amy azzaritoDIYdiy projectspast & present

past and present: french chandeliers + diy project

by Amy Azzarito

hi, my name is amy azzarito. i’m excited to be joining d*s to share a new column called “past and present“. in each past and present post, i’ll explain the history of an object, leave you with some quick facts (to hone those trivia skills) and give you some great take-away tips for incorporating the object or concept in your own home. i’m a librarian at the new york public library (i co-produced design by the book with grace) and love research; i just completed a master’s degree in the history of decorative arts and design from parsons (graduated in may!), and during the course of that program, i had the opportunity to spend a lot of time studying objects. we started with the renaissance and progressed right on through to the present. no matter the era, i loved learning about how different types of furniture were developed to accommodate fashionable clothing or how the arrangement of rooms in the home evolved or what was considered new and fashionable. in this column, i hope to to reintroduce you to the things you see everyday in an effort understand more about the objects that surround us. i’m so excited for this opportunity to continue learning about the objects in our homes past and present. (thanks, grace!)

[image above: amy’s chandelier diy project- full instructions after the jump!]

CLICK HERE for the full chandelier post and diy project after the jump!

for our first history lesson, I thought we’d ramp up the drama and take a look at chandeliers. nothing lights up a room quite like a chandelier. even today chandeliers remain powerful symbols of elegance and luxury. imagine seeing one of these sparkling rock crystal chandeliers in the early eighteenth century when there were no electric lights and once the sun went down everything was black. candles were extremely expensive. the average person would have even rationed the use of a tallow candle. (a tallow candle was the least expensive candle. made from animal fat and smelly. a beeswax candle, used by the rich, would have been ten times more expensive. lighting an entire chandelier would have cost a small fortune!) this is why when you look at early furniture, the finishes seem to gleam. nearly everything had a reflective quality in an effort to maximize the effect of the candles or firelight. chandeliers were often used in conjunction with mirrors to further increase the impact of the candlelight.

as part of my master’s curriculum, i went to paris last summer to study the the 18th century—the era of marie antoinette and french sumptuousness. my group was led around paris by a fantastic french instructor who had worked at versailles, was totally passionate about design, and at 70+ years had more energy than all of us combined! in every house museum or palace, i found myself looking up at these stunning creations. it was during the second half of the seventeenth century that lighting fixtures began to become more luxurious and glass or rock crystal pendants were introduced to chandeliers. these pendants were called lustres and the term evolved to describe the entire glittering light fixture.

the earliest chandeliers were made from rock crystal, a semiprecious stone. rock crystal chandeliers were rare and precious. as each individual pendent for these chandeliers were carved out of the stone and hung from a gilt or gilt silver metal frame. Not suprisingly, these fixtures were extremely expensive and were only acquired by the very few. catherine de medici, for example, had an early rock crystal chandelier. although rock crystal was difficult to work with, its completely transparent quality was more desirable than the smokey, gray and poor quality french glass that existed until the eighteenth century.

French rock crystal chandelier, 1710-1715, with accents of colored glass and colored foils

Marvin Alexander Inc. on first dibs

Hall of Mirrors, Versaille

the next development in the production of chandeliers was the discovery of a type of glass known as lead crystal. although invented in 1675 in england, it was not discovered in france until the mid-1700s (these kind of discoveries were top-secret and well-guarded!). the benefit to lead crystal was that it was more brilliant and transparent than the glass of the time. it was slightly less hard than venetian glass, which meant that this new lead crystal was perfectly suited to being cut into shapes and facets. (and you didn’t have to carve it out of stone!)Chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors during a restoration in 2007, waiting to be rehung

the hall of mirrors in versailles is filled with early examples of lead crystal chandeliers. one of the best known producers of french chandeliers is baccarat, which was founded in 1764 when king louis XV of france gave bishop de montmorency-laval of metz permission to found a glassworks company in the village of baccarat located in eastern france.

a 19th century louis XV style gilt-bronze and baccarat crystal chandelier, circa: 1880 from Jan’s & Company French Antiques (a great source for crystal chandeliers)

Marvin Alexander Inc. on first dibs

thinking about a rock crystal chandelier for your home? well, you better be a lottery winner—the image above is of a louis XV style rock crystal and gilt bronze chandelier from first dibs that can be yours for the price of $67,500! but a chandelier doesn’t have to be rock crystal or even lead crystal to have a fantastic impact. see below for a way to bring a little chandelier luxury into your life.

for my next column, i’m going to take a look at something a little more collectible and affordable than rock crystal chandeliers and if you have any suggestions for objects you’d like me to research, let me know!

facts to know:

  • the word chandelier comes from the french chandelle, which is the word for a tallow candle. the word was used to describe any light fixture that hung from the ceiling.
  • rock crystal is a naturally occurring semi-precious stone. it is a rare, brittle material, difficult to work with and expensive. it wasn’t just for chandeliers. for example, the metropolitan museum has a beautiful example of a rock crystal pitcher!
  • a typical french style chandelier is different from the english in that the french version is more open with its main support a cage or a frame with pendants spaced further apart so that can be appreciated individually, while its English counterpart has more of a massing of crystal beads or pendants.


diy project!

turn an overhead chandelier into a bedside lamp

this is an easy way to be able to have a little chandelier luxury, even if you can’t hardwire anything into your ceiling. this chandelier was given to me by a dear friend who was renovating and didn’t need this little fixture. keep your eyes open on ebay and at thift stores for a comparable version. just make sure that it is a single light fixture.

materials needed
-single bulb (one light) chandelier
-lamp kit


1. remove the electrical components from the chandelier

2. carefully wash your chandelier (which is now electrical-component free) in hot soapy water and let air dry.


3. using your lamp kit, begin to rewire your chandelier according to manufacture’s instructions


4. fit your chandelier with a bulb. with the new wiring in place, i did not have enough space for a full-size bulb, so i took my chandelier to the hardware store to find the perfect size. (you could just measure the space for the bulb!)


5. find a hook that is long enough to enable your chandelier to hang away from the wall. i found mine at moon river chattel in williamsburg, brooklyn.


finally! enjoy your new bedside lamp!


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  • Fantastic new column, Grace & Amy! It appeals to my inner designer and my inner geek!

  • LOVED this. Great history lesson. I’ll definitely try this out for a room in the house.

    The wall where I would hang this is painted a pretty green. I might have to paint the lamp cord the same color to camouflage it.

  • Where did you find your chandelier? I was looking around online, and they seemed to be quite pricey…is there a more cost effective solution?

    This is a beautiful project, I greatly enjoyed the history lesson as well!

  • Love this column. My mother has an almost complete basin set from the early 1800s. We haven’t been able to find much info on the set, but it’s an olivey green with gold filigree. Just curious if that strikes a bell at all. A column on these collections would be great! Thanks!

  • Welcome, Amy! Really great post and I can’t wait to see more. I would love to hear the history of fine china and/or sterling silver (flatware) patterns.

  • I adore this new column! Knowing the history of design makes it all so much more valuable. Can’t wait to read your next post!

  • i LOVE this new column. when i was in architecture school, my favorites were my history courses. this segment is right up my alley!

    and the line about furniture built around au courant clothing – tell me more!

  • welcome, amy! i love how you share your expertise a little history lesson with us :) also, this post reminded me that despite all the times i’ve been to versailles, i’ve never actually been in the chateaux itself. now i must go just to see the chandeliers! thanks!


  • Great idea for a column! So interesting and full of beautiful image.s I wish I had one of those chandeliers… and could visit Versailles… :)

  • this is fascinating! thank you so much for a great read and this new column. really looking forward to reading more.

  • LOVE this new column! Can’t wait for the next one. Fun feature ideas: maybe history of the chaise lounge? And I agree with Leigh–history of flatware and fine China patterns would be so interesting!

  • Oh I love it! As a crafty librarian with a history background, you are appealing to all of my nerdiness! Keep it up!

  • wow, I love this post, i never knew so much about chandeliers!…need some help though, does anyone know if there is any restriction on what you can make a chandelier out of? I really fancy using a cheap glass chandelier (not an antique) and adding plastic toys and buttons, pom poms I dunno, I want to experiment! but do you think if I ensure that these items are not hung inside the perimeter of the original lamp they will avoid being a fire risk? does anyone have experience in this sort of thing? if you arent able to contact me via this comment, please search me out on face book and friend me – its a lot to ask I know, thank you so much in advance, and THANKS for ever evolving and ever inspiring blog!

  • Fantastic new column! I would love to get a degree in the History of Decorative Arts! So jealous!

  • As a graduate of the History of Dec Arts and Design program myself, I think this is so, so, so great!

  • I’m definitely going to love this column. Now I will have to be on the look out for a chandelier

  • I had to read your last name twice when I saw it as mine is almost the same (father’s relatives from Palermo, Sicily). I love the chandelier tour – and cat inspector – as I have a chandelier a friend gave me when she moved out of her Victorian rental. The ceiling in my current place is too low, but I am moving this year so I hope to finally put it up. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • This column is awesome! I study costume and material culture in the context of anthropology, and this is really really rad! Please keep it up! (p.s.–a column like this on the historical context of clothing items would also be totally interesting. !!!!)

  • i have a love affair going on with chandeliers & loved learning more about their origin & development. amy, i look forward to your future posts. thanx, grace!

  • Caroline,
    Thought I’d reply and friend you on Facebook, but there are three of you, not sure which one… Anyway, you can work around your stress about the heat from the lightsource of your chandelier by using a flourescent bulb. There are so many CFL’s out there now that you can find a decorative bulb that will cost little to light and the heat output will be significantly less than a regular incandescent bulb.

  • History of design was always one of my fave subjects (while getting my BFA). Nice to see it in the real world!

  • Loved the new column! Please keep the gloriously nerdy information coming. I love the Versailles hall of mirrors in particular… talk about wealth. Sheesh.

  • LOVE this column! so fascinating…can’t wait to see what comes next. and what a wonderful, beautiful project!

  • Thank you so much for this column, Amy. I learned so much, and I really look forward to your future columns. You’re a great addition to this website.

  • Loved the history lesson- what a compelling writer you are! And what a wonderful addition to d*s.

  • thanks! i LOVE history offered in bite-sized bits with pretty pictures. i will always remember this…

  • My home was built in 1948 and still has the original crown molding in the living room, which is quite ornate. I’ve always loved chandeliers and am now inspired to have one installed. I’d prefer one with a modern twist however.

  • Thanks so much for this project, I have wanted chandeliers on each side of my bed forever, but don’t want to hardwire the ceiling, this is the perfect answer, and I have 2 in my garage hanging there just waiting for this! :)

  • What a great idea for a column, I loved reading it and I cant wait for more. I love knowing the history of objects so this was a thrill for me. Keep it coming.

  • This is lovely!
    I never would have thought to do this; thanks for the tutorial! I just may be using this in my new home!

  • Hi Tiffany! I have put in a friend request on face book to you, this way you know, I am the real me since you have a unique name!!! Thanks loads for the advice, and I look forward to seeing your site when it comes into action. How much do you love DS then?!!! great huh.

  • Wonderful post! Love all the history, facts, diy project and great photos. Would love to learn more about Murano glass chandeliers. Love the mid-century colored glass beauties. Looking forward to more!

  • Great post – keep them coming. What about the history of the Murphy bed? I also have a large chandelier i picked up at a flea market 25 years ago. I love the look, but i have to admit that it doesn’t give out much light!

  • Love the new post! And learning small tidbits of the history behind design is a refreshing idea. It makes everything much more meaningful.

  • Love the topic, but one request:

    Please, pul-eeze!, use proper capitalization and punctuation!

    As our eyes scan through sentences, proper grammar and formalities do in fact make reading easier. Those spaces, periods, and capitals are visual markers that make things more pleasantly predictable on a neurological level.

    I know it’s faster to ignore it, or stylistically can look interesting in small tracts of text, but in long, formal writing, use it!

    • amanda

      sorry about that- it’s a stylistic choice i made years ago and stuck with- but was meant for my typical short-form posts. i’ll see if amy would be more comfortable with the caps for the longer pieces. :)


  • great chandelier, I love it! I might have to try that. Also, where is that bedding from? I love that too!

  • Thanks for all the great comments and ideas for future posts!

    Chrissy, the bedspread is from Dwell. I got it at the Dwell sample sale in NYC a few years ago. It’s actually more of a green than a yellow…

  • Also a History of Dec Arts grad – so excited for this new addition! Keep ’em coming!

  • Amy, your dad forwarded the blog to me and I really enjyed the article. Apparently so did a bunch of others. Will be looking forward to the next oone. Love, Poppy

  • This has to be my favorite new addition to your site! Reminds me of the old Domino articles on the history of decorative objects.

  • Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thank you! And please keep the historical trivia coming :-)

  • Great design history lesson. I especially liked the chandaliers waiting to be hung. I always like the behind the scenes story. I don’t mind all lower case, it gives it some spunk.

  • Fantastic. I LOVE the history and research. Is there ever rings or other jewelry made with rock crystal?

  • I would prefer if the white connection wire went through the top into the wall. the wire hanging from the chandelier, bothers me visually. Otherwise, lovely.

  • Great column. However I can’t understand why the chandelier needed to be rewired in the first place…?

  • Do you know anything about the large plaster chandeliers I’ve seen in Paris?

  • Love all the history and info on chandeliers! I work at a 19th c historic house museum and plan to add the info to my tour.

  • Very informative! What books would you recommend one (academic/decorator) to read with regards to researching antique French chandeliers?