Chandeliers For Museums

How To Choose Chandeliers For Museums

Lighting is an important aspect of any museum.  Lighting can set the mood, provide illumination for unique pieces, reflect off of complicated glass or china, and in general, affect museum visitors’ experiences.  The primary goal of a museum is to create a special and interactive experience for the guests, and lighting can be instrumental in enabling visitors to see objects, experience new sights, and react to the museum exhibits and environment.  A secondary goal is to maintain artifacts in good condition.  Improper lighting can cause heat or light damage to artifacts, so museum curators and interior designers should work together to select light sources that are suitable for the space that is being illuminated.  Heat-sensitive pieces may need an efficient LED-based light bulb, while light-sensitive pieces may need a dimmer, conventional light bulb.  With our chandeliers, you can choose your own light bulb options so that you can ensure that your pieces can be kept in good condition.

Museums are a particularly great place to illuminate with chandeliers because the decorative nature of the light fixtures can enhance the ambiance in a place that is already entirely focused on a visitor’s experience.  Chandeliers can be used to enhance the light quality for exhibits, add an additional artistic element, and make the space look more elegant.  Chandeliers are very versatile can be used near exhibits, in museum cafes and bars, in gift shops, and even outdoors.

Questions to ask yourself when making museum lighting decisions

Museums can be highly visual experiences which require a high level of attention to detail to even the most basic decisions such as what lights to use.  While deciding on a light fixture may seem like the most boring detail, it is actually crucially important to the museum’s overall experience.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to think about the artifacts and spaces you need to illuminate and ask yourself a few questions in order to better understand your lighting needs:

  • What is important about this item or space?
  • Why do I care about this item or space?
  • Why is this item or space here in the museum?
  • For museum artifacts: What did the artist intend by creating this work?
  • Why is this item or space in our museum?

A good understanding of the answers to these questions can help direct your lighting decisions.

Plan out your lighting like you would plan out museum exhibits

In choosing lighting for your museum, you should think of the light fixtures as you would think of other additions to the museum.  In other words, consider making purchases like a homeowner would, for example – selecting fixtures that fit the style of your museum, add interest and unique details that can set your museum apart, and complement the architecture of the museum.  In selecting a light fixture for your museum, you want to make sure to increase both the monetary and visual value of the space, and make the museum space stand out in a real way.

Paying attention to details will help ensure that you are making the best functional and design decisions for the space.  Make sure to consider issues such as safety as well; do not place a bright, hot lamp next to an exhibit of parchment paper scrolls, for example.  Taking time to plan out the light fixtures as you would plan an exhibit will ensure the greatest spatial and thematic continuity in your museum.  Consider things such as the newness and oldness of your chandeliers versus the adjacent artwork; the use of positive versus negative space; the impact of direct versus indirect lighting on your exhibits; and how you can use dim versus bright lighting to enhance the overall appeal of your exhibits and the museum spaces in general.

Low vs. Bright Lighting

When trying to illuminate a museum, think about what you want to accomplish with the intensity or brightness of the light that your chandeliers provide.  Bright lights can be useful for exhibits with details that require good vision but, if used improperly, can also damage sensitive museum artifacts.  Low lights can provide a better ambiance but may not enable your visitors to see well enough to read captions, for example.  When considering lighting for your museum, be sure to take into account the subtleties of the museum exhibits and what areas should receive bright versus low lighting.

An example of a museum with characteristically low lighting is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, located in Boston, MA.  The museum, which was completed by the architect Willard T. Sears, resembles a palace situated in Venice, Italy in the 1400s.  Isabella Steward Gardner, the museum’s namesake, traveled the world collecting pieces of art from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  Most of the pieces in the museum are not labeled, so bright lighting is not needed.  The low level of light lends the museum has an intimate, homey feel.

Another museum with low but unique lighting is the Sir John Soane Museum in London, England.  Soane, who was an architecture professor at London’s Royal Academy in the 19th century, built the museum and worked on collecting artifacts throughout his entire life.  The museum has many interesting and subtle design details such as walls that can move, domed ceilings, and top lighting, which means that the lighting is primarily in the ceiling rather than adorning the walls.  This museum design strategy left more space to adorn the walls with artifacts from Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  The museum also has windows which let in a decent amount of natural light during the daytime.

Consider more lighting for spaces with more art or exhibits

The Kirkland Museum in Denver, CO, is an art museum that houses international decorative art, Colorado art, and a collection by the museum’s namesake, Vance Kirkland.  The museum has a lot to offer with so many exhibits and uses a very well-lit space.  Extra lighting is a good idea for collections such as ceramic plates, cutlery, or other pieces.  A trick that the Kirkland Museum recommends is to use extra lighting for collections that are not complete; the luminescence dazzles visitors, distracting them from the fact that the collection may look incomplete or only has a few pieces.  Bright lighting can help your artifacts dazzle visitors by showcasing all of the items’ details.  You can use several points of light using our chandeliers to bring out the details in your artwork or collections.

In general, the smaller or more detailed a collection piece is, the more illumination it will need.


Don’t be afraid to mix old with new

In designing your museum space, which includes selecting appropriate chandeliers and other lighting, don’t shy away from combining old and new elements.  In museums that mostly showcase old art, a modern chandelier can give off a somewhat contemporary vibe that contrasts pleasantly and refreshingly with the antiques on display.  If your museum displays modern art, you may want to opt for an older, vintage-looking chandelier to add to the museum’s visual and artistic elements.  You may think that such a juxtaposition will look awkward, but on the contrary; such contrast can look classic, sophisticated, and timeless.

Look for well-made and well-designed lights that can become future antique pieces

If you’re not sure whether you want to go with an old or new chandelier, just remember that antiques happen over time.  If you find a chandelier that you like and think will fit the space well, it will be an antique piece in two or three decades’ time; so, choose wisely, but choose lighting that you like, that is well-made, and that you think is suitable for the space, and your chandelier will become a charming antique in a few years. 

When looking for a chandelier that will stand the test of time and age well, make sure to consider craftsmanship.  The quality of design and work on a chandelier will set it apart from other chandeliers.  Items that are designed well and in a unique way tend to become more valuable over time, adding to both the visual interest of your museum as well as the monetary value of the space and its collections.


Using energy-saving LED light bulbs versus traditional light bulbs in your chandelier

The ultimate goal of museum lighting is to light individual objects while taking into consideration the object’s sensitivity and how it will be viewed by guests.  If the exhibit is very sensitive, it may require less lighting than if it is not as sensitive.  Careful use of LED versus traditional light bulbs may help strike a balance between the lighting requirements for exhibits, the limitations of the items, and creating the desired ambiance.

When choosing a chandelier for your museum, you may be able to use either energy-saving bulbs or traditional incandescent light bulbs.  Many of our chandeliers do not come with light bulbs included so you can shop around and make the best decision for your space. In most of our chandeliers, you can use energy-saving lamp bulbs, halogen bulbs, or incandescent bulbs. There are different advantages and disadvantages to energy-saving lights, such as light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, versus traditional light bulbs.  In general, energy-saving bulbs are brighter, are available in a variety of colors, generate less heat, and save money in terms of utility bills.  Traditional incandescent bulbs can have a softer light, but generate a lot of heat and can be more expensive.

There are many benefits to LED lighting in museums.  The light is safer, cheaper, more efficient, versatile, and longer-lasting than fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs.  Incandescent bulbs dissipate 90% of their energy as heat so although they illuminate with a softer yellow or white than energy-saving bulbs, they can be dangerous to your museum artifacts.  On the other hand, instead of overheating and burning out, LED bulbs use a complicated heat sink system which collects and dissipates heat, so that the light becomes less bright over time.  This makes LED lighting a good idea for museum collections and exhibits that are heat-sensitive.  LED lighting is also great for sensitive museum artifacts because it does not emit harmful UV or infrared (IR) rays.  Improved technology also now enables LED lights to be dimmed using handheld devices.

LED bulbs can also last much longer than traditional bulbs – up to 15 times longer.  Because they save energy, LED bulbs may be good for large spaces because of the decreased energy bill.  LED lights are also available in a variety of colors, including red, green, and blue.  A decorative wooden chandelier with uniquely-hued light bulbs can be a standout addition to your museum.

The downsides of LED lighting are that the light can be very artificial and very bright, which does not make LED lighting the best for mood or dimmable lighting.  Instead, you may want to opt for fluorescent, incandescent, or halogen lighting chandeliers.  While these light fixtures generate heat, the light generated by traditional light bulbs can be much softer and less white and harsh than that of LED light bulbs.

Another downside to energy-efficient LED bulbs is that incandescent bulbs are better able to render certain colors than others; reds and yellows are better represented by the incandescent bulb than blues.  For this reason, you may want to consider LED bulbs for blues as they will look dull under traditional light bulbs.

You may want to experiment with using different types of lighting in your museum to see what works for you – dimmable, non-dimmable, a fun hue versus white or yellow lights, LED bulbs versus traditional bulbs, etc.  It may be the case that different spaces in your museum require different types of lighting.  Our chandeliers are versatile and most can be used with many different types of light bulbs to achieve the desired lighting effects for your museum.

If you opt for LED lighting, make sure to opt for bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR label.  These bulbs have been independently certified to ensure that they will save energy and perform as promised.  LED bulbs can be used in our chandeliers and other light fixtures, as well as accent lighting, and table and floor lights.

Think about what direction you want museum chandeliers to direct light

In what directions do you need your light fixtures to direct light?  Electric light units such as chandeliers can be characterized by how light is distributed.  We offer many different types of chandeliers with various types of directional light.  Many types of electric light fixtures, or luminaires, exist:

  • Direct light fixtures direct light downward; most recessed lighting is direct downlighting.
  • Indirect light fixtures, such as some chandeliers, emit light upward which can bounce from the ceiling into a space.
  • Many chandeliers also utilize diffuse lighting principles.  Diffuse lighting shines light in all directions.
  • Some chandeliers can include both direct and indirect lighting in which light is emitted both upward and downward, but does not diffuse sideways from the light).
  • Asymmetric upright lighting are typically designed for special applications and can distribute light strongly in one direction.
  • Adjustable light fixtures have lights which can be adjusted to offer different types of light.  Track lighting and floodlights are popular forms of adjustable light.  Some chandeliers are also adjustable.

Avoid visual adaptation and glare

Because museums are a visual experience, you will need to take some care to avoid the visual phenomena of visual adaptation and glare which can occur when light is too bright (or, in the case of visual adaptation, not bright enough) or direct.  Visual adaptation and glare can affect the eyes of your museum visitors.  Most of our chandeliers can provide subtle lighting that can help avoid these problems.

Visual adaptation is a process that the eye undergoes when there are light transitions that force the eye to adapt to conditions such as sunlight, moonlight, or darkness.  Visual adaptation refers to the time the eye requires to adjust to the new lighting conditions.  In normal light settings, the typical transition time for eyes going from high to low, or low to high, luminance, is about 8 minutes.  Without taking into the limitations of visual adaptation, museum curators and designers will risk causing glare, migraines, or visual difficulties for visitors.

Glare is what happens when eyes perceive a visual stimulus as too bright.  Direct glare is a bright light that can directly affect one’s vision; indirect glare is a type of glare that occurs when a bright light reflects onto a surface.  In order to reduce glare, museums must take care to ensure that transparent lighting cases do not readily reflect light or cause shadowing.  It is best to illuminate such cases from a distance with a wider, brighter light.  Our chandeliers can be a good solution for museums that utilize such transparent cases, in order to widely disperse the light without directly pointing a light source towards the glass case.

Both glare and visual adaptation can interfere significantly with the museum experience, causing severe problems.  Remember to choose lighting options that accentuate the details of a piece without flooding the piece with light or causing bright light to reflect off of adjacent surfaces.


Make sure that your museum lighting matches museum architecture

Architects and interior designers must work together with those who make the museum’s lighting decisions for a variety of reasons.  The artifacts in the museum must be properly lit to enhance all of the different subtleties and details of each item; the artifacts must be illuminated in a way that does not damage the structure or content of the museum item; and the overall lighting theme between each of the different exhibits and museum collection items maintains decorative continuity with both the overall design theme of the museum as well as other spaces that do not house collection items – including the gift shop, parking lot, and museum entrance.  When the lighting in a museum does not match the building’s architecture, this can create a negative experience for a museum visitor, who can notice glare, brightness or darkness of exhibits, and experience difficulty taking in all the details of the artifacts.


Consider layered lighting

Just as you would add different layers to your outfit on a day when the weather is unpredictably cold or warm, layered lighting can help you achieve a certain kind of visual aesthetic.  Just as layers work in an outfit, the layers of light work together harmoniously to create a uniquely unified design.  There are several types of light layers.  Your museum will likely need layering of all four types of lighting.

  • Ambient lighting  refers to the overall lighting of a room.  This level of light is a lot lower than other types of lighting.  Ambient light can be useful for museum restaurants and exhibits without a lot of text that require careful reading.
  • Task lighting is a type of lighting that is used for work, such as reading or writing.  Task lighting can be a good option for artifacts which have placards with long descriptions or explanations next to them.
  • Focal lighting draws attention to an object and is a good idea for artifacts with many details.  Many different focused lights can be used to emphasize the different details on a museum artifact.
  • Decorative lighting refers to the decorative nature of the light source itself.  While our chandeliers can also be used as ambient, task, and focal lighting, they are primarily a source of decorative lighting that can add pizzazz to your museum space.


Remember that museums require unique lighting solutions

To illuminate a given artifact, you may need a soft light or several bright points of light coming in from different angles.  You will need to consider whether your item is two-dimensional such as a wall painting or three-dimensional such as a sculpture.  You may wish to strongly illuminate the most salient or important detail or location of a wall painting. Three-dimensional objects such as sculptures, china, and other artifacts, may require different lighting options to emphasize the contrasts and natural shadows created by the dimensions of the art.  Make sure to avoid glare and take actions to reduce the effect of the light on the quality of the artifact.  LED bulbs can reduce the heat, UV light, and infrared radiation that museum pieces are exposed to on a daily basis.  Our chandeliers can help you find a solution to your museum lighting needs.