I HAVE a vivid recollection from childhood of making an unannounced visit with my mother to an elderly grand-aunt, and her fluster at having visitors when she had just taken down her ceiling light shades for the annual wash, leaving the light bulbs exposed.
While we’re unlikely to fluster nowadays at such an occurrence — not least because most of us don’t have time to take shades down and give them a wash — the filament light bulb was, back then, considered a purely functional item with all the aesthetic attraction of pipe work under the sink.
It was designed to be concealed by the shade, partly for decorative purposes, but also as a practical way of cutting down the blinding glare bouncing off the filament should you cast a glance upwards.
Now it’s this humble light bulb that has become the focal point in much of this year’s trendy lighting, making it possible to look at and admire in all its simplicity, thanks to one of the many innovations we’ve seen in lighting development in recent years.
“A lot of design energy has gone into the art of the bulb”, says lighting designer Shane Holland, who is an innovator in using the traditional light bulb as a design feature.
“The filament in it has been lengthened and that’s what allows you to look at it so it won’t burn your eyes.”
A recent lighting design project for Holland was the Wilde Creative Centre’s cafe located on the corner of Dublin’s Merrion Square and Clare Street.
The decor is a homage to the era of Oscar Wilde and lends itself beautifully to Holland’s Wilde Cage lamp, which exposes the traditional light bulb inside a frame-like, notional shade.
“I used filament bulbs attached to cables suspended over tables from the ceiling,” he says. “They’re retractable if the space is used for something else.”
So while the finished look of the lighting scheme is nostalgic, harking back to the end of the Victorian period, the technology is completely modern and includes red fabric cable covers which add a contemporary touch.
It’s a mix of minimalism and the industrial look that sit together well, while the inclusion of a copper framework representing the shade touches on the current vogue for warmer-looking metals.
It’s a simple idea but it’s effective and has, since its installation in the Wilde Café, been showcased at design shows in China and Paris, and was tipped as a trend for 2015 by the prestigious Tent London design show.
“There’s also a desire for cosiness,” Shane says. “When things become very contemporary and you go too white and hi-tech, people react and want the cosy experience, and there’s also the trendiness of retro.”
The desire for this cosiness is certainly a widespread trend in design for interiors, but it’s not just about retro and the mid-century modern period of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s; Victoriana is gaining ground too as we’ve seen with the fashion for young men sporting long bushy beards and sideburns, and donning of Sherlock Holmes-style tweed coats.
It follows inevitably that this fashion for Victoriana in personal wear has filtered down to interiors.
“Old fashioned tassles like granny had on her lampshades are a trend but there’s definitely a trend in lighting for the handmade and customised,” says Holland.
“Technology has come a long way and is more affordable to smaller companies now, and there’s lots of interaction between crafts and technology.”
It’s this new and advancing technology and cosy nostalgia that together have triggered the reinvention of the bulb as a design statement.
But at a time when we’re prone to throwing out the old for the new, it’s rather nice to see something that has been so integral to our lives — replaced by the peculiarily shaped energy-efficient bulb — being repurposed.
I wonder what Edison would make of his tungsten filament bulb being enhanced and beautified so the bulb itself is now an art piece?
* Next week: interview with the author of Declutter Therapy Breda Stack.
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