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Traditional Lighting Fixtures that are Still Illuminating Our Present

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The need for a way to see in the darkness has been an issue for humans since we first gathered into semi-organized groups of cave dwellers and hunter gatherers. The history of night time illumination begins with fire, is later augmented by the torch and later still by the oil lamp, candles and finally fixed sources of artificial light (appropriately enough called “light fixtures”). These in turn evolved into the mosaic lamps, pendants, wall sconces and finally, the high tech, energy efficient lights that we use today. But while LEDs and other revolutionary forms of light are rapidly taking over there are some traditional lighting fixtures that simply refuse to be relegated to the dustbin of history and below we’ll take a look at some of them.

Tiki Torch

The Tiki Torch to Turkish Mosaic Lamps: Traditional Light Fixtures That Refuse to Die

The 21st century has so far been characterized by rapid change and the breakneck pace of social and technological evolution doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. Some things, however, remain stubbornly unmoved by the advent of the digital age including traditional forms of lighting. Let’s take a look at some traditional light fixtures that are just as popular today as they have ever been.

  1. The Chandelier - The chandelier (from the French “chandelle” which roughly translates to “candle holder”) has been around since the 14th century. The first chandeliers were nothing to write home about. They were simple wooden Xs suspended from the ceiling that held a candle at the end of each length of wood. The idea gained traction pretty quickly though and it wasn’t long before interior designers were exploring the possibilities of the form. By the 18th century chandeliers had become all the rage and were often enormous, elaborate constructs of brass and silver (and sometimes gold) festooned with exquisite crystals. Today, there are as many types of chandelier as there are people with imagination. Perhaps because of its incredible versatility and adaptability this traditional lighting fixture is still with us in force and is a common site in even the most aggressively contemporary home.
  2. Turkish Mosaic Lamps - Many people are under the impression that Louis Comfort Tiffany was a kind of singular genius. That he was a lone innovator laboring in the wilderness of interior design until he had his “ah ha!” moment and revealed his now famous multi-colored glass lampshades at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The facts however, tell a slightly different story. Tiffany actually got the idea for his now famous lamps during a trip to Constantinople (present day Istanbul) where he first encountered traditional Turkish lamps with their ornate, colored glass shades. He even gave a subtle tip of the hat to his inspiration when he presented his lamps at the 1893 Chicago exposition in a Byzantine-style setting (Constantinople was of course the capital of the Byzantine Empire for more than 1,000 years). Today, Turkish mosaic lamps are arguably more popular than they have ever been and can be found in taverns, restaurants, hotels, ski lodges and homes all over the world.
  3. Japanese Paper Lanterns - The traditional Japanese paper lantern can trace its origins back more than 5 centuries. At the time the lamp was used primarily by Japanese of Chinese origin during the celebration of their various festivals. But it quickly gained favor among the general population and soon began appearing in homes and businesses all across Japan. Called “Chochin” lamps these enigmatic and mystical light fixtures have been a touchstone of Japanese culture ever since and are still widely used today in homes, restaurants and hotels as well as during festivals such as the Dai-Chochin Matsuri or the Suwa Shrine Lantern Festivals that are held to ward off evil spirits from the sea. Chochin hanging lamps are typically large and cylindrical in shape and can be either white or red in color.
  4. Gas Lights - Between the periods dominated by the oil lamp and the electric light the gas light rose to prominence and ruled the lighting landscape. Gas lights were/are easy to use, economical, effective and attractive. For well over a century they were the predominant type of lighting used on city streets in the West and indeed, they can still be found in some of the more traditional neighborhoods of Europe and America, such as Beacon Hill in Boston. If you have ever spent time camping chances are you have used a gas light at some point (perhaps you referred to it as a “Coleman lamp”). And while not common, they are still used by designers to provide an elegant touch to some contemporary homes, where they are typically placed on either side of the front door.
  5. The Tiki Torch - The venerable Tiki torch has been a fixture of private poolsides and seaside bars for as long as most people can remember. But, as the name suggests, this type of fixture predates the modern swimming pool and Caribbean tourist bar by quite a few centuries. The ancient Tiki culture of Polynesia first came to widespread Western attention following the Second World War with the Tiki torch being one of the most rapidly adopted motifs. It must be mentioned, however, that the traditional Polynesian pole light did not actually have a formal name. “Tiki torch” was a name invented by western companies looking for a way to market their versions of this traditional light. But whatever you call it this light fixture originally created by the ancient Polynesians has exhibited impressive staying power in a world otherwise obsessed with change.

The history of artificial light is a long and fascinating one and how we choose to bring light to the darkness is still an evolving human enterprise. But one thing seems certain. Regardless of how far afield we drift into the realm of digital mega-technology people the world over will continue to be mesmerized by and attracted to mosaic lamps, chandeliers, Tiki torches and more for the foreseeable future and beyond.


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