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!)
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
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!)
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)
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.
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.
-single bulb (one light) chandelier
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!