Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Are Your Lights Becoming?

KATHERINE M. CALDWELL October 15 1924
Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Are Your Lights Becoming?

KATHERINE M. CALDWELL October 15 1924

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Are Your Lights Becoming?

KATHERINE M. CALDWELL

THE stage is set, the actors ready; the moment has come to oring the scene to life.

“Lights!”

The inanimate objects of a moment oefore are given form, color, a certain meaning. With the coming of the lights, the atmosphere is to a certain extent declared, for no one knows so well the value of light in gaining an effect, than the wizards of the theatre; almost every human emotion that forms the fabric of the play, has its interpretative lighting—every effect of gayety and grimness, of brilliance and mystery and horror, is heightened by the clever manipulation of the lights.

The interior decorator has the same opportunity to turn to her own uses the subtle influences of the lights that are employed in every room. The lighting holds the key to almost every part of the room’s effect. It can enhance the color scheme—or destroy it; it can give meaning and life to a charming setting —or strip it bare of any particular significance; it can add depth, suggest charm, lift the most unpretentious room out of the commonplace. It can supplement what is already good, or it can work wonders in throwing a charm over what in cold day-light is a prosaic enough apartment.

Such a power is really worth the study that is necessary if one is to make it a friendly force rather than trust to luck that it will be so—perhaps to find it determinedly breaking down our best effects.

Picture, for example, a lovely room—charming backgrounds,woods with beautiful grain, fabrics fine in color and design; by daylight it is everything that is satisfying. But when the shades are drawn and the lights turned on, and the room is perhaps flooded with an unsympathetic glare of light, pouring from too frankly direct a source, it is a different place; the softening that is achieved in the day time by glass curtains, the partial shadows in the corners which are not directly reached by the sunlight, are lost when a brilliant light is evenly distributed over everything.

Or perhaps it is the color of the lights which upsets the daylight effect; yellow light, for instance (the most common, because unshaded, oil, gas and candle lights are yellow rather than blue), will not materially change the color of surfaces that are yellow, orange or red, but it will combine with other colors to make quite different colors; we know that yellow and blue, for instance, when mixed, will produce green, so that we find our blue fabrics, under a strong yellow light, will take on a greenish cast that may or may not be acceptable. It is well, therefore, to experiment a little before definitely deciding on the color of new lamp-shades.

Magic in Light

LET US take, for a moment, an opposite J case—the room that has little in it of intrinsic value. It has done its best to provide furniture that is adequate to the needs of its owners and has achieved, let us say, a pleasant amount of comfort. But an uncompromising light shows the effects of constant wear, reveals any little shortcomings and subterfuges there may be. For such a room there is magic in well-handled lighting—the warming, lifegiving qualities of light itself, with the right glow of color, with bright areas where they will be required, making spots of interest, with shadowed areas that are pleasant, restful, pleasing by contrast. You have seen pictures the whole charm of which lay in the play of light and shadow, where the actual objects mattered little; there were in the old schools of painting especially, almost fixed rules for the balance of light and shade—one analysis said to have been made by Sir Joshua Reynolds, attributing to the Italian colorists an average balance of one quarter of each canvas given to the lights, one quarter to the shadows, and the remaining half to the tones between them. Such a rule would be by no means a bad one for the interior decorator to adopt as a guide in the matter of lighting the average room that is devoted to ordinary living purposes.

This picture-making objective supplies one more argument in favor of a number of well-placed lamps, rather than a central type of lighting. Comfort and usefulness carry the same argument still farther. This efficient modern day of ours has doubtless thrown its influence into the balance in favor of the lamp that will cast its rays exactly where they are required; a comparatively small light at one’s elbow is so much more satisfactory for reading or any close occupation, than the brightest of high-hung lights, and adds the weight of economy to the argument.

With artistic merit, greater comfort and efficiency, and economy all in its favor, the lamp that can come chummily close and share our occupations, has increased in interest itself. A score of lamps blossom where but one bloomed before.

Table lamps have passed from their initial stages, when a rather clumsy mahogany base or one of ornate, heavy brass, seemed to work their way into almost any company. More is demanded of a lamp that would associate with artistic furnishings now-a-days. It must accord with them in every way The result is evident in the lamp department of any good shop. Every kind of base is there, from the hand-made stand of wrought iron to the most delicate Dresden china and vivid pottery lamps, with as many or more types of shades to accompany them.

The “bridge lamp” is a fairly new and very acceptable version of the floor lamp. It stands just high enough to throw its light upon the card table or over the arm of one’s chair—a perfect reading lamp, as it is adjustable both as to height and the angle of its shade. This lower lamp is a decided improvement over the first floor lamps, which are really too high for a sitting room, though they are good still in a hall.

Electricity is the favorite fuel, and the house that is wired is much the easiest house to light decoratively, as well as efficiently. Gas lamps are also available in types that stand on the table and of course the oil lamp still does valiant duty in the country home that is off the electrified path. It remains for the owner of any of these lamps to study their possibilities and by means of shades, as a rule, to make them definite contributors to the beauty, as well as the comfort, of the rooms they light. One has less scope, of course, in shading lamps with a flame—such as gas and oil; the fire danger is very great if silk and other light fabrics are employed without adequate chimneys to afford the fullest protection. Where a globe of glass must be used, one can at least avoid the ornate atrocities that flooded the market a decade or two ago, and get frosted or amber or sometimes ruby glass, with good lines and no applied decoration. That very fine old oil lamps have been made, is evidenced by the few that wander into the hands of the dealer in antiques—to be wired and take an honored place on table or newel post, as a rule. Not long ago I saw a very beautiful oil lamp that had been bought for just this purpose. It was a heron, in dark-grey metal —probably lead or steel or perhaps just a composition. The bird beautifully poised, held a lily stem in its beak and the big, open lily made a receptacle into which the fat glass bowl of the oil lamp fitted.

An old-time light that our most modern methods have been unable to improve upon for certain purposes, is candle light. Nothing else is so delightful on the dinner table; no other lighting creates the same feeling of cheer and hospitality and gracious hominess. The revival of the vogue for candles has not only brought out all the old silver and pewter and brass and china candlesticks and placed them with honor in the most conspicuous positions, but it has stimulated the manufacture of new ones and we find a multitude of designs carried out in many kinds of pottery, in metals, in woods, plain and carved, and in what are often none too successful imitations of colorful old polychrome.

When we have chosen wisely from amongst these offerings, a word as to the candles to fill them. Candles have traveled far since the real candle-light days and, like everything else, a great deal of experimenting has been done to produce variety and “something new.” We have no quarrel with the machinemade candle that can be produced so cheaply that burning it will be a matter of no financial concern; but if we are going to treat ourselves to a higher priced candle, then let it be a plain, goodlooking hand-dipped candle, rather than some highly ornamented affair that appears to have been made for any other purpose than the useful one of being burned! Let a candle that is to look well, first look its part; then—let it play it!

There are but two rules of any moment in the use of candles. The first is a warning that is perhaps only needed by the person long used to the almost accident-proof electric light. Candles need to be well and safely anchored— fastened, if necessary, with a little melted wax in the top of the candlesticks. If shades are used, they should rest on the supports of metal candle-holders— the barrel-like kind in which the candle is inserted; a spring pushes up the business end of the candle as it burns. _ The slightly similar paraffin candle will fit into these automatic holders, or ordinary wax candles can be dipped in boiling water once or twice, to trim them down sufficiently.

The second point to regard was mentioned recently in another connection. When candles are used on the dining table, the preference for having them unshaded may be indulged if they are tall enough to raise the flame above the level of the eye. Otherwise, they should have small shades, which will contribute a pleasant note of color.

The careful study of lighting as an art has resulted in the fairly general adoption of certain principles that are particularly applicable to the home. Harking back to the fundamental fact that direct light produces animation and gayety, that it is stimulating, when brilliant, to a marked degree, the decorator who has a ball room in hand will employ a blaze of bright light—the effect of brilliance heightened, in all probability, by the use of glittering crystal chandeliers.

But the stimulation from intense light passes rapidly into fatigue; the effect is no longer animating but dazzling; the nerves are tired, the energy exhausted.

Easy to deduce, then, that flooding, direct light is not for the home—especially since it is at the end of the day, when vitality and nervous energy are a bit low, that our artificial lighting comes into play. A softened light, we find, induces a feeling of tranquility, of well-being. As the dimness is increased, the calming, soothing effect is increased. It is the skilful application of this knowledge that will make the lighting of our various rooms truly successful.

Too Much Illumination

SHORTLY after electric lighting came into such general use, there came a revulsion against the flood of light directed from the big ceiling cluster. We do not like glare—at least, we do not like to live in it in our hours of rest and leisure. So the pendulum swung the whole way to indirect lighting.

But here, again, the result was not entirely satisfactory. Reflected light, whilst it may be quite cheerful and pleasant and serene, will not add the touch of vivacity that is usually desirable. Once more, the weight of general favor swerved—and the use of a number of side brackets and lamps that might be placed in the most strategic positions, seemed to give just the required effects.

A centre light, if you will—but let it be shaded so that the light will be reflected by the ceiling rather than fall direct, and let it be softened further by the use of suitable color. Then here and there, the small area which is directly lighted by a lamp, so shaded as to illumine some interesting section of the room or a centre of activity: a writing table, a comfortable reading chair, the keyboard of the piano. Once more we might do well to study the methods of the theatre; the old-time spot light that threw its dazzling circle of light from the gallery, has a subtle new descendant in what is called the “baby spot”—nothing more than a tiny spot light secreted, perhaps, behind some piece of furniture on the stage or an unsuspected spot in the wings. A number of these baby spots will often be used at the same time and perhaps in a variety of colors, to prick out spots of interest on the stage, to balance the composition, to add a necessary dash of color. Again, it is a case of the artist painting his picture, giving it color, composition, light and shade.

If one has a difficult top light, with its pendant bulbs that continually draw the eye by their too-insistent glare, it is not a difficult matter for a fairly clever needlewoman to convert her own fixture in charming fashion. A wide, shallow wire frame, covered with two or three layers of silk and georgette in carefully blended colors, will make an excellent shade to hang below the offending lights. The frame is first covered with a layer of tightly drawn silk, frequently in some tone of yellow; a pumpkin shade is much used. Over this there may be placed an outer layer of thin silk, plain _ or figured; or perhaps this second material, in a paisley silk or some colorful pattern of good design, will be also drawn tight, with an outer layer of softly shirred or closely fitted georgette. Gold or silver galloon, a fancy metallic braid, will finish the edges and a heavy tassel in matching metallic effect or in chenille or silk in the dominant hue may be hung from the centre. Three lengths of gold or silver cord or of heavy silk cord to match the tassel will serve to hang the shade; fasten them to the fixture, just below the ceiling plate, and disguise the fastening, if necessary, with a twist of the metallic galloon.

Such a light will give a quiet, soft glow that is quite pleasing if supplemented by a lamp or two to add the necessary bright light. Ceilings and walls which reflect into the room the light cast upon them by shaded brackets, call for some special thought in regard to their surfaces. A painted wall will reflect more light than one that is covered with paper; a smooth surface will reflect more light than a rough texture; some colors reflect light in great amounts—yellow, yellow-orange, yellow green, and down the scale to the_ reds, blues and violets. Again, the point of economy comes up; obviously, if one color reflects twenty times as much light as another (which is true of yellow and red), it will save an appreciable amount of lighting cost. The economical combination would be a smooth, painted surface in a color that reflects light.

Light grey has been found, on repeated experiment, to possess just the happy degree of brightness, under normal conditions. This is one thing that accounts for its great popularity as a background. When grey is not chosen, wall colors that approach it in tone are a good selection. It is possible to greatly control the effect of the room by the choice of background, keying it higher to gain more animation or to offset some disadvantage in its lighting, lowering the color note to deepen the feeling of tranquillity and repose.