We’ve long been fans of lighting designer David Weeks beautiful lighting, having been smitten initially with his sculptural Lunette clip-on shades. On December 14th and 15th, Weeks will hold his annual sample sale, where you can buy samples and prototypes of some of his wonderful designs at steep discounts. We won’t be going. We checked out the wattage of the bulbs Weeks’ lights take: max 60 watts for many, and a dim 40 watts for the lovely Shell Sconce, above, as well as the Cement Standing Lamp and potentially-indespensible Pearson clip light,both below.

We don’t understand this dim-bulbism because, for us, good light — dimmable lighting that can be bright OR mellow when we need it —  is the key to living and working happily in our space, showing it to its best advantage. Weeks isn’t the only lighting designer to use low wattage bulbs. We can’t tell you how many lights we’ve NOT bought because of their untenable dimness. So is the low-watt trend about design trumping utility (because the beautiful shade can’t take higher wattage?), or….er…saving energy?

Our first response is to wonder if we can hack lamps to make them able to take brighter bulbs, but we’ve been warned off that tack because of obvious — and not so obvious — dangers; we’d be playing with fire. The second thing we think is: Why don’t we design our own lighting? In order to do that, we’d have to learn how lighting and wiring really work, not to mention how to gauge how much heat a shade could really take (we’ve already learned about glass fiber paper).

Suddenly, images flashed in our head of the incredibly inventive and often impromtu lighting that sculptor Alexander Calder, creator of the mobile, fashioned. We’d seen pictures of several in Simplicity of Means: Calder and the Devised Object. One, as we remember, was made out of a pie tin for a friend who needed a light FAST. And then there’s this inspiring beauty:

photo: herbert matter/calder.org

Calder’s improvised lamps made us think: To hell with high-design lights with dim bulbs, and Weeks’ swell-but-ineffectual little clip light. We’ll figure out how to fulfill our lighting desires ourselves, in unexpected ways. Stay tuned!

Related posts: the lightbulb dilemma: looking for beautiful light, environmentally-friendly
high-design plumen bulb review: it casts an ugly light!
instant chic lighting: the lunette shade
modernist noguchi-esque paper shade lights (cheap)
lindsay adelman’s brilliant d-i-y lighting plans
great clip-on lamp shade (+ the search for glass fiber paper)
cool lighting: stacked globes and paper shades
l.e.d. snow surfer = moving poetry
string lights as everyday indoor lighting

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8 replies on “high-style lamps have dim bulbs (what would calder do?)

  1. I think you’re on to something with the dim bulb issue and I can’t wait to see what you come up with. With a legion of baby boomers turning on lights to read, nay see better in general, you will have a done a great service and perhaps created a new market! Well thought. As always, you rock!

  2. This has been going on for a while. I really had a crush on Verner Panton’s VP1 ‘Flowerpot’ pendant (which was created in the mid 1960s) and figured it would be perfect for my dining room, then I learned that it takes a 40w bulb max. Even if an LED bulb fit in there it would only be the equivalent of a 60w bulb. That’s just too low considering it’s the only light in a 9’x9′ room. A real shame.

    If I’ve go to be stuck with that kind of low-wattage I’d rather get a $99 IKEA PS 2012 pendant whose 23w LED is the equivalent of a 60w incandescent.

  3. I hear you, though I still have trouble with the quality and color of LED’s. I keep waiting for them to be as lovely as halogen or incandescent light. In the meantime, we’ll continue the quest.

  4. I’m with you, Sally, this dim trend really bugs me. Add to it that compact fluorescent bulbs are not only dim, they drastically alter color.

  5. I agree that low wattage and low lumens are a big problem. I’m wondering about some of the better new LED and CFL lamps – they use a fraction of the wattage of incandescent to produce the same lumens. CRI can be a problem but many manufacturers are successfully tackling this issue. Wattage is the power draw with the resulting heat and fire hazard. I believe that sometimes the limitation is from the rating of the installed plastic socket rather than a porcelain one. But at least the first two lamp shades you show would trap nearly all the heat of the bulb and the bulb life would be very short and the potential heat build up in the wires potentially dangerous.

  6. Josh, thanks so much for this info. INFO that helps me to understand it better. It tells me though that this is still a design problem. Halogen bulbs allow you to have smaller shades (I’ve got a number from Ikea), and have a nice clean light so could be used for a small-shaded lamp…
    I really need to have a conversation with a lighting designer where I can grill him/her (not pun intended)!

  7. Hi Sally,

    There are many versions of the halogen lamp (bulb) that are available and work with the traditional sockets found in many creativly designed luminaires (light fixtures). Thare are 57 watt halogen A lamps which provide as much light as a 75 watt lamp. With the high color rendering index of halogen, the perceived light is higher as well. I think most people think that halogens are only available for recess downlights in spot and flood patterns as tat is typically what most retailers stock in the way of halogen lamps. The other benefit to halogen is that the filament is smaller than conventional incandescent lamps since it acts more as an igniter than the light source. So when halogen is dimmed, the buzz which eminates from longer filament conventional incandescents is often not audible. This varies and not always holds true depjending on the quality of the dimmer and the lamps construction. Search for ‘halogen A lamps’ to find options. Outside of specialty lighting showrooms, Lowes has the best variety of specialty lamps like halogen. Josh brings up an important consideration about heat. With any new lamp you install in a luminaire, monitor the heat output tranferred to the inside and outside of the shade for safety when first using the luminaire with the new lamp. If the shade or socket begins to discolor this indicates the lamp is too hot to be safe. Another tip for increasing light output is to applya high tmerature white paint to the reflective surface inside the shade. Use care to mask to socket when applying this modification.

    Thanks so much for your site, it is a daily stop for me. For th inspirational content and the other blogs you link.

    Warm Regards


  8. Kevin, thank you so much for laying out the basic “understanding” of how lighting works, and the safety indicators to watch out for. I like your tip of using screw in halogen bulbs to get less heat and more wattage. Unfortunately, even many of those are, for me, exempt from use in the lamps I’m referring to: I would like the equivelent of 100 watts, and as I remember, 100 watts translated to halogen is 75 or so, above the ridiculous 60 watts of many a stylish light. Perhaps a solution is to try the hight-temperature paint you mentioned….

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