As Margaret Chambers put it, “Chandeliers have hung around for centuries.” These light sources were borne of necessity in the middle ages and have been molded by royalty and aristocracy throughout Europe and beyond.
With the dawn of electricity, chandeliers became more accessible, and also more diverse in design. While there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for how or where to hang a chandelier, Chambers offers tips, along with a great history lesson, about these elegant light fixtures.
There is hardly a home today that doesn’t have at least one chandelier. Traditional homes, in particular, tend to have them throughout: from the entry, to the bathrooms, and over the breakfast table. But even the most sparse and contemporary homes will generally have a chandelier in the dining room.
However, this wasn’t always the case. The first chandeliers appeared in abbeys and medieval churches as a way to effectively illuminate large halls. Early chandeliers resembled wooden crosses with a number of spikes on which candles would be speared. Once lit, the whole assembly was hoisted to a suitable height.
Beginning in the 1400s, more elaborate chandeliers based on crown or ring designs became wildly popular. These were a sign of wealth and status, and were prevalent in palaces and aristocratic homes.
The discovery of glassmaking in the 1700s made it less expensive to produce lead crystal. By the early 1700s, most merchant class families could afford to buy chandeliers with ornate glass forms and long curved arms. Chandeliers continued to become more elaborate and complex through the 1700s and 1800s, until gas and electrical power became widespread.
Every country in the world has its own style of chandeliers; many of the most spectacular and breathtaking were designed for the royal families of Europe. Chandeliers have been made of every possible material, including iron, glass, wood, bronze, strong crystal, porcelain, tin, hand-blown glass, and pewter. Many varieties were crafted for an individual royal family. When two families married, a new style of chandelier emerged, which at times has made it hard for historians to trace the origins of these unique blends.
With the incredible advances in recessed lighting today, you might not think there would be demand for such decorative fixtures; however, the great chandelier styles of Europe have not only survived, but thrived. The Baroque crystal luster, the Dutch brass bell stem, and the Georgian style are constantly being reproduced and reinvented. They add style and ambiance to our homes, just as they did centuries ago. Whether simple or ornate, these objects contain the artistry and history of the old world and will inspire artisans for centuries to come.
Today’s chandeliers are not all that different from those of old Europe. All chandeliers have arms, some form of candle (though modern chandeliers are electric), and generally hang in the center of the room. Chiefly, chandeliers create atmosphere in a room like nothing else quite can.
Whether your chandelier is customized or off the shelf, it will never go unnoticed. Since chandeliers are usually not the only source of lighting in a room, be aware of your lighting needs, wattage, and glare. Most chandeliers are on dimmers, and some have small shades around the bulbs. These shades can be changed out as the style or coloring of a room changes.
Here are some helpful tips for hanging chandeliers:
• As a general rule, a chandelier should hang about 30 to 36 inches above a dining room table. You might need two chandeliers if you have a long dining table.
• In a powder bath or an entry, suspend it at least 7 feet off the floor. If your entry is really large or a two-story entry, the chandelier could hang 14 to 15 feet off the floor.
• In really large homes, small chandeliers are often used in hallways to break up the space. Odd numbers are better than even, if the space allows.
When it comes to style, contemporary chandeliers tend to showcase more sleek and simple designs, while traditional ones are usually more ornate. Truly classic designs are still being reproduced, and will always be produced.
Most interior designers agree that you have to be careful when choosing a chandelier, and that there isn’t a hard rule for hanging them just right. You have to be able to visualize the chandelier in the space. It takes a trained eye to find a chandelier that’s suitable for the environment.
Next time you look at a chandelier in context, notice the location, placement, depth, and the brilliance of the lighting. Now that you know more about the history of chandeliers and their styles, you’ll be better prepared to choose the perfect chandelier for your home.
With over 60,000 hours of interior design career experience, Margaret Chambers has received numerous awards from the American Society of Interior Design, has been named a Best Designer by D Home in Dallas for over seven years and has been a featured designer in over two dozen luxury home publications including Traditional Home, Texas Home & Living, and Dallas Modern Luxury to name a few. Chambers’ experience, innate talent, and studies of classic Europe enable her to confidently mix different styles, techniques, and cultures. You can view her portfolio at www.chambersinteriors.com.