Shining a Light on Chandeliers
..."It Just Makes a Home"
Imagine standing in a large room, full of intricately carved mahogany furniture. Mirrors, armoires, secretaries – you’re instantly transported into the 19th century. Now, look up. It’s not stucco that you see. Everywhere you look, the ceiling is laced in bronze and crystal, trickling down at you like glittery snowflakes. Sound like heaven? Close.
Latique’s founder, Jeff Garrett, is also the owner of Legacy Antiques – the beautiful store I just described - located in Dallas, Texas. His store is often referred to as “Chandelier Heaven,” showcasing over 150 beautiful antique chandeliers – refracted light, bouncing off of every wall and crystal dangling overhead, making you feel like you’re in a palace.
So, how did Jeff end up with such an exorbitant selection of chandeliers?
His answer -“I think it’s a fetish. My son and I have a chandelier fetish.” Jeff and his son, Justin, store manager, frequent France to find these elegant treasures.
A Chandelier is Born
By definition, a chandelier is “a decorative, sometimes ornate, light fixture suspended from a ceiling, usually having branched supports for a number of lights.” The first chandeliers made their debut in 14th century France. The earliest versions were simply two planks of wood with spikes at the ends to hold candles made of animal fat, rather than wax.
The word chandelier comes from the French word “chandelle,” which means candleholder. Chandeliers were first found only in medieval churches and abbeys.
The more time went by, the more intricate and beautiful the chandelier became. Soon, they made their transition into homes. Initially, it was only the wealthiest and most powerful who could afford them for their palaces and castles – one reason being because of the high glass taxes in England. They were used as an extravagant display of wealth and status. They were still made with candles, but there were now many more candles, so not only were they dangerous, but the upkeep was extreme. Kings would have slaves on chandelier duty during dinners to keep the candles lit.
Soon, wood was replaced with metal because the grease from the candles ended up damaging the wood. Crystal, mirror, and brass plates were used to refract candlelight and spread the light from the candles across the room. The next upgrade was going from candles to gas lighting in the 19th century. By the 1890’s, chandeliers illuminated a room with electricity. Also, during this era, steam powered cutting increased production, so the chandeliers of this age were still high quality, but not as expensive as they once were and more people could afford them. The 19th century brought with it hanging drops and roped pendants, making the chandelier all the more romantic and stunning.
What Chandeliers Are Made Of
There are four main types of antique chandeliers:
-Bronze and Crystal
Jeff says that the most popular chandeliers are the bronze and crystal because of their classic design. According to Jutta-Arnette Page, curator of the European Collection at the Corning Museum of Glass at New York, the chandelier has evolved over time, but its height came during the development of lead glass in England in the 17th century.
The lead glass replaced the rock crystal. Lead glass could be cut into any shape and brought much more sparkle to the chandelier. Lead in glass makes it more refractive and clearer. Candle light that once gave off a dull glow was now bouncing off of these brilliant crystals, reflecting every color in the rainbow and filling a room with splendor.
Some of the most beautiful lead crystal in the world is called Baccarat crystal. In 1765, Baccarat Crystal made its debut. This crystal originated in Baccarat – a town east of Paris. In addition to chandeliers, this company has produced beautiful glass products, such as paper weights, perfume bottles, and glass sculptures. Baccarat is world renowned. Each Baccarat product contains the famous “B” signature with the date. The largest chandelier in the world, however, is located in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, Turkey – weighing in at 4.5 tons and is made of Baccarat Crystal!
Waterford Crystal, made in Ireland, is another type of crystal found in some of the most beautiful chandeliers. The company was founded in 1784 by George and William Penrose. Some of the most famous chandeliers are made with Waterford crystal. There are the chandeliers in Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, and the Kennedy Center in D.C. The New Year’s Eve ball that drops in Times Square each year is also made of Waterford Crystal.
A third classic crystal used in chandeliers is the crystal made of Murano glass. This glass is made off the shore of Venice, Italy – from the Venetian island of Murano. Murano has been known for its glass products since the 10th century - said to have originated in 9th century Rome. Murano is known for the striking, colorful glass crystal it produces.
Where should I put it?
When you picture a chandelier, you probably envision its swirling arms and cascading crystals dangling over a dining room table, but chandelier placement is very versatile. They are frequently found in foyers, powder baths, and sometimes in master bedrooms. Jeff had a customer recently who installed his antique chandelier in an unusual location. This customer happened to be a professional golfer (his identity was kept discreet) who came in looking for a chandelier for his wife’s CLOSET! Imagine that.
The Oldies are the Goodies
Chandeliers have become so popular, they are found in most American homes today. Newer chandeliers are much less pricey than antiques. They are found in all sorts of colors and styles. They are made of materials like brass, glass, ceramic, or even deer antlers! However, while good reproductions are readily available, there is a certain something about an antique that sets it apart.
Discussing newer chandeliers with Jeff, he identified what it is that makes antique chandeliers so special. “You put them (newly made chandeliers) up and they look like what they are – they look new – you can tell that what you’re looking at is a reproduction. Whereas, you get a 19th century chandelier and…it just makes a home.”
Ok…I’ve got one…now what do I do with it?
Once you find a chandelier that sweeps you off your feet, you’ll have to hire a professional to install it. You can look in the yellow pages for an electrician or someone who specializes in light installation to get yours up and running. If you purchase one of the items from Legacy Antiques, you will be purchasing a chandelier that has been rewired to meet American standards and meet code so they can be easily installed in your home.
Cleaning your Chandelier
Jeff recommends cleaning a bronze and crystal chandelier with a mild cleaner. How you clean your antique chandelier depends on your preference. Be careful when cleaning because you do not want to over clean and ruin the old patina.
To clean the metal part of the chandelier, take 4 parts water to 1 part ammonia and leave it on for a minute. Then, wash it off (do not brush it off). Brush it off, and it should come out looking, as Jeff said, “a new penny!” Most of the time, bronze chandeliers are "bronze dore," which is a gold washed bronze. When cleaned with the mild solution, the finish will be transformed from a dull, dirty bronze look to an elegant, gilded gold finish as intended. To clean the crystal, use any crystal cleaner and towel dry to get a nice shine. You can also wax your chandelier – no matter what it’s made out of – wood, bronze, or iron.
Feel free to lose yourself, scrolling through our collection of these graceful treasures.
and make sure you stop by legacy antiques to check out our own Jeff Garrett’s chandelier heaven!
Interview with Jeff Garrett of Legacy Antiques