Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Design CPR: Bring your rooms to life - Element #1

Do you have a room that never seems to get used?  Unlike our bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens,  spaces like the  formal living room or dining room, which typically don’t fill an everyday need, often remain largely unoccupied and are left to be admired only in passing.   To me, one of the few positive effects of the recent “economic downturn” is the now widely accepted opinion that the showy displays of wealth and wasteful behavior of the past decade are now considered bad taste.
Rooms that are just for show and never used are wasteful. 
That said, I also realize that sometimes there are spaces in a home that just don’t seem to invite you in.  I have found, through trial and error, that there are a few elements that consistently succeed in bringing a rarely used room (even the most formal) to life.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of these suggestions.   If you have a space in your home that is feeling ignored try adding one or more of these:

Bare-bulbed Light Fixtures

Nothing lights up a space like, well, lighting….  But not just any old lighting will do.  A single fixture in the middle of the ceiling and a lamp on a table in the corner does not a lighting plan make.   A proper lighting plan involves several layers of light and addresses all of the room’s functions, from reading to watching television, to sleeping, and yes, even blogging.   While one could easily devote an entire blog to lighting design, there are several types of decorative fixtures and bulbs that I think are especially effective in imparting that inviting ambiance to a space.

My top two favorite fixtures are pictured here:  Lanterns and candle sconces.  When dimly lit, the bare bulbs on these types of fixtures emulate the allure of candlelight. 

I love, love, love tabletop lanterns.  This pair is outfitted with real candles, but they could easily be converted to electric. 

A Blanc d’Ivoire tabletop lantern brightens a corner in my family room. 
(Pardon the fingerprints on the glass--remember, I live in the “Maison-de-boys”)

peter dunham
Wall lanterns and a hanging lantern set the mood in this room by Peter Dunham.

 bevolo lanterns over island
Instead of a pair of boring pendants, why not a use a gorgeous pair of Bevolo lanterns over a kitchen island?

This trio of star fixtures are the perfect accent lighting to draw you down a long hall.  Notice that they are supplemented by up-lighting from the decorative bases of the ceiling vaults.

Also at the top my list of favorite fixtures are antique and quality reproduction chandeliers.  Here again, the bare bulbs suggest candlelight and the crystal beads and drops on this type of fixture reflect the light throughout the space.

A suite of modern reproduction candle fixtures.

Mirrors are a great way to double the effect.

pleated slipcovers
Two beautiful Empire style fixtures grace this large dining room.

Note the thicker candle sleeve on these fixtures.
On a side note; I also make it a point to always change out those awful white plastic candle sleeves that are often included with fixtures of this nature.  My favorite sleeve replacement is a hand-dipped beeswax candle cover in a neutral color.

 Ivory candle covers
An electrified tabletop “candelabra” is a great solution for gently illuminating a dark corner.  Different versions (iron, gilt, tole) of these versatile fixtures can work in virtually any type of room. 

black tole lamp     P1010177
I wish I had the actual “before” picture of my lamp, but this gray Swedish looking candle fixture on the right started out life as a brass-shaded, toleware table lamp, very similar to the black one pictured on the left.   All of the parts were saved, so if I change my mind someday, it can easily be converted back.
Alternatively, a single stem candlestick fixture makes a perfect nightlight for a hall bathroom or a child’s or guest bedroom.

 3 watt bulbs
The bulbs I like best in these exposed-bulb fixtures?  3-watt silicone dipped clear candle bulbs.  I have tried dozens of different types of candle bulbs in different wattages and I have found these to be the most attractive.  And, at only 3 watts each, I don’t feel a bit guilty leaving them on during the day.
Now, bear in mind that none of these fixtures alone are anywhere near enough wattage to illuminate an entire room--they are just there for effect, (thus the term decorative).  Nonetheless, they are equally important to the lighting design of a room as ambient and task lighting.
These too-often-forgotten fixtures are the layer of light that can bring a space to life.


  1. a great piece, Suzanne. I cannot believe how different that tole lamp looks after you modified it. I'll be on the lookout for one to do the exact same thing with...

  2. I admire your attention to detail. The smallest thing, like that of the lightbulb certainly make a difference. Sometimes just changing the wattage transforms the room.


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