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Antique lighting still brightens many a home

A five-arm gilt-metal gasolier with etched glass shades made $4,200 at Sterling Associates in May 2018. Photo courtesy of Sterling Associates and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Lighting choices are endless when it comes to decorating a home, but antique and vintage lighting can become dramatic statement pieces that highlight any room — even the bathroom.

Among the most popular lighting styles are midcentury modern, typified by its clean lines and bold styling; and Victorian, with its sinuous gilt arms and ornate, highly stylized decoration.

“There are pockets all over the country from Texas to the Carolinas that still love that Victorian look, which is really traditional,” said Stephen D’Atri, owner of Sterling Associates in Norwood and Closter, N.J. D’Atri runs a general antiques auction house now, but as a child, he got quite an education in lighting, as the family business was antique light fixtures.

“The market is currently a bit soft — a boon to buyers — but great pieces still command interest,” D’Atri said, noting that sometimes lamp bases aren’t the draw. “A lot of the times people buy pieces for the shades. During the Aesthetic period, in particular, shades were very elaborate, with elegant decoration of birds and figures. Having the matching shades is very important to all gas lighting and early lighting.”

This Victorian Aesthetic period Longwy and brass three-arm chandelier fetched $3,600 at Sterling Associates in December 2016. Photo courtesy of Sterling Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Aesthetic-period brass chandeliers accented with Longwy enamels are quite desirable. The Longwy pottery company traces its origins to the late 17th century in a convent in northeast France, where a style of enamel similar to Asian cloisonné was created.

Early gas lighting in America was made by many companies, including Cornelius & Company in Philadelphia, one of the premier gasoliers of its time; and Hooper of Boston. Baccarat crystal, milk glass, and Murano glass were also used to embellish chandeliers.

A Venini (Italian, Murano) glass and brass light fixture, circa 1960, realized $3,250 at Roland NY in April 2016. Photo courtesy of Roland NY and LiveAuctioneers

Despite not specializing in Victorian lighting, Sterling Associates has sold a number of important pieces from the period. In December 2016, D’Atri sold a beautiful Aesthetic-period brass gaslight chandelier having three branches with Longwy enamel accents and acid-etched glass shades for $3,600. In comparison, a nearly identical example to the Longwy chandelier brought $1,500 in May 2018.

Chandeliers are still popular, but wall sconces seem to be out of favor at the moment, D’Atri said. “It does not seem like young folks are incorporating wall lighting. Instead, they are doing a lot of recessed and overhead lighting.”

Midcentury modern furniture has long been popular, and midcentury lighting remains very sought after. This design aesthetic works well with all decorating styles, from formal and traditional to informal and industrial. Buyers today are seeking pieces with cleaner lines, embodying a crisp style with sleek bronze and few, if any, crystal prisms, especially if a fixture is to be suspended above a table, D’Atri said.

Lighting fixtures by famous designers who worked for Lightolier are very desirable, he said. Lightolier was founded in 1904 as the New York Gas and Appliance Co., and offered a full range of lighting, moving from fancy chandeliers to architectural pieces. A 1960s Tommi Parzinger (1903-1981) floor lamp for Lightolier, of polychrome-painted iron with six linen shades brought $6,500 at Rago’s February 2016 auction. The same price was paid in that sale for a large, 1950s tiered chandelier by Lightolier. The fixture with 19 sockets was made of brass, enameled aluminum and frosted glass. A few months later, Rago’s sold a 1950s Lightolier articulated floor lamp attributed to Gino Sarfatti (Italian, 1912-1985), of enameled aluminum, enameled steel and brass with nine sockets. Its design colorfully incorporated red, white and black shades. Like the Parzinger floor lamp, it sold for $6,500.

Although Sarfatti has been credited by some for having designed the iconic Sputnik chandelier, named for the 1957 Russian satellite it resembled, the original designer is still in question, as Sputnik-inspired chandeliers have been made and recast in many versions. A large, 36-arm Sputnik chandelier, in the manner of Sarfatti, earned $5,120 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions in March 2018. Four years earlier, the same auctioneer sold a monumental Sputnik chandelier, Italian, in a gilt-hued metal with pyramid-shape glass protrusions, for $32,000.

A large Sputnik chandelier with 36 arms, manner of Gino Sarfatti, brought $5,120 in March 2018 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Asked how to buy investment-grade lighting, D’Atri suggests that buyers instead focus on aesthetics. “Buy what you like, because who knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “Lighting happens to be one of the things I love. I like the fancy stuff so it’s a good time to buy.”

And one thing’s for sure — there will always be a need for lighting in one form or another, so you’ll never lose by purchasing something that’s as functional as it is beautiful.

A gilt-bronze and crystal chandelier, late 19th century, possibly Baccarat, went for $10,000 at New Orleans Auction Galleries in May 2018. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Click to visit Sterling Associates online.

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