Posts by Bo Sullivan
A pretty chandelier is just a pretty
Sure, it can be. It can also be much
more than that... a font of compelling stories about who we are, where we came
from, and where we might be going. My job is to find those stories. And not
just the Who/How/When facts, but the deeper connections as well. Why was something
made? What came before it and what made it obsolete? How did people utilize it
in their homes? How was it related to popular style and manufacturing trends?
Where did those trends come from and why did they end?
You won't find many companies with a
passion like this. We believe these stories help us make better quality
products that can be more useful and meaningful to our customers. So how does
this research happen? Over more than a decade, Rejuvenation has assembled an
exceptional research library consisting of more than 2,000 original trade
catalogues, plan books, sales samples, and other rare materials related to lighting,
hardware, and the building arts. It's like having your grandparents and
great-grandparents right there in the room with you (some of those old books
even smell like them).
For me, an old house part can be a
touchstone for our collective history. In the same way that a broken fragment
of a hologram reveals its own unique view of the whole original, each piece of
an old house – a sash lock, a sink faucet, a door, a moulding, a light shade –
carries within it the stories of the houses and times it came from, a
connection as deep as DNA.
However, old house parts have their
own special stories to tell that transcend the period of their origin, too – stories that take on rich and lively new
meanings in new contexts, as experienced by new generations. This is what makes
my job so fun. I live at the intersection of the past, the present and the
future, where all three inform, inspire and infuse each other.
After graduating college with an
architectural degree, I spent several years doing carpentry work on old houses
around the country, which is how I first learned about Rejuvenation. Joining
the company in 1993 as a retail sales associate, my past lives here have
included salvage manager, hardware and plumbing merchant, senior designer, and
copywriter for the company’s catalog and website. I now manage the company's
research library, and give classes and presentations on old house lore,
focusing on American lighting, hardware, plumbing, millwork, wallpaper and
residential design from 1870 to 1970.
Two truths and one lie about Bo:
- I once performed a didgeridoo
solo for the Company Holiday Party
- I once bowled 286 at the Company
- I once re-created a Mardi Gras
parade for the Company Holiday Party
Once upon a time, there was a lighting style called Mid-Century Modern.
Like all period lighting styles, its shining knights swept it to fame and glory. But Mid-Century Modern did not live happily ever after.
This is the story of what came next. Three stories, actually…
Born of 1950s Modernist idealism, Mid-Century Modern
was eventually a victim of its own success…
Just as the nation itself experienced a youth-fueled revolution
in the second half of the 1960s, so did the world of lighting…
While tired Mid-Century Modern was being infused with new emotion
and color through Mod, another style was also taking shape…
Click on each of the chapters above to delve into a past so recent that many of the more distinguished among us still remember it clearly – usually with the intense ambivalence (or outright revulsion) that reflects a vision clouded by lack of perspective. We admit it.
However, a younger generation of fresh eyes (and a few of us older folks who have had the prescriptions for our glasses adjusted) are today seeing a very different story. From amused chuckles to gasps of astonishment and delight, enthusiastic fans of lighting from the late 1960s and 1970s are leading us to rediscover treasure amidst what many still consider trash.
In this uber-post, we’ll time-travel back to the days of hippies, glam rock and disco through the pages of mainstream American lighting companies – with no snobby name-dropping – to revisit fixture designs that many hoped would never again see the light of an Edison bulb…
Born of 1950s Modernist idealism, Mid-Century Modern was eventually a victim of its own success.
In the early 1960s, as the novelty of the style’s clean, rational lines and space-inspired imagery wore off, manufacturers tried to keep their customers interested – and gain a wider popular market share – by “modifying” the now-familiar fixture forms with new (and more emotional) colors, materials and nostalgic or ersatz themes. This shift begins in the early 1960s and continued through the end of the decade – a late and un-named transitional phase of the MCM trend we will call Mid-Century “Modified”…
In this selection from Progress in 1962 can be seen many of the divergent directions Mid-Century Modern would go in the next years as classics like the three Scandinavian pendants in the center are flanked by Asian porcelain experiments, more decorative glass treatments, funkified variations on old MCM themes, and the new ersatz style in ivory and gold that would soon sweep the market – Florentine. (Rejuvenation archives)
In this Mid-Century Modified post we’ll mostly look at pendants, which is where so much of the action was. In this “Pendant Panorama” from Moe Light in 1963, a happy homemaker dances with joy over another mix of Danish-style MCM classics and newer modifications like crackle and amber-tinted glass, filigree porcelain, plastic Honeycomb overlays, Venetian glass blown into a wire frame, and the nameless pseudo-Old World (or bordello?) style in the upper right that no one expected would become a mainstay of the hipster restaurant decor scene today. (Rejuvenation archives)
By 1967, J.C. Virden had replaced most all of their Swedish glass in favor of deeply colorful exercises in semi-transparent optic effects, which could be hung with their integral swag chains (from the popcorn ceiling) in any part of your tastefully decorated room. The influence of outer space is still present, judging by the alien that seems to have gotten that lower right fixture in its grip… (Rejuvenation archives)
Ahhh… who doesn’t love Stromboli? Italian influences were strong in late-1960s lighting like this spread from Sea Gull in 1967. (Rejuvenation archives)
Alas, poor Louis Comfort Tiffany… lighting manufacturers (like Sea Gull here in 1967) were not kind to him. Much of America’s population is still suffering today from P-PTSD, or Pizza-Parlor Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Rejuvenation archives)
This 1967 catalog of Emerson Imperialites offers a typical range of “evolved” modern Asian and Scandinavian pendants that captures the flavor of the Mid-Century Modified period. Don’t look too closely – the lighting is enhanced by charming lifestyle vignettes that may induce severe flashbacks. (Rejuvenation archives)
Ok, look closely. You know you wanted to. (Rejuvenation archives)
J.C. Virden was getting its groovy on ”for the Exciting TOTAL LOOK” in 1967 with this eye-catching selection of colorful, ahem, models. House & Garden magazine would release an official palette of colors each year that manufacturers would then produce their products in. (Rejuvenation archives)
Just to prove that the Mid-Century Modern style wasn’t entirely forgotten at the end of the decade, these pendants from Progress in 1969 include Scandinavian favorites alongside other classic designs that had received color and optic modifying makeovers. (Rejuvenation archives)
Mediterranean – much like Colonial Revival – is a style that never seems to fall out of favor… it just gets continually updated. By 1971, Moe Light had relegated the timeless Mid-Century Modern mainstay – the white spherical globe – to an almost invisible supporting role above. While Mid-Century was being modified out of existence, the colorful glass here hints at the new trend taking its place – Mod. (Rejuvenation archives)
Explore the Mod story by clicking here.
For the full story of modern 1960s & 1970s lighting, click here.
Just as the nation itself experienced a youth-fueled revolution in the second half of the 1960s, so did the world of lighting.
In both arenas, staid old ideas were re-imagined (or tossed out altogether) in search of fresh, colorful, experimental, and emotional directions that embodied the hope and groovy aspirations of a new generation and style – Mod.
Lightolier – always an industry leader when it came to postwar Modern lighting – was quick to pick up on European and Scandinavian trends and translate them for the American market. These 1966 pages reflect the infusion of fresh color, form and materials that would give Mod its appeal to a younger audience. (courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library)
By 1968, Lightolier had established itself as the mass-market go-to source for the latest in trending colors and materials – like the “smoke-tinted acrylic” and black-and-white or polka-dot printed shades above. Note they still offer Mid-Century Modern mainstays as well. (Rejuvenation archives)
Perhaps no spread captures the happy optimism of the flower-power era like this one – Fun-Lites from Lightcraft of California in 1969. “An explosion of flamboyant colors with refreshing new designs… will reflect a vitality and flair that’s ‘in’ with today’s fun generation!” (Rejuvenation archives)
Lightolier was WITH IT! in 1970 with a “new look inspired by swinging London and modern-made Milan.” Indeed – the La Ronde family was designed by Gaetano Sciolari. Spectacular copy touts the “spatial interplay” and “magnetic mystique” of the new ”Pristine. Peppy. Provocative. Now!” series for the “home of contemporania.” (Rejuvenation archives)
Another great selection of lights from Lightolier in 1970, including the iconic Lytegem, Baton, Lytebeam, Lyric and Interplay portables. (Rejuvenation archives)
On the left, from the 1970 Lightolier well that never runs dry, comes the Satellite series – “Switched on. Tuned in. With it. Suited to the genre of our times.” On the right, Metropolitan Lighting provides the obvious name to the popular fixtures of this type – Molecular. (Rejuvenation archives)
Metropolitan wasn’t only offering chemistry and physics in 1971 – they also covered zoology and haberdashery with the (we assume imported) “Hedgehog” “Fish” and “Bowler”… A Clockwork Orange, anyone? (Rejuvenation archives)
The Nebula family from Lightcraft of California in 1971. “A stunning innovation in chrome and black, catalysts for low-key or bright colors in contemporary or transitional decors. Dare to be bold…yet subtle…with this imaginative contribution to generous illumination!” (Rejuvenation archives)
Not to be outdone by Lightcraft, Moe Light offered the Mod series on the left – with its “Bauhaus styling” – in Canary Yellow, Burnt Orange and Moss Green. The smoked acrylic and fiber optic fantasia on the right may have launched Spencer’s Gifts. (Rejuvenation archives)
Mod wasn’t just for walls and ceilings. Some of its most fun designs were in the world of floor and table lamps, like these examples from Mutual-Sunset in 1973. (Rejuvenation archives)
While this spread from Thomas Lighting in 1974 does not shed a lot of new light on Mod lighting, we include it for the simple reason that we love Modern Sideburns Man and His Kid on the lower left. And the hovering red balloon evokes images of Rover chasing Patrick McGoohan in our favorite Mod TV series, The Prisoner. (Rejuvenation archives)
We end our brief survey of Mod lighting in 1976, right where we started – with pendants from Lightolier. These highly sought suspensions from our Bicentennial year include the Caprice, the Editor’s Light, the Vanguard, and on the right – “Polished Chrome. A ball, that’s all.” Mod poetry. (Rejuvenation archives)
Mod would evolve (or devolve, depending on your point of view) through the 1970s, until the advent of Postmodernism. Meanwhile, a parallel style was growing – Contemporary.
Explore the related Contemporary story by clicking here.
For the full story of modern 1960s & 1970s lighting, click here.
At the same time Mid-Century Modern was being infused with new emotion and color through Mod, another trend was also taking shape – Contemporary.
Popular fads and youthful experimentation weren’t for everyone, and Modern lighting designers – aware that not all customers wanted to leave traditional elegance and beauty behind – carried their rational ideals forward into a new style that was clean, cutting edge, sophisticated, sculptural and sparkling.
“Contemporary” simply means “of the current time” – but as a style, Contemporary embodied now-ness in a more fresh and expressive Modern spirit.
Lightolier – the industry leader in postwar Modern lighting – was quick to pick up on European and Scandinavian trends, importing or adapting them for the American market. This 1966 spread features a new Gaetano Sciolari series that exemplifies the cool, sophisticated, sparkling and sculptural look that was blossoming into Contemporary. (courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library)
Not content to simply import new ideas, Lightolier also applied the latest trends to conventional forms, as here in 1968 with the Spiral Light and other designs infused with an Early American flavor. The past could be Contemporary, too. (Rejuvenation archives)
On the left, Lightolier innovates in 1970 with “Lighting that will turn your guests on.” On the right, Metropolitan Lighting offers stunning imported examples of Contemporary lighting that sparkle with the trending look of crystal and ice. (Rejuvenation archives)
Alright, let’s just get this over with – Brutalism. There, we’ve said it… A controversial and much debated sub-trend of the Contemporary style (Moe described these lights in 1971 as “contemporary eclectic”), Brutalism embraced rugged, rough-edged, hand-formed sculptural effects that boldly expressed the materials being used. (Rejuvenation archives)
Progress was also cozy with Sciolari of Rome, importing the refined collection above in 1972. These fixtures perfectly illustrate the most popular features of Contemporary style – clean lines, artistic sensibilities, smoky glass, and sparkling chrome or polished brass paired with black. (Rejuvenation archives)
More Gaetano Sciolari from the 1972 Progress catalog with this stunning array of Contemporary Crystal. Delicate and forward looking without any reference to the dripping opulence of Versailles, these designs manage to communicate effortless style and timeless sophistication. (Rejuvenation archives)
The design influences in this spread from Thomas in 1974 range widely from Brutalist to Colonial Revival – yet every piece conveys the cool, smoky ambiance of Contemporary style. (Rejuvenation archives)
Lightolier invested deeply in Sciolari designs in the 1970s. Their astounding 1976 line-up is chock-a-block with fixture families that have become darlings of the high-end dealers set today, including Cubic I and Interplay One above. (Rejuvenation archives)
Have we mentioned our love affair with Lightolier and Sciolari? (we know – we said we weren’t going be snobby name droppers…) Here are the 1976 Geometric and Habitat series, and perhaps Sciolari’s pièce de résistance - Sculptura. (Rejuvenation archives)
Have we mentioned… oh, right. Sculptura in greater glory, along with Image, MSS (Modular Sphere System) and MLS (Modular Lighting System). It would be hard to overstate the importance of clear, round bulbs in Contemporary lighting. (courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library)
Progress offered these iconic imports from Gaetano Sciolari in 1976 (they were apparently perfect for women who wanted to relax). The mind-boggling TC 4506 at upper left is a “sculpture” of brass, stainless steel and Lucite called Futura. (Rejuvenation archives)
We’ll wrap up our brief Contemporary survey with this 1976 Progress spread (more Sciolari of Rome), which not only broadcasts its Contemporary bona fides in large blue letters, but also offers this summary of the style: “You will see the influence of Mondrian, Breuer, van der Rohe and the other giants of the Bauhaus in elemental lines and shapes which create interesting perspectives from every angle.” Even an angle that is almost 40 years in the future.
Unlike Mod, by holding onto the spirit of Modernism while also embracing popular desires for accessible beauty and decorative effects, Contemporary is a style that has stood the test of time - for all intents and purposes, it still exists in new lighting today (though the polyester and heavy eye shadow have mostly disappeared).
Explore the related Mod story by clicking here.
For the full story of modern 1960s & 1970s lighting, click here.
“Well, it’s been hanging in that bedroom as long as Grandma’s been alive, so it must be original, right?”
Native to the rooms in older houses where we get our beauty sleep, the fixture species in question here is usually spotted with a softly tinted decorative bowl shade of thick pressed glass. Sometimes suspended with three little bead chains, sometimes via a post through a hole in its center, these lights are so common that it can seem like they’ve always lived there… But unless your house was built after about 1935, these fixtures are newcomers that displaced older lights long out of style.
Here we’ll trace the history of these popular fixtures and their distinctive bead-chain and center-hole pressed glass shades – a history that spans the two decades between 1935 and 1955, when countless thousands of these lights were hung in homes across the country, new and old.
This collection of fixtures from 1933 to 1935 show early bead-chain and center-post forms, as manufacturers experimented with ways to make close-to-the-ceiling lights that would illuminate a whole room with just one or two bulbs. (Rejuvenation archives)
By 1936, the new concept of suspending a shade from a series of three small bead chains inserted through holes in the glass (or metal) began to spread widely. These fixtures were aimed squarely at the bedroom market, as this selection from a Moe Brothers catalog shows. (Rejuvenation archives)
Sears is always a great barometer of style trends, rarely being early on a fad, but also rarely coming in too late. While their 1936 Lightmaster catalog featured no real bead-chain or center-post fixtures, their 1937 selection above did – including bead-chain shades hung on porcelain bases at the lower right. (Rejuvenation archives)
That’s a lot of catalog pictures, but we couldn’t resist – Jeannette Shade & Novelty Co. of Jeannette, Pennsylvania made a name for themselves with a broad line of classic bead-chain and center-post shades (these are from around 1938) that were widely distributed. (Rejuvenation archives)
While bead-chain shades were smaller and mostly used in bedrooms and other less formal spaces, by the end of the 1930s a strong demand had developed for larger and more elaborate center-post shades for use in living rooms and dining rooms, like these from Gill Glass & Fixture Co. in 1940 and Grahling Bros. in 1941. (Rejuvenation archives)
A selection of colorful bead-chains and center-posts from J.C. Virden in 1940 shows the typical use of soft tints, clear and painted glass, and both metal and metal/glass combinations on shades. (Rejuvenation archives)
Montgomery Ward certainly didn’t let Sears have all the fun –this 1941 spread captures the spirit and character of bead-chain fixtures as they were marketed for the modern bedroom, including “Wards Most Popular Bedroom Design.” (Rejuvenation archives)
“Why not replace those out-moded bedroom fixtures of yesteryears with your selection of one of these up-to-the-minute designs.”
These two spreads from 1942 – Beautilites from Lightolier and “Restful Bedroom Lighting” from J.C. Virden give a feel for the pre-war moment when the popularity of bead-chain and center-post shades was at its peak. (Rejuvenation archives)
Following the interruption of the war, economic recovery took a while and industry had to shift from military production back to the consumer market. When manufacturers like Moe Light did issue new catalogs, their offering was pretty much right where things had left off back in 1942. (Rejuvenation archives)
Porcelier’s all-porcelain fixtures in 1949 were a stylish and economical alternative during a period when manufacturers were still limited by materials shortages due to the war. The designs here are typical of the tastes of the day – traditional decorative patterns and vague ornamental motifs not directly related to any specific historical style or time period. The very early thin, bent-glass shade at the upper left is a hint at things to come. (Rejuvenation archives)
This 1954 spread from Sears has one foot in the past and one foot in the future (and one foot in the “novelty” kitsch, if you can have three feet) – perfectly capturing the competing trends of the early Mid-Century era. The widespread adoption of thin, bent-glass shades like at the upper right would put an end to pressed glass shades. (Rejuvenation archives)
These pages from Moe Light in 1955 herald the triumph of the new decorated bent-glass shades – there’s not a piece of pressed glass to be seen. They’ve tried to adapt bent glass to a bead-chain form at the upper right, but the writing was on the wall, and it said…
“Let’s just forget about pressed glass bead-chain and center-post shades for a generation or two, until your grandkids grow up and re-discover their sweet and charming style anew…”