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Light fixtures from then and now work together


Q: We want to preserve all the architectural details in a recently purchased turn-of-the-century townhouse. That includes the lighting fixtures, some of which are chandeliers and others, wall sconces. All of them still work, but something needs to be done about the quality of their overall lighting. Do you have some ideas for how to augment the existing fixtures, which are mainly above eye-level? The house is being decorated in a mixture of contemporary and traditional styles.

A: I think you're wise to preserve the architectural features of an ,, nTC old home. Some extra effort and expense may be required in the case of lighting fixtures, but I suspect the result will justify the investment.

Rewiring could be essential for safety reasons, and you may find it necessary to relocate a couple of the old fixtures. For example, an ornate chandelier might look like an ungainly relic in a dining room redone in contemporary style, but it could look like a jewel in your foyer.

As for the quality of the illumination, I advise you to experiment with various types of light bulbs until you hit upon a pleasing composite. Don't forget, too, that a dimming switch affords all sorts of lighting options with the simple twist of a dial.

The photograph shows part of the interior renovation of a superbly appointed townhouse, which is probably about as old as your own. Almost all the original elements, including the lighting fixtures, were retained in this home. The rooms were then refurnished with low-slung contemporary pieces, with the sofas and chairs no more than 27 inches off the floor. They were combined with vertical artworks and tall plants and cabinets in order to accentuate the 12-foot height of the ceilings.

This arrangement served to offset the chandelier and wall sconces. When viewed from a sitting position, those high-up fixtures seemed not to clash with the contemporary furniture. But there was still the problem of how to illuminate the lower part of the room.

Standard table lamps were no solution because the glare from their bulbs would shine right into the eyes of anyone seated on the low furniture. To the rescue came the swing-arm wall lamp. This versatile fixture is available in a brass or chrome finish, with some variations in the style of its shading. In this instance, the designer chose a solid-brass model, and had pleated, off-white silk shades made for it. The fixture was then hung so that its bottom was exactly 42 inches from the floor.

In combination with the chandelier and sconces, it creates effective and adaptable illumination for the entire space.

The swing-out arm is a particularly useful feature of this type of wall lamp. It provides good over-the-shoulder light for reading, and can act as the light source for, say, an end table when it's swung in the opposite direction. There are also no ugly cords dangling from the wall, since these new models are fitted with matching vertical metal tubes that contain and conceal the wiring.

As with your own projected design, the furnishings in this townhouse are traditional as well as contemporary. Regency and Chinoisierie pieces are used in some rooms, along with lacquer items in a burgundy tone. The contemporary armless sofa shown here is covered in a hand-painted silk in shades of beige, camel and burgundy. Flocked wallpaper was another of the original features retained in the redesign, though it was covered with three coats of camel-colored flat paint.

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