. Antique and consignment shop chandeliers are being given a new lease on life with a layer of vibrant paint. If your dining space is part of today’s popular open concept, choose a more casual style than one you might select for a more formal space.
A chandelier’s diameter should be 50% of the table width or greater. This assumes the table is sized appropriately for the room. It should be hung with the bottom of the fixture 30 inches above the tabletop for a standard 8 foot ceiling.
Go up 3 inches for each additional foot of ceiling. For ceilings nine feet or higher, consider a two-tiered chandelier to fill the space with light and substance.
Today’s two story foyers demand dramatic lighting as well. To determine the proper size for your foyer, add the dimensions of your room together: For example, if your foyer is 12 feet by 16 feet, 12 plus 16 equals 28. The proper size chandelier would then be 28 inches in diameter. This rule of thumb works well for any room. Make sure the bottom of the fixture hangs well above head height. If overhead windows are present in your foyer, center the fixture in the window so it can be seen from outside.
In the past decade master bedrooms have morphed into hotel-like suites, becoming larger and grander, and people are treating their suites as luxurious personal spaces. Chandeliers add glamour to this area and are gradually replacing the ubiquitous ceiling fan light with a touch of elegance unseen for many years.
Juxtaposed with today’s master suite is a luxurious bathroom. A trend toward smaller chandeliers makes it possible to incorporate them into the smallest rooms in the home. Chandelettes or mini chandeliers add a sense of intimacy and luxury over the tub or to illuminate a dressing area. These compact chandeliers are typically 9-12 inches in diameter, often bedecked with crystals that help capture and reflect the light, or shaded with rich fabrics that coordinate the room’s color palette. A small powder room can make a dramatic statement with the addition of an elegant chandelette. Before installing a chandelier in the bathroom, check local building codes regarding ground fault protectors and distance to the closest water source.
Kitchens, long the bastion of flush mounted fixtures, have come into their own with a variety of chandeliers in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Eat-in kitchens and large center islands create the perfect opportunity for a grand chandelier; however keep in mind cooking generates grease and splatters, so select fixtures that are easy to clean.
Cleaning a chandelier may appear vexing as dust settles, creating a grey film, dulling the finish and reducing their clarity and sparkle. If your chandelier is metal or wood, there are any numbers of long-handled dusters to whisk away the grime. Most metal fixtures are coated with a clear finish so that polishing is no longer necessary. In fact, many cleaning solutions will damage the finish and corrosion will surely follow. Fabric and paper shades can be cleaned with your vacuum’s soft brush attachment.
Crystal chandeliers pose special challenges. When you hang one of these delightful concoctions of prisms and beads, it’s all about the sparkle. The last thing on your mind is the film that will eventually develop. Experts are adamant on one point—spraying chandeliers with cleaning solution is not the way! The theory seems sound: spray the chandelier and capture the drippings in a bucket as it carries away months of grime. Not so, say the experts. In fact, the solution settles in every nook and cranny, creating pockets of discoloration and corroding the metal framework. There’s only one way—removing the crystals and cleaning them by hand.
For centuries grand crystal chandeliers were hung on hooks or attached to ropes and pulleys for easy lowering. When installing a crystal chandelier in your home, consider having an electrician install special hardware that will allow you to take it down periodically. A sturdy stepladder will also allow you to reach the fixture in order to remove the crystals.
Time consuming but well worth the effort.
And lest we forget, chandeliers and candeleres can transform dark outdoor spaces into dramatic light-filled outdoor rooms, perfect for dining, entertaining, swimming, or an intimate evening around the fire pit.
Never in the long history of the chandelier have there been so many choices :one-of-a-kind designer fixtures, replicas of historic pieces, vintage fixtures you can refurbish, lighting showrooms with a plethora of styles from dozens of manufacturers, big box home stores, estate sales, auctions, and online sales. Whatever your source and choice, when you hang a chandelier you acquire something beautiful, glamorous, and practical around which the rest of your décor will revolve. We’ve entered a new age for chandeliers—long may they shine!