Introduction to Art Deco Lighting Design

Art Deco is a highly decorative design movement that began in the 1920’s and ran through to the 1930’s and beyond. Its architects produced many wonderful buildings all over the world – just take a look at New York, Miami, Barcelona or Paris for beautiful examples of Art Deco buildings.

Paris was recognised as the major hub of Art Deco design, but the rest of Europe and America soon caught on. It was a period of luxury and elegance for wealthy Parisians who would engage ensembliers and artistes decorateurs (interior designers), to ‘Art Deco’ their homes and apartments with superb furniture, lavish interior décor, accessories and lighting.

No art form remained untouched – architecture, sculpture, paintings, industrial and interior design, furniture, lighting, clothing, fashion, jewellery, and even film. The movement was a mix of different styles and included Cubism, Neoclassical, Constructivism, Modernism, Futurism and Art Nouveau. Interiors were designed with curved furniture and walls, coloured glass, chrome, and ornate mirrors.

Art Deco lighting and lamps

When it comes to lighting, the movement was also responsible for an array of beautifully decorated glass and metal lamps, lights and chandeliers. Most Art Deco lighting fixtures were made of pressed and molded glass, fitted into styled iron or bronze frames. They featured motifs such as birds, waterfalls, animals and intricate starbursts. Gorgeous wall and ceiling lights were fitted with decorative, angular glass shades which slipped into the frames.

The most renowned Art Deco lighting designers are:

Paul Poiret

Although known mainly as a furniture designer and couturier, Paul Poiret would also take on commissions to design entire rooms. And because lighting was such an important part of the complete design, new professions developed – that of lighting designers and lighting engineers. 

There was such demand for stylish lighting in Paris at the time, that special exhibitions were held just for Art Deco lighting. The Salons de la Lumiere exhibition was one of these and, believe it or not, there was even a Society for the Perfection of Lighting (Société pour le Perfectionnement de l’Éclairage).

Edgar Brandt and Daum Freres

Edgar Brandt was renowned for his exceptionally detailed and decorative wrought iron work. He formed a partnership with Daum Frères – another creative genius – and between them they went on to design numerous lighting masterpieces. One of these was an Art Deco chandelier with a delicately formed wrought iron frame that supported beautiful opalescent glass shades.  

Art Deco lighting design moved away from the pastel shades and bronze of the Art Nouveau movement and became more indirect. Rather than intricate decoration, more emphasis was placed on the quality and luminosity of the light. Of course, there were still many examples of highly decorative light fittings, but the textures of sandblasted, enamelled, white or engraved glass made for a different type of lighting effect.

René Lalique

The undoubted master glassmaker at the time, René Lalique, created beautifully elegant but simple glass lamps and wall sconces, as well as massive complex chandeliers. He embraced the Art Deco geometric forms and motifs of sunbursts, starbursts, birds and fountains. 

Jean Perzel 

Jean Perzel was one of the most creative and important modernist lighting designers of the Art Deco period. He worked exclusively as a lighting designer and manufacturer, and developed a unique form of glass that was able to spread light evenly.

Modernism

With the machine age came Modernism and Art Deco lighting design had to keep up. So, lamps were then made of brilliant coloured metals such as chrome and steel and had white glass – some were even decorated with a new wonder material, Bakelite. 

Lighting became less direct and, as a result, torcheres became very popular. These were tall, standing lamps, usually with chrome plated columns with geometric lamps at the top that directed light upwards. In addition, milky, opalescent, glass wall sconces that also directed light upwards became very fashionable.

America only started embracing the modernist style of lighting from around 1926 onwards. Donald Deskey, one of the USA’s most successful lighting designers, was responsible for the interior of Radio City Hall in the Rockefeller Center. Another American, Von Nessen was a renowned designer who embraced everything bold and bright, and he certainly lit up the gloom of the Great Depression years. 

Starting a collection?

If you’re thinking of collecting Art Deco lights and lamps, remember that condition is vitally important: Chrome often wears off and lamps may well need to be re-wired. You can still find genuine Art Deco pieces at car boots and garage sales, but for the more upmarket items, you’ll need to buy these from an auction house or a reputable dealer. 

Alternatively, there are many modern lamps and light fittings that have been designed either as faithful replicas from the period, or at least with a nod to Art Deco design.

 

Until Next Time… Charlotte x

 

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