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LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE front      help

a selection of bulbs
One of the most important aspects of home design is the lighting we choose. We expect lighting to create a comfortable, interesting, and practical environment, whether for general living, cleaning, relaxing, playing, working, or just for an effect. Although the shops are full of possibilities, it's interesting to look at how lighting has changed over the years.
Years ago, in the 1950s, nearly every room in a house had a central light hanging from the ceiling. Often, the bulb was visible, even if there was a decorative lampshade over it. There were only a few variations on this: bathrooms had a bulb enclosed in a glass ball, kitchens had a bulb enclosed in a glass ball, and large cupboards or garages just had an exposed bulb. Most rooms had one light switch, and the light was either on or off. The one luxury was a set of small coloured lights to decorate the Christmas tree.
There was little that you could do, or buy, to change this, although there were a few options for those who wanted to be different:

Some people had a lamp on a stand, called a standard lamp, in the main living room. It was often near a chair which the man of the house sat in to read the newspaper in the evening after the meal.

Some people had a lamp on a bedside table, in the main bedroom. Probably not for romantic reasons, more for the practical thing about turning off the light once you were in bed.

Expensive homes might have had wall lights in a dining room which were nearly always modern copies of candle lights.

Very expensive homes had a central hanging chandelier, a complicated decorative mixture of bulbs and hanging cut-glass shapes.

Gradually, new ideas and products allowed people to change the lighting in any room: plastic switches and electricity outlets reduced the cost of wiring a home, fluorescent light strips gave a brighter cheaper light in kitchens and garages, and table lights gave rooms a softer warmer light. The emphasis began to change from practical lighting to lighting effects: kitchens had worktop lights, desks had special adjustable lights, and bathrooms had lights over the mirror.

Fluorescent lights became less popular at home because of the rather cold light, and there was a wide range of lampshades to create differently lit areas.

One of the problems with the old bulbs was that they were large and got hot. It was quite common to see a table light with a burn mark on the lampshade. This limited lamp design and the brightness could only be changed by changing the bulb. However, as is often the case, technology changed everything.

The first big change was that spotlights, often in groups of two or three, allowed you to choose the parts of a room you wanted lit. To spread the effect, some of these lights were on a track about a metre long.

The next change was the rotary electronic dimmer. This replaced a normal light switch and gave you a choice about the brightness level. The design didn't need a lot of parts, so the low cost meant that dimmers soon became popular.

The next change was the low-voltage halogen bulb. This was very small and very bright, so gave lamp designers freedom. The only disadvantage was that they needed a transformer to reduce the mains voltage from 250V to 12V and this had to be built-in or hidden somewhere

Here are some lamps that you can buy easily now:

lights on timers that come on or go off at set times
lights that turn on by movement, controlled by infrared detectors
lights that turn on when it gets dark, to illuminate doorways or garden paths
light switches activated by touch
bulbs that copy daylight or give a soft coloured light
garden lights
tiny low voltage lights, often used with glass shelves
children's comfort lights that move or twinkle
wall lights, uplighters and downlighters
recessed lights that are built in to the ceiling
lights built in to the floor
tiny outdoor lights for trees
effects distributed by optic fibres

The increasing variety and availability of plastics and glass have given lighting designers new opportunities, and public places such as offices, bars, restaurants, and museums are all aware of the effect that good lighting can have on people. And, for the first time, industrial and commercial techniques can be adapted for home use.

Nowadays, homes often come with several light switches in each room as well as a selection of wall outlets where you can plug in any light you want. There is so much choice of light fittings and switches that every home can now be lit to advantage and create a personal living environment.

Copyright and Permission: Talking Technologies 2002

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Talking Technologies and Originators Copyright 2002