The elaborate and impressive chandeliers that grace foyers and great rooms today were borne of necessity.
Chandeliers in medieval times were candles jammed on spikes mounted on crossed pieces of wood. The wood changed to metal pieces with the advent of first gas and then electricity as a power source for lighting.
Reflective glass and crystals were added first as a matter of efficiency because reflected light brightened abbeys, churches and castles, where chandeliers were used to light large areas.
"Now, chandeliers are in all different sizes, in all different finishes, and they range from elegant to whimsical," said Carla Peavy, showroom manager for Springfield Electric Supply Co.
Chandelier finishes vary from the antique look to the ultra-modern, all-black arms as well as all-black crystals and accents, according to Laura Kruger of Marx Fireplaces and Lighting Inc.
Early crystals used in chandeliers were brittle and hard to work with. They splintered and cracked when artisans tried to make ornate shapes. The addition of lead resulted in more brilliance as well as crystals that were easier to work with.
Hanging beads and crystal droplets lend an air of sophistication and glamour to chandeliers used as a focal point in hotel lobbies and theater foyers. Those same styles are used in modern chandeliers, said Kruger and Peavy.
"We're getting away from the candle lights," Peavy said. "Chandeliers are using shaded bulbs, and the variety of shades as well as colored shades can change the look of the chandelier from casual to elegant."
But both Kruger and Peavy agreed that candle-style chandeliers with simple finishes on the arms or areas that hold the bulbs are being used in transitional areas such as a hallway or even in an outdoor room.
One of the more unique chandeliers at Springfield Electric has large, light-brown globes shaped like candle flames as the lighting source.
Companies are making wall sconces as well as wall torchieres that match chandelier styles, Peavy said.
"Torchieres are really good for tall, slender spaces where you want to get some light," she said.
But there are also smaller, more angular chandeliers that would work well in a small space.
Newer styles in chandeliers include set-ups that have large, showy, solid pieces of quartz or rock crystals. Quartz is mined and cut; crystals are formed or molded.
Arms of polished nickel and polished silver are still popular, Peavy and Kruger said, but the color of the crystal is now being used to vary the look of the fixture.
One of the premier producers of crystal chandeliers is Schonbek Lighting Inc. From historic to exotic, the designers at Schonbek create chandeliers that are works of crystal art. White crystals create elegance and impact, while colored crystals - from ruby red to smoky topaz - give a glamorous pop or add warmth and whimsy. A stunning chandelier at Marx has black crystals and arms with accent circles of Swarovski crystals.
"Chandeliers provide a classic look," Kruger said. "With companies steering towards warmer-looking designs, you can put them almost anywhere."
Want more info?
Springfield Electric Supply Co.
n 700 N. Ninth St.
Marx Fireplace and Lighting Inc.
n 3445 S. Sixth St.
Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )