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In light of style

By Emily Hedrick

Posted: Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2012

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Picture two wooden crossbeams with a few candles secured by iron spikes. Hoist the contraption with a rope or chain to a suitable height and suspend it from a hook. Voila! The first chandelier.

From these crude Medieval beginnings, which revolutionized lighting in the wealthiest dwellings, came an accessory that some designers call “the crown jewel” of the home.

Derived from the Latin word candela, meaning candles, chandeliers are generally defined as a decorative, ceiling-mounted light fixture with two or more arms bearing light. For centuries, the high cost of illumination made chandeliers a status symbol. Developments in glass-making in the 18th century allowed cheaper production of lead crystal. The light-scattering properties of this highly refractive glass quickly caught on, leading to crystal chandeliers. These distinctive crystal fixtures remained popular even after the advent of electricity, and in some minds are still synonymous with “chandelier.”

In 2007, one of the world’s best-known makers of crystal, Swarovski, acquired one of America’s leading manufacturers of premium crystal chandeliers, Schonbek, to create a company with over 250 years of combined experience in creating crystal lighting products. David White, global vice president of sales/marketing for Swarovski Lighting Business, hopes to change and expand the way people think about chandeliers. “We like to think of these products as ‘lighting centerpieces,’” he says.

“We’re reinventing what people consider chandeliers,” says White, speaking from Schonbek’s corporate office in Plattsburgh, N.Y. “We encourage our customers to consider unique, out-of-the-box designs – to bring an ‘aha!’ experience to their rooms. Light fixtures are jewelry for the home.”

Indeed, chandeliers – in crystal or other materials such as brass, pewter and colored or smoked glass – aren’t just for palatial ballrooms, dining rooms or foyers anymore. In the past, chandeliers equaled drama, and it was unusual to see them except in “power” positions and only in upscale residences.

Today, led by manufacturers such as Troy Lighting, Hudson Valley Lighting, Tech Lighting, Murray Feiss, Trump Home and many others in addition to Schonbek, chandeliers come in all price ranges, styles and aesthetics to allow them to fit comfortably into any room in the house, such as powder rooms, over bars and other entertainment areas, and even in the kitchen. They can add a sense of intimacy or definition to niche areas such as a reading alcove, breakfast nook or fantasy play area in a little girl’s room.

Grouping mini-chandeliers is popular over kitchen islands. Adding the right chandelier in a bathroom (with a dimmer, of course) can create a spa atmosphere. While they may hold pride of place in the center of the room, chandeliers don’t have to carry the whole lighting load; they can complement other lighting in the room from sconces, lamps and under-counter sources.

Experts such as Debbie Hanson, lighting consultant at Efirds Interiors, notices that as new home construction in Charlotte has become sluggish, more people are remodeling homes. Painting and replacing light fixtures are very popular projects to give homes a facelift.

“For example, people are replacing that old florescent bulb over the island in the kitchen with new, fresh pendant lighting,” Hanson says. “LED technology is in. The consuming public is more conscious of conservation, and they’re choosing more current, lasting, greener lighting products.” Hanson works with designers, architects and contractors to customize lighting solutions that meet homeowners’ demands for elegant, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly construction or remodeling projects.

One trend is to match faucets with lighting fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, thanks to partnerships between manufacturers. And most makers of upscale chandeliers, eager to fill customer demand for something unique, are receptive to executing custom designs.

Designers caution that lighting should never be an afterthought. Lighting, like color, greatly influences emotions, making those two components the most versatile design components in one’s surroundings. With lighting, one can make a bold statement, and small touches can add up to make big impressions whether the home is a cottage or a castle.

What should a homeowner keep in mind when choosing their lighting centerpieces? “First, look at style,” advises White, of Swarovski. Styles include traditional, transitional, contemporary or crystal. “But simply because someone has a traditional house doesn’t mean they have to stick to a traditional chandelier. They might want to push the envelope a bit, and consider something unique and unexpected.”

Next is scale. “Many people end up under-scaling by buying something too small for the space,” he says. “They should be trying to make an impact. In a foyer, for example, does the size of the fixture do justice to the space?”

White continues: “Then look at quality. Does this lighting centerpiece add value to the home? Is it something that can become an heirloom? In this throw-away society, affluent buyers are willing to spend a little more to get something with permanence and prominence.”

The bottom line is this: If you want to combine function with an artistic statement, there are chandeliers aplenty in the marketplace – from classic to contemporary – to meet your specific lighting needs. Keep shopping. Don’t look simply at a brand or a style, but let your own tastes and preferences guide you. You’ll know you’ve found the perfect fixture when a “light bulb” goes off in your head.

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