Chandeliers have come a long way since Rhett Butler carried Scarlett O'Hara up the grand staircase in "Gone With the Wind," an ornate crystal one hanging in the foreground. Of course, Old World-style fixtures still abound. Yet today's options range from romantic vintage-inspired versions to nature-based fixtures made of organic materials to hyper-modern versions fashioned in bold geometric shapes.
There are no rules, but chandeliers are always dramatic. Chandeliers, often referred to as the "jewelry of the room," are intended to tell a story and create a mood.
Semantic alert: While many call anything than hangs from a ceiling a "chandelier," a true chandelier is a suspended light fixture with two or more arms. And designers are putting a new twist on that definition, hanging multiple pendants from a single canopy.
Sag Harbor's Helen Gifford, founder of HelenBilt, is one such lighting designer who uses many light sources to create a chandelier effect. The pieces in her dazzling Urchin series are comprised of repurposed incandescent flame-tip bulbs surrounding a recycled steel armature that cascade at varying heights.
"It's a chandelier reimagined in a modern aesthetic," she says. Gifford, who moved to the Hamptons to be near her glassblower and welder in order to lower her carbon footprint, uses recycled materials as much as possible.
THE DRUM'S THE THING
Another trend is to use a traditional silhouette, but to enclose the entire piece in a single drum shade.
"I don't use the word chandelier anymore," says Dennis Beard, lead designer at Illinois- based LBL Lighting. "The term feels very dated." Of course, Beard acknowledges that the traditional chandelier with big crystal pieces and lots of arms "still works in both contemporary settings and period homes," but he says he believes that many current chandeliers can "almost be called sculptures or installation art."
Many modern chandeliers are inspired by their classical precursors, says Sean Lavin, chief design officer at Generation Brands, an umbrella company that includes lighting brands Feiss and LBL.
"We'll use a ghosted vignette," he says, explaining that a new design might have a center band with arms branching off, but the lines will be modern and the wood finish, weathered. "There's a trend toward delicate, washed-wood surfaces with subtle architectural details. Barn wood is big right now."
Many designers are following the vintage look established by Restoration Hardware. Michael Lichtenstein, owner of the Lighting Gallery in Huntington Station, calls it the "industrial look" and says it encompasses a range of raw materials, including reclaimed woods, rustic metals and canvas. "No one thought they'd have a burlap bag over their dining room table," he says. The biggest technological trend is toward energy-efficient LED lighting, with manufacturers racing to hide the microchip discs within a chandelier's structure. In contrast, there is also a retro trend making a nod to the '60s and '70s, says Lichtenstein. "It's the 'Brady Bunch' look: strings of shells and crystals wrapped into organic shapes," he says.
But mostly, he says, "There's a move toward what you'd least expect. I've seen chandeliers made of antique bicycles and even bamboo."
Chandeliers are no longer relegated to the dining room or hallway. They can now be found liberally distributed in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and even bathrooms. Or outside on the patio, where they can add sparkle with or without electricity.
TIPS FOR HANGING A CHANDELIER
1. On one hand, you don't want too large a fixture in too small a room, or vice versa. On the other hand, when it comes to today's chandeliers, bigger is often better. So, in hanging a chandelier, don't be afraid to rely on your intuition. Huntington interior designer Kate Singer advises holding up a fixture where you intend to hang it to get an accurate idea of how it will look.
2. The bigger the room, the bigger the fixture. To assess the size of the chandelier you'll need, add the length and width of the room. If the room is 15 by 12 feet, the sum of those two numbers is 27 -- that's how many inches you'll need the diameter of your chandelier to be.
3. For best lighting effect, fixture height depends on ceiling height. The rule of thumb is to measure feet from floor to ceiling and multiply by 2.5 or 3. The total is how many inches you should hang the chandelier from the ceiling. So, if your ceiling is 10 feet high, you'll want to hang it 25 to 30 inches from the ceiling. If you have very high ceilings, you can raise the chandelier higher. If it is being hung more as a statement than a lighting source, anything goes.
4. The standard height from tabletop to the bottom of a fixture is 36 inches to allow seated diners a clean line of sight. Sag Harbor lighting designer Helen Gifford prefers to lower the fixture another six inches (30 inches from table to fixture) to afford more intimacy and flattering light.