Chandeliers have long been a symbol of elegance and luxury. However, they had what seem to us now, fairly humble beginnings. In the 14th century the first chandeliers were constructed of two wood beams forming a cross with a spike at the end of each to hold a single candle in place.
While these chandeliers seem rudimentary by today’s lighting standards they were in fact status symbols of the time. Candles were expensive and the use of multiple candles to light a room was a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. It’s no surprise that these early chandeliers adorned the great halls and churches of the day.
Chandeliers continued to become more elaborate and ornate as materials and production techniques improved. Intricate carvings in embossed wood and precious metals, glass embellishments and crystals are all common construction materials. In the early 1800s, gas became the standard for lighting, and many existing chandeliers were converted to use gas instead of candles, a trend that continued until the advent of electricity when once again many were updated.
Today chandeliers remain a dramatic lighting choice and a great way to show off your personal style. "The pendulum has definitely swung towards greater individuality in design, abandoning the 'right' and 'wrong,' which is a good thing. If anything, I think that is the trend which is here to stay. Good design is always timeless," says Suzanne Tucker, Founder of Tucker & Marks design firm in San Francisco. "Whether contemporary or traditional, I often incorporate antique or vintage chandeliers and pendant fixtures in my projects."
With a wide variety of styles, shapes, colors, and lighting element options they need not be overly feminine or overly be-crystalled to make a statement in a room. Not sure where to begin? Follow our tips for choosing the perfect style chandelier for your space.
Tiered Crystal Chandeliers
This is probably what you think of when you hear the word "chandelier": we’re talking faceted crystals dangling from elaborately carved metal branches, strings of reflective glass beads strung between glowing bulbs. It’s true, crystal chandeliers can mean high drama, but they can also make a more subtle impact when used in the right space.
Today’s tiered crystal chandeliers come in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Their impact is still dramatic and a great option for an entryway or dining room. Consider the height you need in your space and how many tiers are going to provide the right amount of drama and light without being overpowering to the rest of your decor. A large lofted ceiling entry-way or open loft space can both benefit from a tiered crystal chandelier in the right proportions.
If you’re thinking about a crystal chandelier in your space an authentic vintage chandelier is a great choice. The charm of these high-drama pieces, which represent a bygone era of luxury and grandeur, is often closely tied to the historic details of the piece itself. Was a certain type of glass used for the crystals, is there a specific etching or carving that denotes the mindset of the day? Choosing the right vintage chandelier in a Rococo, Victorian, Continental, or Louis IXV style for example, can add a dose of aesthetic history to your space in a single lighting element.
Drum chandeliers really combine the best of modern and traditional style in a single piece of decor. In this style a simple drum shade is used to mask the actual lighting elements of the chandelier while a cascade of crystals hangs delicately below to refract light and create a sense of real drama.
These drum chandeliers simplify the lines of the chandelier and are a bit more restrained than tiered crystal chandelier varieties. For cozy spaces choose a dark drum shade color or an opaque finish on the shade that will direct light into a focus spot in the space - think a dining room or library. In a larger space, where casting light throughout the room is more important, opt for a lighter and more translucent shade that will allow light through and create a softer lighting effect in the room.
"A chandelier is the perfect piece to add character and personality to a room."
Metal Mid-Century Chandeliers
The mid-century modern movement was a time of great experimentation in lamp and lighting design. While the era was obsessed with organic shapes and minimal futuristic designs, that doesn’t mean it was devoid of a sense of drama.
As the movement progressed with the space-age exploration of the 1950s and 60s, designs became more angular, space-age, and modern. Chandeliers of the mid-century modern era utilizing materials like metal and wood to make dramatic statements. Mid-century chandeliers had names like “Sputnik,” “Atomic,” and the “Miracle” and absolutely lived up to them.
"There are many modern replicas on the market but the mid-century and older pieces are the unique ones. Their appeal resides in a one-of-a-kind find and a patina only achievable with time: their very imperfections speak to me of soul and character and life lived – whether that is a 1940s bronze pendant that adds a bold sculptural touch, or a delicate handblown Venetian glass chandelier that reflects the daylight beautifully," says Tucker.
Today these modern designs are an excellent choice for an open loft or any large space that calls for a large lighting element both functionally and aesthetically.
Rustic chandeliers are paired down versions of their more opulent crystal chandelier cousins, but are not “simple” by any sense of the imagination. Rustic chandeliers utilize natural elements like wood, metal, even antlers and can add a substantial statement to the right room. Rustic doesn’t necessarily mean “simple.” Think of the great hunting lodges of the Rockefellers whose large stately great rooms often boasted massive rustic chandeliers made of the racks of deer, elk and antelope.
You don’t have to use animal-based materials to get the same effect today. Choosing something with a hand-carved feel, or that utilizes iconography from nature (think pinecones and tree branches) can give you the same earthy feel. If you’ve got a second home, a cabin, a getaway in the mountains or lakeside retreat that you’d like to accent with the perfect lighting piece a rustic chandelier is a great option.
Modern chandeliers take the best elements of all of the different chandelier styles and combine them in unexpected new ways. Modern chandeliers are often much more sculptural than their traditional forbearers and use a different range of materials.
In modern chandeliers materials are often mixed in unexpected ways and orientations. The gently bending symmetrical arms of a traditional tiered crystal chandelier may be replaced with organically shaped metal in asymmetrical arrangements. These are statement pieces in their own right, but can offer a more delicate scope for a smaller space.
Overall, when it comes to selecting good lighting, designer Tucker recommends the following guidelines:
Consider all the light sources, including daylight, in a room - and select your pendant or chandelier to complement rather than compete with them.
Lighting greatly affects mood so it should be flattering as well as functional – dimmers are a must.
Scale and proportion are key. "When I was 12 years old, my father let me pick out a chandelier for the family dining room. I chose a twelve-arm crystal-bedecked fixture that caught my eye, and which he subsequently purchased. The chandelier was a perfect fit and scale for the room."
Light up your home with a variety of chandelier styles available in sales including Vickers & Hoad's Special Antiques & Collectibles Day 1-2 (August 6-7), Greenwich Auction's Jewelry, Picasso & NY Penthouse Contents (August 7), and James D. Julia's 3-Day Summer Fine Art, Asian & Antiques Sale (August 24-26), or explore the Buy Now selection.