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How to light your dining room (1922)

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Dining room lights

by Ethel Davis Seal, drawings by Marion Dismant

Some years ago, when hanging domes were doing their merriest worst to the appearance of nine out of every ten dining rooms, I spent an hour or so in as charming a domeless dining room as I have ever seen, a room that was indeed much ahead of the times. Wainscoted for nearly six feet in paneled wood painted a flat putty color, one was unprepared for the pure joy of the colorful black-grounded chintz that was hung as paper is hung on the rather narrow strip of upper wall that ran between the wainscot and the grayish-cream ceiling.

Gleaming on this dark expanse were lighting fixtures of pewter-colored metal that must surely have been forerunners of many of the sconces and fixtures that are within the reach of many of us today; and, used in this room, spaced at proper intervals on the dark-flowered background, the effect of them was arresting, each holding its ivory candle case that delicately led to the small satin-finished bulb of electricity at the tip.

Providing just that necessary finish of detail to the scheme of lighting there were tall silver candlesticks set on the oblong walnut table, with its richly carved edge, its wide runner of Italian lace and linen, very beautiful against the background of black and creamy tones, dusky walnut, and the deeply vivid rose of the curtains. Truly charming and quite dependent on its lights for the measure of beauty achieved: in proof of which, I ask you to imagine the effect here of a multicolored glass dome swung neatly above the linen and lace of the dining table, with ruination in every multicolored ray!

Tasteless domes of old

We have only to cast our eyes backward to remember the horrors of toned red, green or yellow opaque glass four-sided or circular domes finished in bead fringe that “dome-inated” more past dining rooms — if I may be allowed the apt coinage — than present-day owners of silver-colored fixtures care to admit.

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Perhaps at some time or other in our past we have all had a dome. But since the advent of indirect lighting and the popularity of alabaster and near-alabaster the domes are frankly inverted and inoffensively while, so that even the least expensive of modern apartments and houses are spared much of the fantastic horror of the lighting fixtures of yore.

However, the frailties that every fad is heir to manifest themselves in this case in assemblages of drooping and frilly bulbs, pendants upon clanking chains, hanging from the central light. And the upper middle area of many otherwise promising rooms contains a thousand-legger of a light that absolutely ruins any chance the room might otherwise have of being beautiful.

We wish to observe restraint in all things, so why is it that upon the immediate accomplishment of cheapness things always begin to show ridiculous elaboration? In consequence, the alabaster bowls that were such an improvement on the glaring domes are in grave danger of being cast from our homes into the outer darkness.

Alabaster not always the answer

At any rate, the opaque translucence of alabaster is no longer the magic watchword at the door of who’s who in dining-room lights. We now invariably take our lights silk-coated or vellum-dressed, when we do not demand the friendly presence of tall unshaded candles on our tables and on our walls.

In this new era of proper lighting fixtures, a soft but adequate glow, rose-colored or golden, permeates to the farthest corner; one is seen, and sees others, under the most flattering conditions; and one partakes of dainty dinners with a sense of well-being and delight entirely lacking in the garish crudity of a room that is wrongly lighted.

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