Luxury lighting design through the ages – a brief illustrated history

Be dazzled by four centuries of lavish design in our illustrated guide to luxury lighting…

Who doesn’t love a touch of luxury? Whatever our interior design preferences, most of us will happily make room for lighting that not only makes the most of our home décor but also looks, well, just a little bit special. But what exactly is luxury lighting and how have notions of what constitutes luxury lighting developed or changed through the ages? And, equally important, does luxury lighting automatically mean sky-high prices? Pooky has been busy exploring the subject and we have assembled our own mini-collection of lighting sumptuousness.


What is luxury lighting?

This Baccarat Solstice 18-light chandelier sold at Bonhams for £21,250 in 2018. Image credit.


We all have our own views on the subject; after all one person’s idea of luxury might be another’s nightmare. But we can make some general assumptions. Words like opulent, lavish, elegant, richness, grandeur, splendour and quality come to mind. Let’s not forget it’s Latin origins, from luxuria meaning, yes, luxury or excess. It also means rankness but we’ll skip over that…and it’s not a million miles from the Latin word for light – lux. Everything is connected.

In terms of lighting, we are thinking about aspects such as style, elegance, finish, materials, and, in particular, quality of light. All of these have been pretty well constant through the ages, even in ancient Rome, where a wealthy citizen would use beeswax in their lamps, while the poor old plebs had to settle for animal fat.

Inevitably, perhaps, some decorative arts periods are rather more luxe than others so we are focusing on those at the top of Pooky’s luxury lighting leader board: Baroque, Rococo, and Gustavian, all of which depended upon candlelight, together with Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which featured electric light, and that 21st century phenomenon – lighting as artwork.


Baroque lighting

18th century North European Baroque glass-mounted gilt and brass six-light chandelier. Image credit.


If one word captures the essence of the Baroque period (1600-1750), it is ‘grandeur’. Chandeliers were a major feature, not surprisingly, along with candelabra wall lights and table lights. If you were the owner of a grand and very spacious house, you would almost certainly have a statement glass chandelier hanging in your stairwell. The style was highly decorative, romantic and ornate – embellishment ruled – and there was an abundance of gilding, antique bronze and pewter.

Baroque design would become, for those who could afford it, one of the first genuinely international decorative arts styles.


Rococo lighting

Ultimate Rococo with wall sconces and mirrors


Originating in France, Rococo (from the French rocaille - rockery) styles began to mark their mark towards the end of the Baroque era and were in vogue from about 1725 for the next half-century. While still highly ornate, Rococo was a softer, gentler, less formal approach to design and a major influence on English Georgian design.

Materials such as ivory and marble were popular; mirrors were set in gilded frames, and decorative features include neo-classical motifs, such as acanthus and different types of foliage. Chandeliers remained a central feature and now sported flowing arms and multiple glass or crystal droplets set into brass or bronze, often with an antique gold finish. These decorative aspects could also be seen on wall sconces and candelabra.


Gustavian lighting

Inside Gustav III's Haga Pavilion


As with Baroque and Rococo, the influence of the Gustavian period - strictly speaking the years covering the reign of Sweden's Gustav III (117-1792) – has endured through the centuries. Gustav’s passion was natural light so…big windows and large mirrors in gilded frames of the kind he had seen at the Versailles court of Louis XV.

The Swedish king shared the French monarch’s passion for candlelight, ergo chandeliers, but the Gustavian version was decidedly more bling-lite, to make the most of the more subtle colours associated with Sweden’s natural world: pearl grey and white, soft blue, green and pink, and straw yellow.


Art Nouveau

Silver-plated Mermaid table lamp designed by Morris Hacker, Vienna, early 1900s.  Image credit.


We are skipping much of the 19th century and the cluttered features of English Victorian design, and moving to that relatively short (1890-1910) but hugely influential period, Art Nouveau. While its roots lay in the Arts And Crafts movement, which rejected industrialisation, at least in its early years, and emphasised craft skills, Art Nouveau made its peace with factory production, thus making beautiful items much more widely available.

Art Nouveau design featured curves and swirls and drew on images from nature, flora and fauna. It embraced a muted colour palette and lighting of the period was exquisitely designed. Table lamps, for example, were often based on a striking central female form, were light in colour or made of alabaster glass. Those distinctive, multi-coloured Tiffany lights were very much of the period too, but so was the lighting designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, by which time Art Nouveau had evolved into a less ornate but no less distinctive style.

Favrile glass and patinated bronze Oriental Poppy table lamp, Tiffany Studios. Image credit


Art Deco lighting

Nausicaa, Lady at the Fountain, glass, marble, mirror and spelter, designed by Fayral (Pierre Le Faguays), 1920s. Image credit


Emerging as it did after a World War that had affected millions, Art Deco was all about the future. It was modern, exciting, streamlined and represented the fantasy offered by the increasingly popular world of cinema and, for those who could afford to travel for pleasure, the thrill of planes and fast cars. Modern it may have been but, as with previous design eras, it was happy to borrow from the past, such as the classical forms of Ancient Greece. The opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 led to a plethora of Ancient Egyptian themed Art Deco furniture and accessories – think pyramids and sphinxes. And, in those pre-CITES days, animal products such as tortoiseshell were used as decorative materials. Geometric and symmetrical forms such as chevrons, neutral shades, including black and white, chrome and glass, where all very popular can all be found in the most iconic examples of Art Deco lighting.

The economic crises of the 1930s and the prospect of another global war brought the confidence, indulgence and unashamed luxury of Art Deco to an end. But as the embodiment of glamour, its place in the hearts of those with a passion for design lives on.

Art Deco light, Hackney Town Hall, 1930s. Image credit


A marriage of art and technology: 21st century luxury lighting

Confetti Chandelier, 2000, designed by Dale Chihuly, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Image credit.


The 21st century has seen luxury lighting move into another dimension, with individual pieces being seen not simply as accessories or even statements but as artworks in their own right, and artworks that embrace cutting-edge technology. Lighting designers such as Dale Chihuly have transformed our notion of what lighting can be and many contemporary works, from the ornate to the surreal, are already regarded as lighting design classics.

Flylight (Basel) 2015, hand-blown glass, wire, electronics, anodised aluminium, and LEDs, designed by Studio Drift, Amsterdam. Image credit


Luxury lighting – the Pooky way

At Pooky we take a very democratic view; we think everyone deserves a little luxury in their lives. So we make luxury affordable: it’s all about materials, finish, and style, with an occasional touch of sparkle and scale too.

There has always been something unashamedly luxurious about the tactile quality and subtle sheen of velvet, which explains its place in our range of lampshades.  They come in a range of colours and sizes and can be matched with a complementary lamp or fitting to suit your style.

25cm velvet drum shade in Liberty's 'Botanical Flora'

We did mention sparkle, didn’t we? And no sparkle is more, well, sparkling, than glass crystal. Our Sancy clear crystal table lamp is unashamedly gorgeous, in that Art Deco way, but adding a black silk Empire shade lined with Glasgow Gold takes it into another dimension. 

Nothing however, could be more romantically glittering that our fabulous Capulet chandelier. Named in honour of Shakespeare’s Juliet, it’s both glorious enough to make a dramatic statement without being overstated. We deliberately kept the central brass belt plain to allow its clear glass droplets to sing with light.

While we are on the subject of luxury, you might enjoy our illustrated history of chandeliers.

Browse Pooky’s range of affordable designer lighting and luxury lamps and shades here.