let there be light

Holman Hunt’s The  Light of the World hung over my bed when I was a child, as it did over countless little cots back then: there is Christ in a dark wood, holding his lantern and knocking at an overgrown door. The lantern was much the most fascinating part of the picture because I was forever searching for the means of reading in bed without being caught. My mother, rather unfairly, used to feel the bulb of the bedside lamp to check if it were hot.  Candles and torches featured quite largely in my life and that lantern seemed to me to be just the thing I needed.

Our medieval forebears, the poorer ones at least, went to bed once darkness fell and started work again at dawn. There was not much to be done by the light of a candle made of rendered animal suet or beeswax. In the wealthy houses, candles were jealously counted and guarded and the upper servants sold the stub ends for profit. They totally cracked it in 18th century Versailles: hundreds of mirrored panels in the Hall of Mirrors threw back the reflections of hundreds of candles, created some proper light and the parties began.
Light affects our moods and our health and the atmosphere of our houses. Painters search for it; we turn our faces towards it, like plants, and when we are old we head south to find more of it.

I wander up and down stairs at Augustus Brandt and imagine how I will light my dream house.  A glorious Italian or a French late 18th Century chandelier in the stairwell, for sure.  You don’t need a Baroque palace or a classic house to hang a chandelier: they sit just as happily with dark slate and raw timber in a stripped back loft or warehouse There are glass ones and rock crystal ones, Dutch brass ones, shimmering confections of dancing beads and petals and tiny flowers to lighten your heart. I will find room in a sitting room for the Maison Charles table lamp from the 1950s, shaped like a sunflower – though I’m sure that the late Duchess of Windsor would have outbid me for this – and I yearn for the carved walnut candlestick from late 18th century Italy, some five feet high. When this was made, Napolean was invading Italy and Mozart had fallen in love.

The contemporary Le Deun circular lights are austerely beautiful: put them almost anywhere in a room, on the floor or on the furniture. The LED lights resemble a crisp sliver of new moon.   In the stone-flagged hall I am envisaging, I will need a bespoke standard lamp, six feet high, a graceful wooden Doric column of comforting solidity.  Its smaller friend, the table lamp, will be welcome in any room.  And who would not be hugely cheered by an antique French table lamp made out of a prosthetic wooden leg? Unless of course you were its original owner.

Lucy Deedes has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Saga magazine, Country & Townhouse magazine, had regular columns in the Scottish Field and Country Illustrated magazine.

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