DECO ROOM LIGHTS
The advent of electric light gave designers scope to develop a wide range of shades and
fittings, and these were at their most flamboyant in the 1930s.
At the turn of the 20th century, electric lighting was so usual that notices had to fittings in hotels reminding people not to
try to light them with a match. In 1910, only two per cent of households in
Britain were wired for electricity, but by 1939 the figure had risen to 75 per cent.
As electricity spread to homes of all classes, light fittings were made to suit every purse. At the expensive end of the market, the
range was vast with craftsmen using luxury products including ivory, marble and leaded
glass, as well as more modern materials such as chrome, nickelled copper and aluminium.
Parchment and Perspex were used for shades.
The dominant decorative style in the 1930s was art deco, which is characterized by bold, chunky forms. This was extremely popular for
light fittings, but some designers also looked back to the more flowing art nouveau style.
These included Frenchman Rene
Lalique, who used moulded glass, mostly colourless, with some areas cut and polished and others achieve the milky, frosted effect
for which he is famous. In Britain, firms such as Waring and Gillow, Heal & Sons,
Troughton and Young, and Best & Lloyd all made and sold high quality light fittings.
GRAND ENTRANCE LIGHTS
In the hall, the wall fittings were designed to make an initial impression on visitors, although they were usually less fancy than
those found in living rooms. Hanging lampshades, however were frequently grand, and
many halls had chandeliers.
Wall lights were often uplighters, projecting much of the light towards the ceiling. Hanging shades were often designed to throw the light
upwards too. Many were made of deeply coloured glass in rectangular or other
geometric shapes. The glass was held in place by lead strips, and the shade was often suspended on a rose fixed to the ceiling.
DECO COLLECTOR'S NOTES
To the collector of beautiful objects, light fittings have the in-built advantage that they are naturally ready to be displayed. You can
use art deco or art nouveau lights in place of modern fittings or, if you know someone who
can do the wiring, a complete wall can be covered with interesting period wall lights.
You can still come across bargain art deco light fittings on junk stalls. Many of them - although stylish - are fairly plain and
therefore not so obviously 'collectable' as those in the more elaborate art nouveau style.
However, antique dealers have cottoned on to the fact that there is now a ready market for deco fittings, and price them accordingly.
When buying second hand light fittings it is vital to consider safety. If you intend to use one, have it checked out by an
electrician or electrical store. Some of the very early deco lights have unusual sockets and these
may have to be replaced.
Look for light fittings that are in as good a condition as possible. Many delicate light shades, whether made of glass or fabric, have
not survived intact. Corroded chrome fittings can to some extent be improved with a
chrome cleaner, but re-chroming is an expensive business. Glass shades can be delicately
washed in warm water to clean them.
Art deco was reviled by many, even in the 1930s, as being kitsch, and it was not until the 1960s and the upsurgence of pop art that its value
came to be recognized by collectors. Designs drawing heavily from deco flood the market, so make sure your would be
purchase does not date from this time. Keep a look-out for old fashioned wiring, a good
indicator of authenticity. Alternatively, cheap modern imitations are readily available.