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Shining a Light on Classic Interior Design

Updated on February 18, 2016

If you are interested in vintage plastics, you will know that their popularity is high among collectors. Large items such as radios and lamps, and colourful pieces of jewellery, are changing hands for hundreds of pounds. While ideas about what is beautiful and desirable change in general, there will always be those who find earlier standards fascinating and are irrevocably drawn to them.

But did you know that you can buy Bakelite reproductions of certain items, fully compliant with UK safety standards, for affordable prices? For example, you can achieve a classic period look with reproduction switches and complementary door furniture, and they can be just as fabulous-looking as those made from other materials.

What is Bakelite?

Bakelite is a thermosetting plastic that cannot be melted to lose its shape once its liquid form has undergone moulding and has hardened. It is not affected by heat, sunshine, acid or electricity and is therefore widely used in electrical installations. It makes safe, durable and attractive light switches, which you can have with a vintage or modern look, depending on design and finish.

Bakelite makes safe, durable and attractive light switches, which you can have with a vintage or modern look, depending on design and finish.
Bakelite makes safe, durable and attractive light switches, which you can have with a vintage or modern look, depending on design and finish.

The Story of the Light Switch

While Sir Joseph Wilson Swan created the first ever electric light bulb in 1860, it was Thomas Edison who later developed the first practical electric light bulb that could be used inside a building for a reasonable length of time. At the same time, his company had to come up with the other necessary electrical accessories, such as switches. A bulb was never going to be much use unless you could turn it on and off after all!

Since then the technology of switches has gone through several incarnations. The most important aspect for the developers was that the contacts to the electrical current move apart or together quickly, because partial contact generates heat which can damage the switch.

In 1884 a Newcastle upon Tyne inventor, John Henry Holmes, developed the first light switch to tackle this problem and his quick-break technology is still used today. Nevertheless, contacts are still liable to corrosion and various additional techniques can be used to combat it. That’s why Bakelite, which resists corrosion, is an excellent material for switches, as well as making them look elegant and intriguing on the walls of our homes.

Switches to Enhance a Beautiful Home

Toggle switches have been available since their invention in 1917 by William J. Newton, and these and the more modern rocker switch are what you can buy today. But your choice will be much more influenced by the look of the switches than the intricacies. You want your switches to match your choice of décor, whether this is up to the minute or has a vintage feel.

In a previous article we mentioned the benefits of brass as a light switch material, and you can also have Bakelite switches finished in brass. The Bakelite / Toggle Dolly light switch can certainly refer back to a bygone era.

Bakelite switches often sit in a dome mounted on a wooden wall plate. You will usually have a choice of the type of wood, and the dome and toggle can be finished in a colour to blend with it. For example, you could have a dark oak wall plate with a dark brown switch. Or you could choose to have a light wooden wall plate with a white switch. And, of course, there is the brass finish. It will depend on the colour scheme of your room.

For lighting in a hallway or on a landing, you can have two-way switches that you can turn on and off at the ground floor or upstairs. Two or more Bakelite switches sharing a wall plate in your hallway make a brilliant statement to a newcomer that you like the vintage look in your home.

If you would like to make your home beautiful with classic interior design, it’s worth considering the Bakelite light switches as the finishing touch.

Brass finish double toggle / dolly switch
Brass finish double toggle / dolly switch
Chrome finish double toggle / dolly switch
Chrome finish double toggle / dolly switch
White Bakelite switch on light wood plinth
White Bakelite switch on light wood plinth


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