Everything is Illuminated
What you need to know about chandeliers
Eugenia Uhl Photographs
It is often said that Southern girls love their chandeliers, and the more crystals a piece has, the better. There’s a lot of truth it that. Many homes in the South, New Orleans in particular, date back a century or more. With high ceilings, sweeping staircases and tall windows, the grandeur of the past continues in this architecture. Nothing enhances a room better than a handsome chandelier.
These fine old pieces are becoming rare and more difficult to find. With scarcity comes high prices. So think of this purchase as an investment that will last into the next generation or more.
“In the 1800s and early 1900s, the French were the leaders in style and taste, and their chandeliers were treasured show pieces,” says Andree Moss, a third-generation antique merchant at Keil’s Antiques on Royal Street. “French kings established their own factories for crystals and metals and created only the finest.”
Today’s buyers are not limiting chandeliers to the traditional dining room or entry hall. Moss regularly finds buyers placing these pieces in kitchens, bathrooms and even closets.
“Young buyers are especially interested in exotic looking chandeliers for bathrooms and powder rooms. We often have French bronze chandeliers in the shapes of baskets with flowers or Chinese pagodas, and they fly out the store,” she says.
Often first-time buyers aren’t sure what they are looking for, so it’s important to shop many stores and read decorating magazines to see what look you want. Do you like an ornate, formal piece with lots of crystals? Or a tailored, simple chandelier that softens a space? Is your look more rustic and might need a wooden chandelier with imperfections borne over time? It is really all about your taste and your home’s needs.
Once you have discovered the style you want, remember: When it comes to chandeliers, size matters. Think of the scale and volume of the piece and go from there. To determine the proper scale of a chandelier, add the dimensions of the room, and that will be the approximate diameter of the fixture, decorators recommend. Thus, if your room is 10 by 12 feet, the chandelier should be approximately 22 inches across.
“But also consider the volume of the fixture. If the piece is quite ornate, has 16 arms and lots of crystals, you might go a bit smaller. If it is very simple with few arms, you could go larger,” says Moss. However, if you are torn between chandeliers of different sizes, it is better to go larger, rather than smaller, she says.
Dining room chandeliers should be placed 34 inches (or thereabouts) above the table. The scale of this piece depends on the width of the dining room table. Measure your dining room table, subtract 12 inches and that should be the width of the chandelier (again, remember the volume of the piece and you can fudge a little.)
Chandeliers in entrance halls can be a little tricky. Think about the mood you want to set when guests walk into your home. A crystal chandelier sets a sparkly and upbeat welcome. A clean-lined lantern gives a more subdued entrance.
“The elegant old homes of New Orleans beg for a fine chandelier. They are always in good taste and never, ever go out of style. A gorgeous antique chandelier holds its value and can often be sold back to the antique store years later, if you want,” says Moss. “Most of all, it will last generations and can be handed down to your children and grandchildren.”
Clean crystal with weak soapy water in a bowl; Dawn or Ivory liquid is fine. Squeeze your rag and wipe each crystal separately.
Dry as you go.
It’s best not to spray the chandelier, as the wiring should not be wet.
Never turn a chandelier, as it can loosen and fall to the ground. Move your ladder around as you clean and keep the chandelier
in its place.
Mix and match. An antique chandelier looks gorgeous in a modern setting or in an unexpected place, like a kitchen or bathroom.
If a crystal prism falls off or breaks, call the antique dealer for a replacement. Most dealers have replacements on hand or can tell you where to find one.