Chandelier Chic

By Karen Parr-Moody


A chandelier looks grand when gracing a dining room or entryway. But in this modern era, these glitzy orbs of crystal are getting lots of new play, whether they hang in a stainless kitchen or in an elegant bedroom.   


In designer Jonathan Adler’s “15 Fabulous Design Tips” in "Elle Décor," he says, “Go for grandeur with a giant chandelier,” and even suggests putting one in a closet as an unexpected touch.


Designer Kelly Wearsler told “Food and Wine” that "chandeliers are so much sexier” in a kitchen than recessed lighting. And when former “Cottage Living” editor Anne Turner was re-designing her 1940s home, she hung the waterfall-style chandelier over the dining room table. 


The word chandelier literally means “candleholder,”from the French word for candle, “chandelle.” During Medieval times, simple wooden candleholders were hung in the cavernous interiors of medieval churches across Europe.


The first chandeliers to appear in private homes were reserved for the palaces and manors of the wealthy. These were curly-armed brass forms seen during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One example is seen in the famous Jan Van Eyck painting of 1434, “Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife.”


Early crystal chandeliers that appeared in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were made of irregularly cut rock crystal (pure quartz), which enhanced the modest power of candlelight.


In 1676 an English glassmaker named George Ravenscroft developed lead crystal, ushering in the era of the cut-glass chandelier.  In 1724 glassmaker Josef Palme of Bohemia was granted royal permission to start building chandeliers in his workshop in what is now the Czech Republic. He made one of history’s most well-known crystal chandeliers, the “Marie-Theresa,” named after the Austrian Empress.


While the Venetians on the island of Murano had been glass tradesmen since the 1200s, their status was elevated when glassmaker Giuseppe Lorenzo Briati learned the secret of making Bohemian glass. In 1739, he opened his own Murano furnace and started making chandeliers in a new design called “ciocca” (literally, “bunch of flowers”). This lavish style soon became known all over the world.


Inspiration from the curvaceous, mouth-blown glass chandeliers from Murano is seen in this massive chandelier in the photo, left. As one enters GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall, this grand beauty hangs overhead (crystal chandelier, $3,500; Booth B-210). It is hung with hundreds of crystals that reflect the glow of candle bulbs, each nestled in a scalloped bobeche. The curved glass arms, in particular, give it that Venetian look.


For those without hallways ample enough for such a large chandelier, there are many smaller versions of this Venetian style. In the photo, right, is an example ($395; Booth B-105).


In 1765 the now-famous French firm, Baccarat Glass, was established in the little village of Baccarat, some 250 miles east of Paris. Up until then, French chandeliers were lavishly ornamented with faceted rock crystal, reaching their peak in the court of Louis XIV. In 1842, Baccarat brought to market French-made, cut crystal chandeliers, which now adorn many of the finest palaces around the world. The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles is filled with early examples of lead crystal chandeliers.


A dramatic chandelier style with roots in France is that of the cascading Empire chandelier, as seen in the photo, below left. Such a chandelier is garnished with crystal prisms on strands that generously drape a metal frame. A charming basket shape is often featured at the bottom. Despite its design, this particular chandelier is actually from Austria; it features about 1,500 hand-cut crystals ($1,395; Booth B-200).

















Another Empire style is the French crystal waterfall chandelier, as seen in the photo at right. This style has a round bronze frame, with fine details, that is encrusted with multiple tiers of elongated, graduated prisms.  These crystals terminate into a faceted crystal ball at the bottom ($250; Booth B-200).


In 1892, Daniel Swarovski, of Austria, would improve upon all methods of chandelier making by developing a machine that cut leaded glass. It was a watershed moment.


Less glamorous, but charming, are the French and Italian toleware chandeliers of the mid 20th century. Toleware is any object of varnished tin, thin steel or pewter. The term is derived from the French name for such objects, tôle peinte. At left, this toleware chandelier, painted verdigris, has a few crystals strewn across it, and would make a colorful addition to any shabby chic décor ($220; Booth W-430).


Chandeliers add luxury and sparkle to any room. So rather than lighting up a space with a bunch of small fixtures, it’s a chic notion to use a large-scale, statement-making chandelier to anchor it. A single chandelier can glamorously frame an entrance, define a beautiful bed, or even highlight a marble-topped kitchen counter. 

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