Crystal Chandelier Buying Tips

Nothing in the home-decoration vocabulary signals elegance as much as the word "chandelier." Even those extolling the clean lines of Mission furniture and declaring "drapes" a pretentious word for curtains cannot find a better word to describe the pendulous sparkle of this lighting fixture. A chandelier, especially crystal, firmly asserts its alluring character and quietly demands elegance in all elements of its surroundings.

Choosing a crystal chandelier is not strictly the province of the wealthy. Although prices can run into the thousands, handsome and charming chandeliers are available at a wide range of affordable prices.

Because the sparkle and shine of the fixture is affected by the quality of light-catching crystals, professionals often say that choosing a chandelier resembles choosing a diamond. Some of the C's of diamond-selection apply to a crystal chandelier: clarity, cut, caret-weight (crystal-size and number) and color, adding up to the biggest C, cost.

There are also chandelier-specific C's to keep in mind:

• Consistency: when the chandelier is lit, do you like the sparkle? And unlit? • Circumference and height: chandeliers occupy a lot of space, both physically and visually. Too small, and the sparkle seems skimpy. Too large, and guests squint in the glare. • Cumulative weight: large chandeliers can weigh up to 50 lb. Weight, more than any other factor, determines where you can hang the chandelier. Check on "hanging weight." • "Congruence" is shorthand for "how well does this distinctive lighting fixture fit into its surroundings?" This does not mean that a chandelier reminiscent of Versailles demands Louis-XVI furniture. (Friends inheriting a small crystal family treasure glazed the walls of their guest bathroom dark red, added a tiny polished mahogany dresser, bought champagne-colored towels, and quit right there.)

How, then, do you address the chandelier C's successfully? Here are some ways to make an informed and happy decision about a crystal chandelier.

Cut, clarity, and cost all relate to the quality of crystals used. Fine chandeliers are composed of fine crystals:

• Strass: Manufactured and machine-polished by Swarovski in Austria. Crystal of the finest quality. • Swarovski: Also used in jewelry and other ornamentation. Machine-cut for brilliance. • Wood Polished: Hand-cut and polished. Finished with a wooden polishing wheel and marble dust. Craftsmen's crystal. • Venetian: Molded, not cut. Lower brilliance offset by a distinctive glow. • Murano: Also Italian, hand-blown. Sometimes colored and fancifully-shaped.

Other types of crystals are also used. Some fixtures contain a mixture of kinds; some fixtures can be ordered in the kind of crystal you like best.

Circumference and height considerations make one wish that floor-samples could be taken home for a day. Your lighting professional can provide height- and circumference-guidelines for dining-room or foyer fixtures, but you will need to make the final decision about what is right for your home.

Congruence is also the area in which you make the final decisions. If the chandelier is part of an overall room redecoration, remember that a crystal chandelier always tends to dominate and define its surroundings. It makes sense, therefore, to choose the chandelier very early in the redecorating process. Knowing the fixture you want lets you think about paint, wall-, floor- and window-coverings and furniture in terms of light-reflection and texture as well as color. The resulting room will have a coherence lacking if the chandelier is chosen to "go with" the other elements.

Add a couple of little c's and you're done: • control (a dimmer-switch varies your lighting-effects) • cleaning (new products make maintaining sparkle and shine easy)

What a beautiful choice you have made. There's nothing that says "elegance" like a crystal chandelier.

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