Interiors: Out of the shadows - make a statement with lamps
Lamps have evolved from a practical lighting accessory to an interior design statement
Twenty years ago, no self-respecting Irish home would have been without a standard lamp - usually complete with a frilly dust magnet lampshade. The lamps stood in the corners of the room like awkward guests casting a small pool of light around them. Their main role was functional lighting, but they weren't very good at it. With their wobbly bases and top-heavy lampshades, they weren't among the most stable pieces in the room. Add a brace of kids and an excited dog to the mix and the lamp was in trouble.
You rarely hear the term 'standard lamp' now. These days, we call them floor lamps. They still provide functional lighting - some more effectively than others - but they're also considered a design statement. Their job is also to impress people, it seems.
"There are three main types of floor lamp," says Guido Spranzi of Made. "There's the single stem lamp, the tripod and the overhanging lamp."
Of the three, the single-stem floor lamp is the most traditional. I still have my grandmother's turned-wood floor lamp (the same one that we used to knock over when we were kids). It's currently wedged between the bookshelf and the sofa. This, according to Spranzi, is the advantage of stem floor lamps. They fit in anywhere.
His second category is the overhanging lamp. Many brands have their own version, all descended from the Arco floor lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos in 1962.
In the original, the light fitting is suspended from a graceful aluminium arc, anchored in a block of marble. It's a beautiful thing, but requires spacious accommodation (it's 232cm high and 220cm wide) and costs €2,362 from Willie Duggan Lighting. Cheaper alternatives include Designer Budget's Arc LS floor lamp (€216), also from Willie Duggan Lighting, or the Large Bow Lamp from Made (€114).
Overhanging lamps look cool and add height to an ensemble of low-lying furniture. They also enable the person sitting in the middle section of a modular sofa to read a book.
"You can swing the light from the sofa to the table for mealtimes," Spranzi explains. But, ultimately, overhanging lamps are much more about style than functionality. There are easier ways of lighting a room.
One of the advantages of overhanging lamps is they're visually impressive without taking up a lot of physical space.
"They're not space-hungry," says Spranzi, who recommends that you avoid buying spectacular floor lights in bright colours. "They make the lamp too visible. Neutrals and metallics are more versatile, especially chrome because it takes on the colours of the room."
Spranzi's third category is the tripod, a three-legged type of floor lamp that accounts for 35pc of Made's overall lighting sales across Europe. The most popular of these is the Tris (€90). It's sombre black with a copper-lined shade to create a friendly glow.
To me, tripod lamps look like a tripping hazard. I'm also reluctant to sacrifice so much floor space to a three-legged object that could just as easily rise from a single base, but other people seem to love them. Debenhams has nine tripod floor lamps in different styles and costing between €120 and €364.
Other designs have gone even leggier. The Bamboo lamp (€399) from KSL Living has five legs, which seems a bit excessive, but the design is so plain that it gets away with it. However, the prize for the most ridiculous tripod lamp goes to Melody Maison. It's called the Floor Standing Nautical Oar Tripod Lamp (€150) and is constructed from three oars, with a lampshade balanced on top.
There are also many versions of adjustable floor lamps inspired by the classic Anglepoise's desk lamp. The original giant 1227 Anglepoise is loads of fun, but you won't get much change from €3,000. Its design progeny include the Dean Floor Lamp (€195) in natural wood and copper from Made and the Copper Angled Floor Lamp (€210) from the French Bedroom Company.
If all this choice leaves the Irish customer in a state of confusion, well who can blame them?
"Irish people don't really know what to do with floor lamps," says Helena Duggan of Willie Duggan Lighting. "If they're looking for a statement piece, then they're prepared to spend money. If they're not, they don't really buy them. Or at least they don't buy them from us. Our main focus is high-end European designs, so if people want an ordinary lamp for reading, they probably get it elsewhere."
Some of the most popular floor lamps from Willie Duggan Lighting are simply illuminated objects that rest on the floor. The Studio Italia Kelly Floor Lamp is a laser-cut sphere with a light source hidden behind a glass diffuser, which gives it a sense of an inner glow. It comes in three sizes: 18cm diameter (€424); 40cm (€793); and 80cm (€2,860). If this seems unfeasibly expensive, the Slide Cubo In Lamp consists of cubes of five different sizes ranging from 20cm (€75) to 73cm (€357). The cubes are white polyurethane, lit from within and strong enough to be used as stools or side tables. There's also a spherical version with a similar price range, but trickier to sit on and no use as a side table.
For wannabe gangsters with money to burn, the ultimate floor lamp has to be the Gun, designed by Philippe Starck for Flos. It's shaped like a gun, comes in a choice of chrome or gold finishes and costs €3,617 from Willie Duggan Lighting.
See made.com, williedugganlighting.com, debenhams.ie, frenchbedroomcompany.co.uk, nedgis.com, designbotschaft.com, melodymaison.co.uk, ksl-living.fr, skinflintdesign.co.uk.