Chandeliers and Umbrellas

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“Sacrifice for beauty,” someone once said.  Not in my house.

Lighting is not immune to questionable fashion trends, and we’re in the middle of one right now that makes many dining experiences less enjoyable.  “Transitional” design has given birth to the open-structure chandelier, the philosophical equivalent of an umbrella without its fabric cover.

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You and I would call that a useless umbrella.  It might look different- and different is cool- but it would be absolutely horrible at its intended purpose.  You would get soaked every time it rains.

Open-structure chandeliers and pendants look different- and different is cool- but they are typically horrible at their intended purpose.  You will get dark tables and glare in your eyes every time you dine.  The ceiling will be the brightest spot in the room, which is great if you are in the Sistine Chapel but rather unhelpful when you are trying to see the faces of your dinner guests or pick the onions out of your wild rice dish.

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You need good light on the table and soft light on faces.  Open-structure chandeliers deliver neither.  Is there a way to have trendy lighting and have good light?  These are the deep philosophical questions I wrestle with in the deep hours of night.

Yes, you can have trendy lighting and good light.  If….

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One solution I saw recently is to buy an open-structure chandelier that has a detached secondary shade inside.  The shade will block the glare of the tiny candelabra bulbs and soften the light that hits your eyes and the faces of your guests.  This will make it easier to see the table, but candle-style fixtures always point more light to the ceiling than the table.

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A hybrid of this solution is to buy small snap-on shades for your candelabra bulbs.  Available at home stores and lighting retailers, these will also soften the light and go easier on your eyes.  Plus, you can retrofit these if you are just reading this article and thinking “oops…I just bought one of those open-structure chandeliers.”  After reading one of my blog posts, my mother-in-law sent me a photograph of her chandelier with new shades.  Now I can go to her place for dinner again.

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My preferred solution is to add a couple of small recessed downlights to either side of the chandelier to push light down to the table.  Then the open-structure chandelier can be dimmed to just the right level for beautiful ambience and sparkle, removing the glare it would otherwise produce.  It may cost a little more than the other solutions, and is easier to integrate when you plan during construction, but this approach allows you to make the most of the trendy chandelier.  And this solution is likely to help when the next trend breaks out and you replace your chandelier with some kind of space-laser pendant.

Just remember: trendy lighting might not deliver good light.  You may need to think beyond the open-structure box.

And don’t get me started on paying someone else to put rips in your jeans.

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