Vintage and Antique Industrial Lighting

For those who wish they lived in a warehouse loft but are stuck in the suburbs or a ho-hum apartment, industrial lighting is a great way to give ordinary spaces an edge. Lamps reclaimed from a factory can light up a kitchen island, while also serving as a focal point for the room. Metal stage lights mounted on wooden tripods or secured by clamps add drama to a living room. And cylindrical lamps, whose globes are protected by metal cages, can be used in hallways, bathrooms, and outside the home.

Lighting designed for the home is usually described in terms of its function; there are table lamps, wall sconces, hanging lamps, and, prior to the advent of flat-screens, lamps made to be placed on top of TVs. But industrial lighting is usually described in terms of its ability to stand up to adverse environments. Lights are specified as being rated for "hazardous conditions" (oil refineries and armories come to mind) or designated as "explosion proof." Many of these lamps were designed to light up factory floors, the insides and outsides of barns (gooseneck lamps with enameled metal shades are particularly hot right now), and city streets, which means they were exposed to the elements 24/7.

Names to look for include French lamp manufacturer Jieldé, Hollywood lighting supplier Mole-Richardson, desk-lamp innovator O.C. White, Luxo (whose adjustable task lamps have been the subject of a Pixar cartoon), Appleton, Wheeler, Benjamin, and Crouse-Hinds, which was, and remains, the main manufacturer of explosion proof lights.

In particular, the Jieldé lamp, whose name is a phonetic version of designer Jean-Louis Domecq's initials (JLD), has become a favorite of interior designers. Conceived in the late 1940s as a factory lamp, the Jieldé came into production in the early 1950s. One of its most innovative design features is the lack of wires running through the heavy ball joints that connect the metal articulating arms (some Jieldé lamps have as many as six arms). Instead, the electrical circuit is completed via a pair copper wafers, which makes the lamps safer in high-use, industrial conditions.

One tricky aspect of industrial lights is that the hardware to mount them is generally not sold in your local hardware store. Before you buy, make sure your lamp, whose thick globe and sturdy shade is much heavier than anything you'd buy at a home-decorating store, comes with the supporting brackets it will likely need to be safely secured in place.

In a class by themselves are Holophane lamps, whose prismatic lenses focus light in all directions to prevent dark spots, a particularly useful characteristic for street lights. While Holophane is a British company, they also manufacture their crack-resistant globes in the United States and license their technology to other companies.


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