The Fashion of Light: When to Update Your Fixtures

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wood light fixture in the dark

People may not realize it, but lighting fixtures do fall in and out of fashion, just like clothing. I look at the light fixtures that I had hanging in my house in the 1980's and I shudder. Some fixtures are timeless, but most of them look dated as people’s taste changes.

Updating Your Lighting Fixtures 

With this in mind, it’s easy to update the look of your house by changing out some of the key decorative fixtures, such as the one in your entry foyer, the one over the dining room table and the ones over your kitchen island. Decorative fixtures are the architectural jewelry of a home. It's the first thing that people notice when they enter a space because we're naturally drawn to the brightest source of illumination. They are the visual bling. They set the tone for the home. If your fixtures are more than 10 years old, you should consider trading up. You're probably not wearing clothing from 10 years ago, unless it's considered classic.

And in the same vein, there are certain light fixtures that do transcend time. They are true classics. They look as fresh as the day they were introduced. I’m thinking Louis Poulsen, George Nelson and Isamu Noguchi. I do notice, though, that many lighting fixture manufacturers have some classics in their lines that never seem to fall out of favor. There’s something about them that allows their look to adapt to whatever is happening in the world of interior design and architecture.

circular crystal lighting pendant

Size Does Matter

It’s very hard to tell the scale of a fixture from an online catalog. Even if they give the dimensions, it’s hard to conceptualize the correct scale for your particular room. I have mentioned the formula before for determining the correct diameter for a particular space: Add the width and length of the room together and that's your target diameter in inches. For example, if the room is 10 feet by 12 feet, the diameter of the fixture should be in the 22-inch range. I would round up to 24 inches. I worry less about the fixture being too big than too small.

It used to be that we could go into huge lighting showrooms and see samples of all the light fixtures that were available. That’s not the case anymore. I think part of the reason is that manufacturers used to give free samples to the showrooms to display. Now, showrooms have to pay for them, so they will only display their bestsellers, which really limits our choices. Today, we're going online to see what’s out there in this huge world of decorative lighting. I’ve been encouraging the lighting manufacturers to show their products online, installed in actual rooms, so you can see how the size compares to objects with which we are more familiar, such as dining tables and couches.

wood lighting fixture in the dark

Fashion-Forward Finishes

Metal and paint finishes on light fixtures can look dated. I can remember a time when brass, verdigris and rust were the go-to finishes. Yes, I’m dating myself .... actually, I'm carbon dating myself. Currently, we’re seeing a lot of brushed nickel and bronze. These too, in time, will look dated. Some of the finishes and materials that I’m starting to see appear are black and white, gold, quartz crystal and wood.

The bottom line is that you can refresh the look of your home by updating your decorative lighting fixtures: It’s my Bling Bang theory.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website www.randallwhitehead.com for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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