Lighting fixtures take on a modern flair

Think “formal dining room” and for many people, the first image that takes shape is a table sitting below an elaborate, crystal chandelier. It’s true that crystal gives a degree of formality to any lighting fixture, be it an ornate foyer fixture or a delicate wall sconce. But as homes have grown less formal, the demand for those complex creations with strings of beads and dangling, carved crystals have fallen out of favor. The comfortable contemporary look has caught up with what hangs from the ceilings and walls.

“Sleek is in,” said Avi Matatiaho, president of the Sandy Springs Lighting Center, a lighting center on the northside since 1985. “The simple, clean look — that’s what people are looking for.”

That theme has spilled into every aspect of lighting, he added, whether it’s ceiling and wall lights or portable table and pole lamps that can sit anywhere. It’s often coupled with a desire for fixtures that are distinctly modern, not dated or antique.

“Like everything else, there’s a fashion,” said Matatiaho. “The average consumer, especially in the last two or three years, wants a modern look. People are tired of the shiny brass and are using chrome, pewter, silver and antique or brushed brass. That’s why we’re not seeing crystal as much as we used to. I’d say only about 15 percent of our customers ask for crystal any more.”

New-home buyers and renovators who drop into Midtown’s Masterpiece Lighting showroom will find transitional pieces - lamps and fixtures with soft lines and earth tones that Vice President of Sales Phil Sherer dubs “soft contemporary.” And in that style, chandeliers have a new look.

“They may be strung with stones or crystals in different colors and be or be made of alabaster or glass, but they’re not all crystal like they were,” said Sherer. “And they may have a fabric drum shade with bronze hardware. We also have a lot of very thin-armed chandeliers with natural looking beads or crystals that are very popular.”

The enormously popular drum shades area also catching on as lamp shades, particularly if they sport a hand-crafted look. In the kitchen, pendant lighting is still in demand over islands and breakfast bars, but they, too, have taken on a sleeker style.

“Pendants are now coming in a lot of hand-blown glass with a lot of color and pop,” said Sherer. “But they’ve shrunk; they’re not necessarily as big as they first were.”

The kitchen is also the top area for recessed lighting, and thanks to improvements in LED technology, it’s easy now to back-light a cabinet, display case or even a dark corner.

“LED light doesn’t get hot, so it’s very easy to put in spaces where you couldn’t get lights in the past - a niche in the wall, a bookshelf,” said Sherer. “And they’re very easy to install yourself.”

The Miami Circle showroom of the Lighting Loft is packed with fixtures designed along contemporary lines and in an array of materials and colors influenced by the retro craze, said showroom manager Shuly Zion.

“The ’60s and ’70s are the trend today, and designers and manufacturers are using a lot of retro shapes and colors from that era,” he said. “They’re also using modern lines, so fixtures are cleaner, sleeker.”

One of the biggest overall trends in ceiling fixtures fits the old adage of bigger is better.

“For instance,” Zion said, “if you have a big, open-concept dining room, you’d probably go with an over-sized drum-shaped fixture. In the past, you might have bought 24 inches; now it’s at least 36. And you’ll have a mixture of textures to choose from: woods, metals, different tones of material and shades.”

Instead of being overwhelmed by that variety, Circa Lighting’s Lauren Cupples thinks buyers in the market for light fixtures should let their choices be guided by the freedom to mix and match.

“It used to be all or nothing, but people are finally starting to accept that it’s okay to mix finishes,” said Cupples. “It’s refreshing; it’s like we’ve been liberated. So in the main living areas, we’re seeing some of the top finishes: iron and brass tones, antiqued and gilded golds. In the wet areas, people are doing a lot of polished nickel and natural finishes. Iron or bronze are now two of our main finishes. Iron is a little more rustic; bronze is sleeker. And in between, someone might repurpose a great-grandmother’s chandelier to give a room an entirely different feeling that doesn’t have to match anything else.”

Cupples encourages her buyers to dive into the variety, but face it: Atlanta is still a very traditional town. So the result is many homeowners opting to keep the main living and dining areas in what Cupples calls “grandma taste” - contemporary but not too edgy - while in the keeping room, they may be completely casual. Bedroom and baths, on the other hand, have gone ultra modern, with polished chrome make a strong comeback.

Table and floor lamps have also been updated with a variety of materials, including stone and porcelain in milky, alabaster tones. Topping the piece is an architectural shade, with round drum shapes leading the way. Home decorators are also getting creative with favorite antiques or decorative pieces.

“We can make anything into a lamp,” said Matatiaho. “A lot of people like using wine bottles, for instance. We can use that as a base and put a shade on it for about $50 to $150, depending on the type of finish and base a person wants. But even with a personal item, people still want something simple and clean.”

Mixing and matching finishes, fabrics and memorable pieces means lighting can now be a reflection of a homeowner’s style and not just a sampling of a builder’s standard suggestions, said Cupples.

“Mixing all these approaches lets the owner of the space feel that each area is designed for a particular purpose that suits their own tastes,” she said. “In any case, our focus is very strong on timeless. We want to have our buyers look at a piece and say it still looks good 20 years later.

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