Industrial style lighting has been making a big splash in the design world over the last few years. Trends have started favoring more recent, functional antiques with a turn-of-the-century urban flair, and old factory and warehouse style lights fit the bill to a T. Antique light bulbs in particular have become a hugely popular design element, with delicate filament and unusually shaped bulbs that are works of art in their own right. The only drawback to this look is that antique incandescent bulbs are very, very inefficient. LED filament bulbs combine the best of both worlds, retaining the appearance of an antique bulb, but with the eco-friendly efficiency of an LED light.
The intricate coils of filament inside antique bulbs are what make them so visually arresting, but also what makes them inefficient. Contemporary incandescent bulbs have a single, short strip of filament that produces a bright yellow-white light, too bright to look at directly. But antique bulbs use filament made of different materials, like tungsten, that produce a dimmer amber-orange light, and require a lot more filament to produce the same amount of light. The result is complex twists of glowing filament inside the bulb that are just dim enough to look at comfortably, but that burn out quickly, draw a lot of power, and produce a lot of heat.
LED filament bulbs skirt this problem in an ingenious way: by taking the filament out of the bulb entirely and replacing it with small LED lights. That’s right, LED filament bulbs are essentially antique glass bulbs with several tiny, orange colored light bulbs inside them. The main benefit of this is that LED lights are among the most efficient forms of lighting, using very little energy and giving off minimal heat. They can also be made in very, very small shapes and easily customized to change color, which makes them an ideal substitute for actual filament.
Like conventional antique bulbs, LED filament bulbs produce a mellow amber light, and in most cases can be used interchangeably in the same sockets (though be sure to double check before you buy!). LED filament bulbs are also usually dimmable, too, but unlike true filament bulbs that change color as they’re dimmed (going from bright gold to a hot orange-red at their lowest settings), LED filament bulbs produce less light as they’re dimmed, but stay the same color. At their brightest setting, LED filament bulbs also produce a slightly brighter light than their antique counterparts.
It’s worth noting that LED lights, however small, aren’t a perfect match for traditional tungsten filament. For one, the tiny bulbs are thicker than the thread-thin lines of filament, and not nearly as flexible. While the filament in an antique incandescent bulb is coiled and wound in intricate, curvy patterns, LED filament bulbs are necessarily a bit more angular, with crisscrossing straight lines that offer a similar visual complexity, but one that’s discernibly different on a close inspection, with solid blocks of light rather than thin, overlapping lines.
That said, what LED filament bulbs lack in authenticity, they make up for in flexibility. Because the internal conditions of the bulb don’t matter (which they very much do for antique filament), these faux antique bulbs can come in almost any size or shape, from standard bulbs to any array of whimsical blown glass casings. And at a distance, the LEDs inside can easily pass for the real deal, whether the surrounding bulb is left completely exposed or installed in a larger fixture.
All kinds of antique bulbs are slightly more expensive than standard ones (LED or otherwise) because they require a certain degree of craftsmanship to create, and LED filament bulbs are slightly more expensive than conventional filament bulbs, in part because they have small, built-in circuit boards that filament bulbs don’t. As with all LED lights, though, LED filament bulbs are made to have a very, very long lifespan. Incandescent bulbs – especially vintage bulbs – tend to burn out fairly quickly, but LEDs are much less delicate and can keep putting out light for years. So while they might cost a bit more up front, not only will they cost less to use because they’re more efficient, but you also won’t need to replace them as often.
Getting a stylish, vintage look doesn’t have to mean hauling out actual antiques; a little technology can make it possible to get gorgeous industrial style lighting without setting your home back a hundred years.