Home & Garden

Edison bulb exposes hunger for nostalgia

A Ferrowatt vintage Antique 120V 40W light bulb is used to showcase the filament inside.
A Ferrowatt vintage Antique 120V 40W light bulb is used to showcase the filament inside. Orange County Register

When Irene Conable moved from her 1927 historic home into a sleek condo last year, both in Riverside, Wash., she alighted upon compatible accents for her mother’s 19th century furnishings and antiques.

She looked to the hottest trend in home illumination, the Edison, vintage or nostalgia globes, a nod to Thomas Alva Edison, who’s considered the father of incandescent lighting.

Resurrected as reproductions of the inventor’s first bulb, the Edisons now shimmer from coast to coast. Manufactured in hundreds of designs, the exposed bulbs are celebrated as hip throwbacks to more rustic times.

“I wanted to continue the modern version of Victoriana steampunk through the plumbing and lighting,” said Conable, 70, a retired school librarian. “That’s why I chose these bulbs.”

In the past three years, these improbable luminaries in the interior design world have jumped the grid from commercial to home decor, said David Gray, a spokesman for Chatsworth, Calif.-based Lamps Plus, the nation’s largest specialty lighting retailer.

Coiled, twisted, crisscrossed, laced, separated or bunched, the visible filaments – or threadlike heating elements made of tungsten or carbon – provide much of the bulb’s aesthetic charm.

“Any fixture that surrounds these bulbs usually represents some type of industrial function, like pipes or a safety cage,” Gray said.

Movies such as “Skyfall” and the TV show “Scandal” have glamorized these unlikely beacons of beauty as soft, romantic sparkles in subway tunnels, hideouts, basements, clandestine meeting rooms and attic crawl spaces, Gray said.

Janice Morell-Bielman used the Edison bulbs in her living room sconces and the dining room candelabra in her 1929 Tudor home in Riverside. “Great mood lighting,” she said. “Much better than traditional incandescents.”

The Edison bulb works well in contemporary decor, too. “They’re welcome in any design, except glitz and glamour,” Gray said.

The consumer’s fascination with industrial chic, inspired by pendant Edison bulbs in restaurants, has fueled the craze, according to Dan Cocco, who worked with Conable. With Laurel Hampton-Hunt, he owns Carriage House Renovations, a 15-year-old Riverside-based business specializing in restoration work.

These old-timey versions of the real thing started becoming popular a few years ago, so they no longer must be specially ordered. Now, Cocco said, they’re ubiquitous, sold everywhere from the Internet to home improvement behemoths such as Home Depot and chic home furnishing chains including Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware.

Unlike their plainer incandescent cousins hidden behind shades or frosted glass, the new Edisons are not cheap, running $7 to $20 per bulb. But the price doesn’t deter homeowners such as as Conable, who’s deployed them in floor lamps, table lamps, outside sconces and bathroom fixtures. “I love seeing that zigzag of light,” she said, referring to their tungsten filaments. “They’re great accents and they don’t put out a glare.”

The Edisons lend atmosphere because they’re not as bright as the standard incandescents. Casting a warm, buttery, amber glow, the 40- and 60-watt lights are discreet, fine for reading a menu, but not a book. “There’s ample light for doing everything except being serious,” Gray said.

These Edisons are seriously wasteful, however, guzzling five to 10 times the energy of other bulbs on the market, Cocco said. “That’s why they’re accent lights.”

But rather than pull the plug on what’s become a cultural icon, Gray said filament aficionados can get their vintage fix and fixtures with the new LED Edison bulbs that eat one-tenth the energy of the incandescents, but cost about $6 more apiece.

“We’re playing catchup,” he said. “The Edison LEDs are just staring to come out. But they’re charming and have an extremely unique glow. It will probably take a few years before they exhibit the same appeal.”

Edison bulb

What: Also known as nostalgia, vintage or antique reproduction bulbs, they’re prized for their clearly visible filaments and soft, amber glows. Good for atmosphere, accents, mood lighting, menu reading.

Where: In sconces, candelabra, floor lamps, table lamps, overhead lights in hotels, restaurants and homes with both rustic and contemporary decors.

Drawbacks: Energy hogs, but LED versions are the coming antidote.

Cost: $7-$20 per bulb.

Available: Big box stores, hardware stores, online, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Ferguson Bath.

Sources: Carriage House Renovations, David Gray, Lamps Plus