Modern Vs Retro Ceiling Lights

Modern Retro Rustic Lighting

My brother and I were watching one of those reality TV home improvement shows when a couple competing to see who could do the best remodel had to decide on the type of lighting they were going to select. They were arguing over whether they should go with a modern contemporary style or more of a retro look in the living room.

This started a discussion between myself and my brother about what really constitutes the difference between modern and retro, after-all there are many 'modern' styles which are revamped from previous eras, and even contemporary designs which borrow from times long ago.

Take this ceiling light in the picture to the left for example... It's designed to look like and old gas powered lamp, but it is of course a modern rustic ceiling lamp built from copper but with a modern fluorescent bulb fixture inside.

Retro Ceiling Lights

retro 70s ceiling light
70's Retro Light - Courtesy of Home Lillys

We found it surprisingly easy to decide on what 'Retro' isn't - our consensus was that anything which looked rustic or antique couldn't be considered retro. We got even further than that - any style which borrows from famous eras such as Edwardian, Victorian, and even Art Deco don't qualify.

Then we hit upon what we think is the magic formula - to be retro it has to come from the past, but not an era which has a well known name for it. So for example, 'Mid Century' styles (those from the 1940's and 1950's) don't qualify, but styles based upon what was common in say the 1970's do qualify because there isn't really a name for this period - "Why else would That '70s Show not have a different name?", we reasoned.

It's also a future-proofed definition - in 100 years time when they have come up with a name for our current era, today's styles will have a name but they won't be considered retro, but in 40 years time today's styles probably will be retro.

Modern Ceiling Lights

modern ceiling light
Modern light - Courtesy of Scotlight Direct

This is where the discussion heated up a bit - the problem is that any contemporary style must always be influenced by what came before it - there isn't a single lighting designer out there who hasn't seen a light before, and therefore must, at some level, be influenced by what they've already seen.

We tried to work out what isn't modern - simply saying that anything created some time ago isn't modern is obvious, but does nothing to illuminate the matter. Saying it's designed by a contemporary designer doesn't help much either - few music fans would consider contemporary music modern since it's current day composers using the instrumentation of classical music.

The music analogy does seem helpful though - if your grandmother is unlikely to dance to it (wouldn't put the lights in her home), you're friends are downloading it from iTunes (they are looking at similar lighting styles in the Ikea catalog), and you can't spot any obvious influences from more than a decade ago, then if probably is modern.

Oh, and what did the couple in the TV show decide to go with? I don't know - we were making so much noise debating what modern and retro lighting styles were that my sister-in-law kicked us out of the living room so we didn't get to see the end of the show :).

Update: I've found a good lighting style guide which covers traditional and modern style light fixtures at We Got Lights.