Lighting trends that have survived into the 21st century

October 14, 2015

Whether it serves an aesthetic function, a practical energy-saving role or a mood-enhancing addition, the lighting you choose for each room of your home or office could well have been born in a simpler format many years before.

Lased LED light towers. Photo courtesy of Jared Tarbell

Of the many lighting trends that have come and gone through the ages, some continue to influence lighting designs into the 21st century.

The light-emitting diode (LED) – a semiconductor device that converts electricity into light – is constantly being reinvented to provide an efficient lighting option.

Invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr, an employee of General Electric, the first visible-spectrum LED, initially considered ugly and expensive, has gone on to revolutionise the lighting industry.

The big appeal of LED lighting is its energy efficiency. It uses 85% less energy than halogen or incandescent lighting.

Creative design and a wide range of styles incorporating LED lighting have seen a more positive response to this form of lighting, particularly in office and kitchen settings.

As the world’s depleting energy sources have led to the gradual phasing out of incandescent lights across the world, the Edison bulb with its filament stands resolute in contrast to the general trend.

Edison lightbulb. Photo courtesy of Alicia Lynn

After testing more than 3 000 designs, Thomas Edison filed a patent for his electric lamp with carbon filament in 1879.

The Edison bulb made a resurgence in the mid-1970s when New Jersey bulb manufacturer Bob Rosenzweig made the decision to add antique bulbs to his light stock.

Rosenzweig’s business really took off in New York in the 1990s when well-known establishments like the Soho Grand Hotel turned his bulbs into talking points.

After catching on in New York, Edison bulbs have reappeared in many guises: in iron cages, in chandeliers, in their natural state on cords. They grace hotels, restaurants and lounges from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch to Boston’s Beehive to Seattle’s Tavern Law.

“It’s the closest electric thing to an open flame; it’s like a hearth,” says David Rockwell, an architect known for dramatically conceived interiors.

Light fittings with old-world flair have hit a decor high in recent years. Of these none is as striking or as beautiful as the chandelier.

Adding a touch of elegance and glamour to any space, homeowners are using chandeliers as feature light fittings to add a focal point to spacious rooms or as accent lighting in smaller spaces.

Although based on classical styles of the past, new-age chandeliers have been given a modern edge to make them fit into a more contemporary environment.

While the originals featured cascading crystals and gilded gold metalwork, their more modern counterparts feature a similar look achieved with glass or acrylic droplets set in a chrome or pewter finish. Today, lead crystal is prohibitively expensive, while glass is more affordable, yet also heavy.

One of our very own – the Moooi paper chandelier

The gilded gold metalwork of the main body of the fitting has been replaced with a modern chrome or pewter-coloured finish, collectively making the lighting both lighter and more affordable to recreate.

Today’s decorative light fittings are often smaller than their massive antique forbears, which makes them suitable for use in smaller rooms with lower ceilings.

These are three of many older trends that have been repurposed and reinterpreted to align with modern decor styles. Designers are always looking out for the next best thing, but there’s no shame in taking bright ideas of the past and reinventing them in a new guise to brighten the homes of the future.