I once had a sculpture instructor who insisted that all the projects we turned in were painted flat white. Why? Because flat white is the great equalizer: it shows every detail and every dent, every mark and every mar – it’s the true test of ability, and done right, one of the most spectacular displays of skill and artistry. It’s a philosophy that’s stuck with me ever since. Flat white catches shadow and light equally well, showing beautiful shapes even with an ostensibly simple design, and there’s no better display for it than a modern white lighting fixture.
Ditch The Traditional White Lamp Shade
The typical yawn-fest lamp shade is usually white or off white. But while you can get some creative designs in the traditional shade-shape (and some very pretty textures), where white lighting fixtures really shine is where they break the mold. This Yoshimi pendant, for example, takes the idea of a conventional cylindrical lamp shade and explodes it with 18 tiny lamp shades on a starburst of asymmetrical arms. Not only does this create a totally unique look while it’s turned off, when it’s turned on, it makes for a spectacular play of light.
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Similarly, this Caresse pendant puts tradition on its head by utilizing dozens of miniature conical shades in a variety of shapes and unique designs. Like traditional lamp shades, they cover individual bulbs, but the similarity stops there. Each tiny shade is individually shaped and crafted, some with tiers or swirls, some with scallops, pin-sized holes, or flared or narrowed bases. Essentially a mobile, this fixture is playful, a little tongue in cheek, and artistically gorgeous, with each individual “shade” catching and flinging out light and playing up the shadows cast by its comrades.
Deconstructed Lamp Shade
It’s my personal belief that modern design is best when it takes something traditional and iconic and makes it new. That can mean anything from a modern riff on an antique to something like this brilliant Orba pendant. Though it’s actually made of metal, the semi-concentric loops of material look very much like a very large lamp shade was cut to ribbons and reassembled. The look is utterly cutting edge, but with just that hint of familiarity that means you won’t need a wild design to make it work.
Let Shadows Rule…
Traditionally lamp shades are intended to, well, shade lamps – that is, to help normalize and soften the harsh glare of a bare bulb while still allowing it to light up a room. But this functionality is easily achieved without such a utilitarian design, and white lighting fixtures can be daringly modern while doing it. Not only does white glow beautifully when lit from the inside, but areas that aren’t lit directly do an excellent job of picking up shadows. This very white Asparagus pendant, placed on a white background, maintains its eye-catching figure by contrast of light and shadow, creating its own shape by where the light hits it, whether the bulbs inside are on or not.
…And Light Play
If you’re having trouble picturing what such a light might look like turned on, this Photon pendant from Zuo Modern is another lovely example. Here again, the light and shadow give shape to each curved piece of this white lighting fixture, creating beautiful shades of light and darkness simply by using a color that would otherwise be described as plain. Better still, even when the bulbs are turned off, the artistry of this contemporary chandelier will still show through as ambient natural light plays on the individual pieces.
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Have Fun With Texture
Of course, one of the most fun ways to enjoy white lighting fixtures is to play not just with shape but with texture. In the same way that a rough textile lamp shade can be more visually arresting than a simple satin pleated one, choosing a rough white material is a great way to dress up the simple color. This Opulence string lamp and its ilk are a common but stylish example, creating a web of depth and texture that functionally shades the bulb while allowing small, gossamer peek-throughs that are sure to captivate.
What do you think of these stylish white lighting fixtures? Do you like the play of shadow and light on white, or do you prefer your lights a little more substantial, dressier, or just plain more colorful?
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