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BEHIND BARS : In a new form of industrial chic, caged lights move beyond the factory.

November 14, 2009|David A. Keeps

New York architect Matthew Bremer calls it "the bare bulb aesthetic." Originally designed for industrial use, the caged lamp bulb has come roaring back in versions that range from authentic antiques to futuristic interpretations, including some that are gussied and gold-plated.

"These caged lights first appeared in factories and construction sites, where the bulb had to be protected from breakage," Bremer says, noting that the metal bars still serve the same purpose, albeit in a different setting. "Loft living has glorified the simple functional object."

Los Angeles lighting designer Sean O'Connor of Sean O'Connor Lighting said the spare designs remind him of something else.

"I can't help but think of working on my car with my father and grandfather when I see some of them," he says.

The trend was kick-started by design stores such as Obsolete in Venice and Empiric in Los Angeles that sell old factory furniture and science laboratory equipment as decor objects. At Obsolete, vintage European pieces can cost nearly $1,000, while other lights are assemblages of antique parts. In one case, the cage is made from an industrial kitchen whisk.

The point of the fixtures is to showcase a bare bulb, particularly ones with elaborate tungsten filaments by Ferrowatt, a company that creates reproductions of Thomas Edison designs.

"People who buy these tend to like the industrial look," says Katrien van der Schueren, owner of Voila!, a Los Angeles art-and-design gallery that stocks European fixtures dating to the 1920s. "This type of light also brings warmth in a very contemporary interior. And a touch of lightness that seems to say that the one who bought the light likes it because of its simplicity."

Though Van der Schueren's vintage lights carry not-so-simple prices of $500 to $1,500, shoppers can find the look mass produced. The Sundance catalog's North Loop light, made with an antiqued brass finish, is $195. The home decor company Roost, whose popular collections are carried widely in design stores and on websites, offers three sizes of Workshop Cage pendants in a shiny nickel or brass wire; they're selling for $143 apiece at The Sundance and Roost cages open at the bottom, creating petals like a flower.

At the high end, the denim manufacturer Diesel has partnered with lighting manufacturer Foscarini to produce a line called Successful Living From Diesel. The collection takes the bulb-behind-bars concept to new heights of elegance. The Cage Rocket, $472, is a simple light encased in a cocoon of black wire. A version with a stand that looks like an old-fashioned microphone holder is $697. The line also includes cage pendants with colorful glass shades.

The Cage lamp has "underground appeal inspired by industrial lights," says Diesel President and founder Renzo Rosso. "Here the cage becomes a decorative element with its more artisan made irregular shape. The table lamp also recalls a microphone, which can be picked up and placed on the table, or floor, or even hung by its wire."

The trend has even spawned the Lanterne Marine by the London design studio BarberOsgerby -- not a lamp at all, but a vase (pictured on Page 1) that takes its inspiration from caged lights. Some of these designs pay homage to the past while suggesting the future, says O'Connor, who sees lofts as their obvious home.

"I'd also like them where they wouldn't be expected," he says. "Surprises are always good. People enjoy contradictions, and these are a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to old work lights whose designs have evolved to accommodate pared-down luxury."

The Work lamp by Design House Stockholm is one such example, a geometric cage in glamorously shiny chrome, $100, and gold plate, $120.

"I'd hang it from the ceiling over my desk as a task lamp," says a smitten Bremer. "In addition to looking sexy and not breaking the bank, it would hang over my head, like someone having a bright idea in a cartoon."


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