Chandeliers are, by definition, hanging fixtures composed of a central structure with multiple lights radiating from it. There are exceptions and variations but the basic idea remains of mounting light sources on the end of support arms.
How this basic design is treated depends on the style being created. For example, traditional chandeliers often have a turned central column with curved decorative arms coming off it. At the end of each arm is a candle-shaped tube topped by a candelabra bulb. At the base of the candle/tube element is often some type of bobeche (a small saucer-shaped piece). This design harkens back to pre-electric times when chandeliers were shaped like this to hold real candles. Bobeches would catch the dripping wax. Needless to say, open flames in the house were a fire hazard. Later, chandeliers were connected to gas lines and the lights were gas-powered. This eliminated the hassle of constantly replacing candles but did not eliminate the hazards entirely. When electricity came along people were eager to install these new, safer, and brighter lights. However, these design elements are still used in traditional style chandeliers today.
Glass or fabric shades were added to diffuse the light and cut glare that results from bare bulbs. Glass shades could be colorful Tiffany style, milky white, or beige. Small fabric shades that clipped onto the bulb gave a traditional formal feel. In the castles of Europe, before and after electricity, crystal was cut into multi-faceted shapes and hung in profusion on chandeliers. Light danced throughout the fixture producing a mesmerizing effect and multiplying the light. In the present day crystal chandeliers that are thick with crystal are available, along with ones that have only a few crystal accents here and there. Something for every taste.
Through the years the chandelier form began to be expressed in different styles. In colonial America, the fussiness of European design was dropped in lieu of turned pewter or polished brass metal columns and simple curved arms. Casual style chandeliers often have entwined metal vine forms with leaves and flowers, or they may utilize distressed finishes in lighter hues that provide a more relaxed informal mood.
Contemporary chandeliers sometimes depart completely from their traditional roots. To be sure, some are based on a simplified traditional silhouette, but others play with the basic form. Some expressions are three-dimensional abstract art. Others exaggerate the pendant form. Finishes are quite often nickel or chrome.
Where are chandeliers used in the home? The first place people think of is the dining room. Here the common sizes range from 20 to 35 inches wide which works well in rooms with eight to nine foot ceilings. When choosing a dining room chandelier, consider the size of the table it will be hung over and the volume of the room. Rectangular, oval, or linear chandeliers are popular solutions for lighting a long dining room table. Another place for chandeliers is the living room. Here you can use a larger one--it will make the room seem more grand, especially if the ceiling is higher. Either a large, multi-tier chandelier or a pair of medium size ones are appropriate in a great room with a high ceiling. The very big ones can run over 40 inches in diameter and can have over two tiers of arms. Two-story entryways or stairwells are wonderful places for tall chandeliers. Since the footprint of these areas is relatively small, chandeliers that are proportionally much taller than they are wide will work.
Mini chandeliers have three or four lights and are usually under 20 inches in diameter. They are used in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, or the corner of the living room. Lovely small crystal chandeliers are a delight in a little girl's room. Two of them over an island can change a kitchen from ordinary into extraordinary.
There are so many styles and sizes of chandeliers to choose from--look at your home with a creative eye and you'll be able find something special to enjoy for years to come.