Sunday’s season première of Downton Abbey showcases the splendor of early 20th century lighting. From the brass candelabras that line the entrance hall to the ornate crystal chandelier that hangs in the drawing room, we’re greeted by elegance and luxury at every turn. A century later, we continue to see the echoes of this noble lifestyle in lighting decor.
In the early 1900’s electricity was still a relatively new concept and limited primarily to the very wealthy. For more than a century gas and oil had been the primary sources of artificial lighting fixtures. Intense heat, risk of combustion & carbon monoxide poisoning were all factors that pushed the modern world to pursue electric lights.
A Timeless Style
In the post-Victorian era, brass chandeliers shimmered with crystal drops and porcelain lamps were embellished with colorful floral themes. For members of the British aristocracy, the early 20th century was a time of elegance, luxury and opulence.
A quick glance through the latest designer catalogs are ample evidence that the decor of previous eras are still hugely popular. The style can easily be recreated with vintage light bulbs showcased in clear globes and antique brass desk lamps. In contemporary homes, an elegantly crafted modern light fixture can give you the look of the most treasured antique.
Highlight the Old with the New
Modern-day lighting techniques can also play a role in maintaining the styles of bygone eras. In the image below from Houzz, recessed lights draw the eye to a colorful painting in this traditional entryway. Without the cove above to place the recessed lights, a picture light would also do the trick.
Layer with Light
Due to the cost and availability of electricity, historic homes often viewed electric light as an extravagance saved only for dinner parties, and even then used sparingly. Candles & gas lamps were still scattered throughout the home for everyday lighting. In the house below, wall sconces and table lamps model the look of warm candlelight.
I’m sure the Dowager Countess would cringe at my neutral colors and minimalist decor if she came to my house for tea this afternoon, but maybe between all that huffing, harrumph-ing and lip-pursing, she would be able to appreciate the remnants of tradition that linger in the details of home & lighting design.
How are you using antique lighting fixtures or techniques in your home? We would love to see your photos!