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Bell jar lanterns are a classic tribute to centuries of lighting. They add a traditional, yet eclectic, feel to space. The evolution of the bell jar light fixture proves that they can be adapted to accentuate a number of functions and design styles.
Lanterns appear in medieval manuscripts as early as the 13th century. Some of these forms included basic frames with panels of horn or glass. The first innovations in lighting technology were the most basic way to illuminate the dark, clammy hallways.
Leonardo da Vinci is the first known inventor to put a flame inside a glass container fitted to a water-filled glass globe.
Renaissance Bell Jar Fixtures
As lighting evolved, pendant lighting styles moved away from carved hanging lamps of wood and metal to round glass chimney lanterns. The fixture was suspended from the ceiling by a circular plate, hook, and chains.
With the creation of ornately embellished chandeliers in 17th century France and 18th century England, pendants made from crystals and frosted glass were en vogue up until the 20th century.
In expansive, darkly-paneled 18th century homes, light emanated mainly from the fireplace or candles. However, the candles were expensive. Homes incorporated the trick of medieval and renaissance predecessors by enclosing candles in glass pendants to be hung from the ceiling. Often, the candles were only lit during festivities, and the glass jar prevented the candles from being snuffed out by a draft.
American Colonial and Federalist Period
Bell jar light fixtures were quite popular during the colonial period in America. These fixtures were elaborately designed with reliefs and other decorative finishes. A smoke bell cap on the pendants prevented candle smoke from blackening the ceilings or walls.
Bell jar lanterns, known as Hundi lanterns, were popular and widespread in colonial India. Here, hand-blown glass fixtures were made in a variety of sparkling, jewel-like colors in styles representing a meeting of Western and Indian design.
Bell jar lighting remains popular to the present day. Obviously, the function has evolved over time from candles, oil, or gas to electric pendant fixtures. A number of designs, etched patterns, and colors embellish homes across the world with a style that is both vintage and modern, traditional and edgy.
Olde Good Things recently acquired a collection of fine bell jar glass carefully curated by an avid collector over years of traveling to India and purchasing antique fine crystal and glass bell jars. The antique pieces are available in both cut and clear crystal, ruby red or emerald green.
Though its manufacture has slowed in the United Sates, glass embedded with chicken wire has long been regarded, particularly in the world of industry, for its endurance and practicality. Its strength made it an ideal safeguard. It became a staple in factories, where its sturdy, shatter-proof quality kept workers inside safe and insulated from outdoor conditions.
The strength of the material also bestows it another prized characteristic: versatility. The sheer variety of texture with which it can be imbued lends itself to a gradient of design function and aesthetic. This texturing creates the effect of a mosaic: a stained glass window refracting pattern rather than color.
OGT has been salvaging this glass for years and in particular acquired a lot of the pebbled chicken wire glass, recently incorporated into a furniture design project, from a large factory in central Pennsylvania. In its time it was used as a skylight for the industrial powerhouse. It filtered in natural sunlight from a height of eighty feet above the factory floor. Its opacity brings to mind both the billowing haze characteristic of the industrial area, and the subtle beauty of a soft sunbeam.
Turn the clock nearly a century forward, and that same pebbled, chicken-wired glass is salvaged, restored, and put to use in a contemporary New York City loft.
Enter Union Studio, a small business based in Berkley, California, whose specialty lies in interior design and furniture craftsmanship. Each furniture piece, designed by company founder Matthew Bear, is custom built and crafted with utmost quality in mind.
For a company with such a claim to the aesthetic of the handmade, there is much thought, naturally, that goes into the material choice of each piece. And this is where the multi-purpose nature of the factory-recovered glass comes into play.
The panels were first put to use for the sliding doors of this shower. Here, the opacity of the pebbled texture offers the necessary privacy, and the embedded wiring provides the perfect design compliment to the metallic framing and shower handles.
Vintage glass paneling between these door frames bridges one room to the next. The translucency of glass gives the loft a cohesive sense of space. Meanwhile, the texture simulates a patterned fog just thick enough to isolate each room from the other.
The metallic plating of the glass gives even this cabinet an industrial embellishment that is right at home in with the rest of this kitchen area.
It’s remarkable to think that one piece of glass could branch out in so diverse a manner from its original purpose. What started out as distant skylight now becomes three distinct statement pieces that add cohesion and unification to the space through their shared material.