Apartment Lighting Project: Antique Light Bulb

Antique Light Bulbs

In my apartment, there is a simple pendant light fixture hovering over the kitchen sink and bar. It has a frosted glass shade and an exposed light bulb. There’s nothing offensive about it – WHEN it’s not turned on. Generally, the light stays off. Over the months, I’ve tried different light bulbs. At one point I even had a compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb surrounded by a light-diffusing piece of parchment paper held to the pendant with one of those green rubber bands from Whole Foods. (I liked it. My wife? Not so much.) Finally, after writing a blog piece on antique light bulbs, I had an ah-ha moment.

Antique Light Bulb

Antique light bulbs are the vintage looking exposed bulbs with the intricate, warm filaments you see in restaurants, bars, and hotels. Some people call them Edison bulbs, but, if you want to be really technical, “Edison” refers to just one type of antique light bulb. Fun fact. (You can still call them edison bulbs – We’ll know what you’re talking about.)

Anyway, having just done a blog entry on antique light bulbs (as well as having written content for our category page), I happen to be someone who knows something about the different shapes and styles of vintage style light bulbs. Check it out: Because they are considered decorative or novelty light bulbs, edison bulbs are not affected by recent legislation regarding light bulb efficiency. Antique light bulbs become the focal points of the light fixtures that use them. You find them in fixtures that celebrate the exposed light bulb. They lend a rustic feel to a room and are popular in DIY light fixtures that involve wood, metal, or glass.

Some antique light bulbs have clear glass envelopes, and some have envelopes that are tinted. For my pendant light, I chose a medium based, Victorian shaped, nostalgic smoke tinted antique light bulb.

Check out this photo comparison of the different light bulbs I had around the house vs. the antique light bulb. (By the way, don’t mind our dog, Zoe. She’s a real ham for the camera.)

1. Frosted Envelope Halogen Light Bulb

Apartment Lighting

Not terrible! The white light bulb actually looks great in the pendant light. But, when you turn it on, it creates a terrible glare. This glare is difficult to capture with a camera, but here’s an idea of it.

Halogen Light Bulb

Ahhh! I’m blind! This is not an ideal use of this kind of light bulb. It’s too warm for task lighting and too bright for general light.

2. The Cool Light of a CFL Light Bulb (with Parchment Paper)

Apartment Lighting

Turned off, it looks a little weird. CFLs aren’t generally used in decorative pendant light fixtures like this. Here’s what it looks like turned on:

CFL Light Bulb

It washes out color but does provide some task lighting, which might not be a terrible thing about the sink, where the dishes and produce get washed. And – drum roll, please – here it is with a thirty second DIY light diffuser (which is probably a total fire hazard! DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME).

Parchment Paper Light Diffuser

Now, sure, while this COULD be a burned down apartment building waiting to happen (CFLs don’t give off nearly as much heat as incandescent light bulbs, but it’s still not a wonderful idea if you like to play it safe), and while, yes, the style is a little wacky and “low rent,” can you at least see what it was I liked about it? It’s great as a task light, and the shape is totally fun. Diffusing the light makes it more effective, also, spreading the light across the counters. The white light is better than warm, amber light for doing dishes and cleaning. However, we didn’t want a task light right there, and we especially did not want a task light that was going to kill us and all our neighbors. Instead, we wanted warm general lighting to create ambiance in our apartment. (But don’t think this parchment paper situation didn’t help me connect with my inner light designer. Do you see how much I’ve talked about the parchment paper-wrapped CFL? Certainly, something deep inside has been awakened. Watch out for my future line of light fixtures called, Parchment Chic. Or, for apartment-specific light fixtures, I might use the name, Aparchment Lighting. Your thoughts?) Moving on…

3. The Antique Light Bulb

Antique Edison Light Bulb

Now, this looks good even when turned off. It draws the eye and piques the curiosity. “What’s up with that light bulb?,” people might ask upon arrival. That’s a good thing. Turned on, it looks like this:

Antique Edison Light Bulb

Oooh… Ahhh… Yes, it is lovely. And the miracle of it all: My wife walked in the door after I did this, saw the amber light and playful filament I’d angled just right, and said, “Huh. I actually like that.” And that’s what it’s all about, folks. (Contrast this with when I first presented my parchment paper creation to my wife. With a huge smile I was all, “Eh? Eh?” And she was all, “Yeah, no.”) Now how about a close up of that antique light bulb?

Antique Edison Light Bulb

Can anything else compare? If you just want an aesthetically pleasing light bulb that gives off warm light without causing a glare or giving you a migraine, antique light bulbs are the way to go. We now have the pendant light on every evening, and the apartment becomes warmer and cozier than before. This has got to be the least expensive way to significantly alter the feel of a home space. A single light bulb. Who would have thought?

Tom Sowders

Tom Sowders

After majoring in creative writing at NC State, I worked in the home remodeling industry. Then, I attended graduate school for a really long time and gained experience as a writer and writing instructor. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area with my wife and baby boy, and you can find me around the Triangle anywhere there's good music and/or NC-style BBQ.