Chandeliers are one of those design products that’s ripe for reinvention. They are so familiar, and so associated with upper-crust interiors, that they are the epitome of luxury – so it’s refreshing to see designers turn tradition on its head to create something new. “I love the element of surprise in my work; sometimes it takes people a while to notice the unexpected details,” says Fiona Gall, a lighting designer.
Alongside traditional crystal drops, her chandeliers incorporate reclaimed objects that you wouldn’t expect to see in a light fitting, such as cut-up antique cutlery or Victorian liqueur glasses. “I use a lot of fish knives for their interesting shape, and I prefer the cutlery that isn’t in pristine condition, which would otherwise be scrapped,” she says.
Many of her raw materials would have been discarded by others. “Dealers tell me that the liqueur glasses are really difficult to sell.” Gall works under the name Emerald Faerie, reflecting the fantastical, twisted fairy-tale element of her chandeliers. “They are kind of dark,” she says, “not just twee and pretty.”
The designer Fiona Gall with Cinderella’s Revenge CREDIT: TOBY SUMMERSKILL
The traditional chandelier is still a must-have feature in many high-end homes, says Alice Hales of design studio 1508 London. “For the Russian and Middle Eastern markets they are still a status symbol and necessary within formal or public spaces. But younger clients are moving on with their taste, often choosing pieces that emulate the grandeur and glamour of the chandelier but in updated shapes and unusual materials” – such as porcelain, semi-precious stones or metal chains.
For crystal, Hales mentions Czech lighting company Lasvit. “It is pushing the boundaries of the traditional crystal chandelier with new finishes – leaving the overspill of pressed glass, metal coating and etching the droplets,” she says. For its Neverending Glory collection, Lasvit has taken five iconic chandeliers from the world’s most eminent concert halls and theatres, distilled them to just the silhouette, and turned them into clear crystal lanterns.
A horizontal fitting by Serip is part of a scheme from 1508 London
This pared-down approach shows that there’s a chandelier for everyone, even dedicated minimalists. According to Sammy Wickins, director of Helen Green Design Studio, crystal is “timeless and incredibly versatile: it can be blasted, textured, cut, moulded and etched”. It therefore works well with the proportions and scale of any room, he says. “Crystal lamps or chandeliers don’t need a shade, as the beauty is in the material itself.”
Other heritage crystal brands are also updating their designs to reflect modern tastes. Lalique has reimagined its iconic pieces as chandeliers, such as the leaf-covered Champs-Élysées, first designed as a bowl in 1957; it also recently teamed up with contemporary German lighting company Windfall for a collection of oversized, faceted oblong drops. They are available as table lamps and pendants but look especially good hung loosely in groups, as they are in the bar at Lalique’s Château Hochberg hotel in France.
Swarovski is working with Tord Boontje, an industrial product designer who has developed a product called Luminous Reflections CREDIT: MARK COCKSEDGE
Swarovski has long been working with cutting-edge designers to redefine the chandelier. Its most recent collaboration was with Tord Boontje, an industrial product designer who has developed a product called Luminous Reflections: large, unfaceted components in fluid forms that look like drops of liquid glucose. Instead of the regular pinpoints of light that shine out of a cut-crystal drop, the effect is more like the ripple of sunshine on water. The idea was to create something that designers could combine with electric lighting in their own way.
The divorcing of the crystal and the lighting source is a fairly new development. “An installation without integrated lighting can give you more flexibility,” says Karen Howes of interior design firm Taylor Howes. In the stairwell of her office, she’s installed a Windfall installation of giant oval crystal links, lit separately by ceiling downlighters. This gives a cleaner look, she says, without wiring or bulbs taking attention from the crystal itself.
Left to right: Ashanti chandelier (£670, alexanderandpearl.co.uk) Champs-Élysées light in gold lustre (€79,000/£69,956, lalique.com); Machine rock-crystal pendant (£33,750, wired-designs.com)
Howes loves crystal for its versatility. “It can be cut and engraved in so many different ways, and it’s adaptable in terms of colour. Designers love it because it we’re always looking for something different, and crystal has these huge variables and the ability to reinvent itself.”
She is also a fan of rock crystal as an alternative to man-made faceted pieces. With its rough-hewn, opaque appearance, it looks unusual, and behaves differently under electric light, giving an ethereal glow. “It’s almost like the light is contained within it – it has a kind of energy,” she says.
She is also seeing a trend towards brighter coloured crystal – “where you can have quite a calm interior with that pop of something really dramatic” – as well as smoky browns and greys that suit those who don’t want anything too sparkly. Hand-cut crystal is far superior to machine-cut; the latter “can start to look a bit like plastic if you’re not careful,” Howes says.
If you like the imposing look of a tiered chandelier but don’t have a big budget, the high street is full of products made from alternative materials, from strings of fat beads to retro capiz shells to macrame wool. Though they may not possess that incomparable sparkle, they make up for it with dramatic shapes and a quirky bohemian approach.