Do not think for one minute that table lamps are old-fashioned. While overhead cans deliver all-over illumination, pendant lights can be modern and sexy, chandeliers glamorous and elegant, a source closer to where you are sitting or reclining is de rigeur for reading or other tasks that require a close look.
“You definitely want additional sources of light aside from a ceiling fixture,” Paloma Contreras, Houston interior designer and popular blogger, says on a “lighting tricks from the pros” post on the One Kings Lane website. “Bedside lamps are a natural fit. Rely on lamplight more than overhead lighting, and use dimmers whenever possible to set a nice, relaxing mood.”
Besides, what do you put on a table? Lamps are not just utilitarian, of course. In fact, the most interesting lamps have personality, driven as much by design as by the kind of lighting they house, which has been morphing away from traditional incandescent bulbs as they are being phased out. This makes them all the more relevant as decorative objects, some even artisanal.
Artists, architects and designers have a history of fashioning lamps. At the end of the 19th century, Emile Galle created magnificent art glass lamps in Art Nouveau style, and they’re highly collectible, as are Louis Comfort Tiffany lamps up through the early part of the 20th century.
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Jean-Michel Frank, a Parisian designer known for his understated but luxurious furniture, especially in the 1930s, designed lighting, as did many architects, such as Eileen Gray. Frank actually teamed up with artist Alberto Giacometti to design a pair of lamps, which this summer fetched $27,500 at a Wright auction.
More playful contemporary styles have been in demand as well. A series of transparent lamps from the Italian company Kartell, some in color with matching shades, display a design spirit similar to the whimsical see-through interpretation of the Louis XV style in Philippe Starck’s ghost chair.
Thankfully, lighting design has revved up. There’s more of a push for creativity in high-end and even more mainstream lamps. As in all furnishings design, fashion also is a catalyst in lamp styles. Shannon Koszyk, a Seattle jewelry designer, applied her techniques to lighting design, with a collection for Currey & Co. One of her lamps is a show of sophisticated and edgy goth, a slim rod punctuated almost dead center with a silvery skull.
Materials also are crossing over. Skins, from real and faux leather to shagreen (shark), clad lamp bases. Feathers cover lampshades. And the boldness of some fabrics chosen for shades — large-scale florals, paisleys and geometrics — won’t remind anyone of the darker, more somber embroideries of the Victorian era.
Lamps have always been about size, shape and proportion, just like other interior furnishings. For a long time conversation about shades was nonexistent. That was due to their generic nature: white, sometimes pleated, predictable styles. Nonconforming shapes, including rectangles, exaggerated drums or even unusual asymmetrical styles, have greatly relieved the monotony and have added to a growing repertoire. One spring introduction from Surya, the Gabby, features a yellow ceramic body with a bold apple-green and white chevron shade.
Animal prints, houndstooth, horizontal stripes, and ikats are some of the surprising patterns that are available in shades today.
Caryn Kinzig, who lives in Philadelphia, and her sister-in-law Sharon Kinzig, who lives in San Francisco, are known for their artistic flourishes — particularly embroidered or printed or hand-painted fabric lampshades that pick up from base colors, many of which are hand-blown glass in beautiful sheer colors. Their line is sold through the Artful Home catalog (www.artfulhome.com).
The envelope certainly is being pushed, as designers are considering ways to introduce texture, sometimes with surface applications, such as shells (real or ceramic), crystals or three-dimensional pieces, like a lamp by DwellStudio that consists of a trio of gold-leaf urchin shapes stacked on a slender post.
Materials also are being coaxed into unconventional forms, stretching lamp bodies into new dimensions. A nautically themed lamp from Shades of Light is crafted from jute over a metal frame, coiling up to its hanging shade.
There are barely there, pencil-thin, skinnier-than-candlestick bases that satisfy minimalists; flat, ribbon profiles; short squat globes in translucent glass; and luminous mercury glass. And there are a range of materials from wood to cork, concrete and metals, sometimes even pierced, as in Moroccan styles that allow light to dance through.
At this time of year, particularly, as daylight fades earlier, there’s something about table lamps that adds a warm glow to interiors. Depending on the style, a little bling or sparkle lends a dress-up touch. Some of the glazes used in porcelains also have a sheen or flecks of glittery mica. Metals and leafing (gold, silver or copper) also can add luster and a reflective quality, as do some shades, even in polished nickel.
Many retailing websites offer lighting design tips. On the Ylighting site (www.ylighting.com), for example, there’s advice on harnessing the power of your table lamp by addressing size (“the scale should complement other decorative elements in your space, especially the table it sits on”), layering light (“to accommodate different brightening needs, use table lamps in rooms that have support from other lights, such as ceiling lights”) and considering the existing decor, as well as table color (“pale walls and surfaces will reflect the light, while dark colors and wood will absorb it, requiring more light output”).
Shades of Light, which has a brick-and-mortar store in Richmond, Virginia, and a bustling catalog and website business, offers a rich selection of styles. Table lamps are considered an important accessory “not only for ambient or task lighting, but also to enhance the style and colors for the space.”
Further advice speaks to design styles: “A beautiful crystal, porcelain or brass table lamp will evoke a classic traditional mood, while a metallic, glass or concrete table lamp will set a more sleek modern tone. Coastal themes and materials like driftwood, capiz and pearl shells, coral and bamboo bring a relaxed resort feel. Celebrate the rustic beauty of nature, with table lamps fashioned from materials like horn, wood, rock crystals and branches.”
Shades of Light even has an in-depth bulb selector guide, which helps navigate through different shapes, wattages, voltages and types.
In the foyer, a single lamp or a pair might be used on top of a console table. This is a spot where you might have a little fun with color or pattern, particularly with a shade. A shade with texture, embroidery, beading or embellishing with pieces like shells, lends richness and personality.
While a common way to use lamps in the living room or bedroom is as bookends — one on either side of a sofa or bed — some designers like to deviate from symmetry by choosing a pair of simpatico but different pieces. They may be united in materials or finish — say gold leaf or silver metal — but with different shapes or even different finishes: for example, one in matte and the other in polished. They might even be different heights.
A console at the backside of a sofa or on a chest of drawers may hold one lamp, balanced on the other side with a grouping of framed family photos or sculptural objects.
On a narrow buffet, a more space-saving candlestick lamp with a tall body may serve for accent light. A pair of classical shapes in a vibrant color like coral, for example, can inspire other accents, perhaps a throw neatly folded on an ottoman beneath the table that supports them.
Ultimately and conclusively, lamps can complement a variety of decorating styles. They can be dramatic or quiet, glamorous or homespun, uber scale or petite, skinny or curvy, and even defy conventional forms. They can be simpatico with decor or a strong counterpoint. With so many options, you can layer in an artful, classic or fashion-forward design that will lend fluidity to a wide range of interiors styles.
Artful Home, 877-223-4600, www.artfulhome.com
Currey & Co., 877-768-6428, www.curreyco.com
Ethan Allen, 888-324-3571, www.ethanallen.com
Hudson Valley Lighting, 845-561-0300, www.hudsonvalleylighting.com
Kinzig Design Home, 610-322-9383, www.kinzigdesign.com
Regina Andrew, 734-250-8042, www.reginaandrew.com
Serena & Lily, 866-597-2742, www.serenaandlily.com
Surya, 877-275-7847, www.surya.com
The Natural Light, 800-331-3898, www.thenaturallight.com
YLighting, 866-428-9289, www.ylighting.com
Wildwood Lamps, 252-446-3266, www.wildwoodlamps.com