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A Light Bulb Moment


Shopping for a new light fixture is like going into a bakery. You think you know what you want, but once inside, there are so many choices. And everything looks so good!

“People get overwhelmed,” says Douglas Miller, the buyer for Bright Light Design Center. It’s easy to see why as Miller points out the latest trends in his King of Prussia showroom, one of five Bright Light Design Centers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Hanging from the ceiling is every style of light fixture imaginable, from Colonial to Contemporary— crystal chandeliers that call to mind Viennese waltzes, “’70s inspired glass spheres, sleek polished chrome fixtures with a minimalist edge. How do you choose?

Whether your home is a 100-year-old farmhouse or newer construction, Miller recommends, “Stick to clean lines and natural tones, nothing ornate.” For color, neutral beiges and ambers reign, in addition to bright white. Miller points out a handmade, wrought-iron chandelier by Hubbardton Forge that combines a clean, simple design with Mid-Century Modern styling, ideal for a Chester County farmhouse.

Clean and simple can also apply to an elegant crystal chandelier such as a best seller by Schonbek or a fixture by Stonegate with drum pendants and nickel or bronze hardware.


Many of these fixtures are made to order, allowing you to choose the color and fabric for the drums and hardware. What strikes me as the newest design element is the return of large drum fabric shades—not just on table or floor lamps, but on hanging light fixtures as well. Very déjà vu! An old look with a new twist—especially as in Tech Lighting’s translucent organza drums with inner glass cylinders to provide a soft wash of light.

Interestingly, Mid-Century Modern, the 1950s style of your parents’ or grandparents’ home, is especially hot now. (If only I still had that dining room pendant that looked like a space ship.) But that doesn’t mean coordinating your entire home to resemble the Flintstones.

The clean, sleek lines of that era have been updated to blend into your existing décor, be it French Provincial or Shaker. This is especially apparent in pendant lights. Made out of hand-blown Murano glass or natural shell in beige and amber by Tech Lighting, the newest shape in pendants is the cylinder—meant to be hung individually or in groups of three. Other popular designs include a clear tear drop and a small box that Miller calls an “ice cube.”

If you don’t want to go back to the Eisenhower era, there are plenty of Retro designs that give a wink to the ’60s and ’70s. Miller shows me a stunning, hand-blown glass sphere pendant in gold and white that makes me want to put on a mini skirt and platform shoes.

In bathrooms, the new trend is the “wrap,” a curved half-moon over the vanity, including one that coordinates with the gold and white sphere. In the kitchen it’s “tape lighting,” a strip of tiny LED lights that can be literally taped under cabinets.

Miller sends me home with thick catalogues from Tech Lighting and Murray Feiss, just two of the many prestigious lighting manufacturers carried at Bright Light Design Center. I find it easier to understand the trends looking at the catalogues, where each design collection is shown in its entirety, rather than in the showroom where hundreds of styles are clustered together.

I see how the Art Deco-inspired Fusion collection by Murray Feiss can coordinate beautifully with contemporary furnishings, and that a single pendant from Feiss’ Arabesque line can add take-me-to-the-casbah drama to any dining room. And the Tech Lighting catalogue sends me. Their hand-pulled glass wall sconces are works of art and their fabric, glass, and metal pendants are positively sexy.

But here’s an even better reason to rethink your home lighting. How about lowering your electric bill? Incandescent bulbs have had a nice run but the last factory manufacturing them was shut down in September 2010. According to the American Lighting Association, lights count for 25 percent of a homeowner’s electric bill. You can cut your expenses considerably by switching from incandescent bulbs to fluorescents, which now come in more than 200 colors, ranging from warm white tones to cool daylight. Yes, they cost more but they last much longer and will reduce your electric bill significantly.

Jim Hynson, owner of The Light House in Hockessin, explains, “By switching to compact florescent bulbs, you can save $50 to $100 a month on your electric bill. If you use LED bulbs, your savings increases to $150 to $300.”

Do the math. Your standard 75-watt incandescent light bulb gives off the same light as an 18-watt florescent or a 4-watt LED. Besides the energy efficiency and savings on your electric bill, there’s also the life of the bulb to be considered. A 75-watt halogen bulb will last 2,000 hours. A compact florescent gives you 10,000 hours; an LED, up to 50,000. Hyson predicts that within five years, LED lights will be the industry standard.

If the last time you looked at compact florescent bulbs, they were squiggly worms, look again. “In the last year, florescent bulbs have improved greatly,” says Hynson. “They come in all shapes and colors for recessed lighting and track lighting, in addition to regular-size and candle-shaped bulbs.”

For the biggest visual impact, Hyson recommends changing your foyer or dining room lights. Or consider the room where everyone gathers, the kitchen.

The Light House, a family-owned business for over 25 years, features elegant pewter chandeliers from Hinkley Lighting and antique brass fixtures from House of Troy, in addition to fixtures, lampshades, mirrors, and accessories from more than 50 manufacturers. “Styles are becoming more modern,” says Hyson, “but country, traditional, and rustic designs are our best sellers.”  Want to update your lighting without a major investment? Hyson suggests new lamp shades.

Lighting Tips

Chandeliers: Choose a fixture with a diameter 12″ less than the width of the table. The bottom of the chandelier should be 30″ above the table.

High Ceilings: For ceilings nine feet or higher, consider a two-tier style chandelier.

Dimmers: Always use a dimmer on dining room lights. They save energy. Special dimmers are compatible with florescent bulbs.

Sensors: Occupancy sensors turn off lights when the room is unoccupied or when you close a closet door. Another money saver.

Smart Dimmers: Driven by microprocessors, these offer the convenience of several layers of light for dining, homework, or parties.