Seeing The Light

October 09, 1994|By Rosemary Knower

Staying home. Pulling up the drawbridge. It's a growing trend that forces us to focus on our interior surroundings. Especially as winter approaches. The shortening days with their long nights remind us that light is most precious when it's dying with the year. As we move into our winter routines, including homework and indoor entertaining, we may find ourselves casting a critical eye on the lighting that seemed perfectly adequate in summertime.

According to Dina Santorelli, managing editor of High Point magazine, which covers trends at the furnishing industry's annual show in High Point, N.C., "Lighting used to be just functional. But consumers are not just purchasing for the functional aspect; the aesthetic has become more important. Manufacturers are responding with unique items. They're competing to offer a huge range of styles."

So what's the well-dressed lamp wearing this year? The whole natural world seems to have been brought into fanciful play in the conception of this year's lighting designs. Burnished wood, iridescent art glass, beaten copper, leather, fossils, alabaster, bronze and marble, shell, wrought iron and recycled fibers are hot materials on the illumination front.

As for design, it might be said that what's old is new. There's a wealth of historical periods and styles to choose from. There's been a resurgence of interest in the lamps produced by artists like Mission furniture designer Gustav Stickley and pioneer architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The clean, spare lines and the glowing glass shades of the lamps produced in the first flush of modernist electric design seem particularly suited to the eclectic mix of American primitive furniture and sturdy practicality in favor with interior designers today.

In response to this nostalgia for the populist optimism of the early 20th century, a number of American companies have begun reproducing handsome adaptations, in all price ranges, of the table, desk and task lights favored by the Arts and Crafts Movement and the group of Midwestern innovators known as the Prairie School. Beauty and utility were watchwords of both groups, and the result was an extraordinary richness in everyday objects.

Arroyo, Quoizel, Hinkley and Frederick Ramond are among the companies interpreting these clean, simple, early-modern designs. Many of the lamps combine burnished wood or hammered metal with pebbled and colored or painted glass. The result is a light that looks charming when it's off and becomes the warm, cheery focus of an area when it's on.

For those whose delight is the traditional look, there's a wealth of new models based on the ever-popular turn-of-the-century designs of Louis Tiffany. And there also are new lamps based on the layered- and sculptured-glass techniques of Emile Galle, a contemporary of Tiffany whose sinuous flower and fruit forms grace so many of the loveliest art nouveau buildings in Paris.

Skipping back to the early 19th century, American Federal designs are still claiming a large number of devotees. A Baltimore company, Top Brass, recently achieved the honor of sending an American two-candle desk lamp to a certain office in Arkansas. If you'd like to see things in the same light as President Clinton does in his home state, you might want to switch on Top Brass' marble-based, black-parchment-shaded model.

Architectural motifs continue to be popular. Columns, pyramids, spheres and cubes in bright colors are combined in many of the new designs. Shallow, colored shades frequently throw a dramatic emphasis on the bases, giving the lamps a clean, postmodernist (1930s to 1940s) look that goes with both casual and contemporary furniture. Art Up's Blue Ice halogen fixtures are a particularly subtle interpretation of the concentric glass-and-metal shapes. The light, in vivid sea-blue-green, violet and magenta, floods over frosted surfaces to glow softly at the edges of thick glass plates.

Ikea continues the 20th-century look with Danish-modern (1950s) revivals in bright plastics and shapes that will make you swivel to see if you're about to be sideswiped by Studebaker fins.

F.L.I.C., a California company based in Hollywood, has jumped on the old-movie nostalgia craze with some witty, lush designs from the days of Valentino. Acknowledging that people tend to get up at night and stumble through darkened rooms, the company has reintroduced the pleasant custom of concealing night lights in lamp bases. What better way to help the night wanderer move about safely than a lamp/night light featuring camel-in-the-oasis art glass and brass straight out of the 1930s?

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