Nothing sets the mood of your house like period lighting. Whether it’s casting a warm glow around the room or shining a bright spot on a painting, the lighting you choose adds immeasurably to your home’s overall ambiance and décor, and it’s important to get it right. It’s also pretty easy to get it wrong.
A perfectly appointed Queen Anne house outfitted with Eastlake settees, flocked wallpaper, and stained glass windows that features an Art Deco ceiling pendant in the parlor would feel jarring. Likewise, a mid-century house, full of Saarinen and Eames furniture, that boasts a Colonial Revival chandelier in the dining room wouldn’t feel right, either. Yet old houses in need of restoration can easily have mismatched lighting that pre- or post-dates the rest of the architectural details. That’s because light fixtures are a relatively easy way to update the décor—they can be installed by a handy homeowner or through a quick visit from an electrician—so they tend to get changed out more often than, say, the wallpaper. But that’s good news, too, because it means that if your house needs better-matched lighting, the fix is a relatively easy one, as long as you know what to look for.
A few simple rules of thumb will keep you on track when trying to match up lighting. Like most repairs to your house, the most seamless fits will be era-appropriate and aligned not only with the broader defined style of your house, but also its degree of architectural finery. (The more high-style the house, the more intricate or elaborate the light fixtures can be.) Selecting design motifs similar to those that already appear in your home helps, too. Materials can be key, both in the finishes on metal and in the appearance of glass shades. Would original fixtures have been shiny silver or brass, dark hammered metal, or a polychromed finish? Would shades have been clear or etched, fluted or bulbous, amber or multi-hued art glass? Answer these questions, and you’re on your way to finding the perfect match for your house. When it comes to historically based lighting, many options are available for houses of every style. To help narrow down the choices, we’ve selected lights suited for four architectural styles of houses—Victorian, Arts & Crafts, Colonial Revival, and Art Deco. Our picks are based on offerings that were considered cutting-edge during the height of popularity for each architectural style.
VictorianMock’s Crest pendant from Craftsman Series sconce from
Coinciding with the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian era was a time of boundless innovation that touched nearly every aspect of American life—and nowhere was this more evident than in the lighting fixtures of the period. With the introduction of the carbon-filament lightbulb in 1879, Thomas Edison heralded a move away from the messy, potentially dangerous gas fixtures that marked the earlier stages of the Victorian era. However, the transition wasn’t entirely seamless—in the nascent years of electrical lighting, before widespread grid systems were developed in American cities, regular outages were a way of life.
A solution was found in combination gas/electric fixtures, which married small, downward-facing electric lights with larger, gas-fueled uplights that could be turned on when the electricity went out. In vogue during the turn of the 20th century, these dual-fuel lighting fixtures (almost always made of brass) took many forms, from sconces with only two lights (one facing up and one facing down) to chandeliers with up to a dozen. To accommodate their gas components, hanging fixtures such as chandeliers and pendants dangled from rigid poles rather than chains. In keeping with the era’s preference for fine detail, these fixtures often featured glass shades etched with delicate motifs. While modern reproductions have been updated to run solely on electricity, their aesthetic treatment still showcases the unique split personality of gas/electric fixtures.