The Naked Light
Oh, incandescent light, how we took you for granted. For generations you submitted to our embarrassment at your bulbous form. We draped your nakedness with cloth and paper shades, some pleated and ruffled as a Victorian petticoat, or tamped your warm glow in glass globes or metal hats. We shunned your nakedness. A bare bulb was too harsh, too intense, too exposed. It signified the heat of interrogation rooms or the shabbiness of a skidrow flophouse.
But now that the incandescent bulb has been usurped by a curlicue cousin, the energy efficient, longer-lived fluorescent bulb, exposed incandescent bulbs have become the latest design trend. In New York restaurants, wire filaments spark under unfrosted glass, imparting a glow, so restaurateurs claim, that’s the closest thing to candlelight.
Tom Colicchio’s Craft started the bare bulb trend.
Bob Rosenzweig has been making vintage Edison-era reproduction light bulbs for 30 years at his company Aamsco Lighting, for museums and old house fanatics. With incandescent light bulbs being phased out (some European countries have already banned them, and Ikea announced last spring that it would stop selling them at the end of the year), Rosenzweig has seen a sudden surge in interest and a new market for his product in upscale restaurants.
There’s a blatantly un-PC defiance in the trend: “Everybody’s going green, but we’re still hot and red,” Rosenzweig said in the New York Times. “My bulbs use a lot of energy and make the air conditioning work overtime.”
This killowatts-be-damned attitude has earned manufacturers like Rosenzweig and the designers who buy their products the scorn of Grist and other environmental websites. But, in my mind, all this reveling in raw incandescence has little to do with rebellion. Bare bulbs are hardly the interior design equivalent of driving a Hummer. You should feel sorry for the poor light bulb. To be stripped down, exposed, and rendered hip is a sure sign that your time has passed. The design statement is simply a parting shot, as a once ubiquitous and invisible technology enjoys one final blazing night on the town before it sputters out.
Author’s Note: This is not the last posting about light you’ll be reading here. The incandescent bulb won’t pass unnoticed in Obsolescing. The technology of light is one of our fascinations, Exhibit A in our premise that we view our technologies differently depending on whether they are on the way in or out (see last summer’s post The Nature of Elegy for Robert Louis Stevenson’s horrifed view of incandescence when that technology was new.) So more on light anon!
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