Carol O’Callaghan on why factory-style lighting, so popular in the 1970s, is back in vogue
We take a detailed look at one aspect of the home every week
hat’s got us so excited about factory style lighting? It’s not as if its practical nuts ’n‘ bolts appearance is likely to enhance a space whose design emphasis is on softness and comfort. And it’s a lighting scheme that may be just a little too unfinished in its appearance even for those streamlined, minimally clad interiors.
Funny how longing for new things and for change can get us buying into a trend offering an aesthetic we would not have considered a few years earlier. Fashion and consequent popularity give something a new gloss when it had previously been unacceptable. Just think how nobody wanted wallpaper 10 years ago, but we’re in love with it again because it’s a trend, though admittedly the developments are fabulous and a tad irresistible.
So what’s got us excited about factory
Wlights? This trend started in the 1970s when transforming New York factory and warehouse buildings into homes was in vogue. But the occupants were left with a lighting dilemma: How to adequately illuminate such enormous spaces without fitting harsh fluorescent lights with their ugly aesthetic and energy draining glare.
There really was no other choice for the stylish loft-dweller but to leave the old functional factory lighting in place, and it probably went nicely with the labyrinth of exposed pipe work, too. After all, this lighting had been designed especially for the space and was fit for purpose, so it became synonymous with the New York loft apartment aesthetic, much copied in purpose-built, imitation loft-style apartments that were developed in later decades.
This suitability for big spaces
probably helps explain why factory lights are so popular for lighting restaurants. The subsequent filtering down into the domestic interior might have been less successful because of a combination of aesthetic and functional appearance. But a softening in design, (although the form of lighting is maintained but with a look that will work in any modern home), has helped the transition. More compact versions have also been manufactured to make them suitable for smaller spaces.
Factory lights, by and large, were designed as task lighting, so if you have an urge to install them you can have a strong light emitting onto a small space.
But this feature has its advantages making factory lighting ideal for kitchens and dining rooms. Their harder aesthetic also means they work well in the angular and practical layout of the kitchen, and are especially useful when hanging above chopping boards, the sink, or a kitchen island. For the dining room, their focus on a specific area makes them suitable to hang above the table. In fact the fashion is to use more than one, often two, and sometimes three in a row. Metal is the most popular material, either cool steel or aluminium but painted metal has a warmer look. White, cream, and pale green so evocative of the 1950s are among the most popular finishes.
If you’re looking for a light fitting that throws plenty of light out to the sides, factory lighting won’t really work as the shades are solid, unless you go for really enormous versions, but then you need an equally enormous room to accommodate them.
Next week we look at the influence of two Irish designers on the international scene
Plain light bulbs were once a no-no without the finishing touch of a pretty shade. Now designs like the Budino have made a bare lightbulb acceptable (from www. cataloginteriors.com approx. € 150)
Authentic vintage factory lighting looks its best in the stark surroundings of ex-warehouse and loft-style homes (Bugsy industrial light, approx € 280, www.alexanderandpearl.co.uk)
The Ottava aluminium pendant light is a modern and modified take on factory lighting for domestic use (from Ikea € 40)
A vintage task light is updated and given a softer aesthetic with a modern outsize shade (POA from www.sweetpeaandwillow.com)