Exposed bulb light fixtures seem to inspire very intense feelings — people either love them or hate them. And sometimes people can feel both sentiments at once!!!
For instance, you might LOVE the modern style of many exposed bulb fixtures…
… but HATE a glaring bare bulb in your eyes.
I fall into that love/hate camp — some exposed bulb fixtures are just so darn cool! I love imagining up scenarios where I can use them.
However, I also know that bare bulbs don’t actually provide the best light (a reflector behind the bulb helps), and they can be hard on the eyes when at close range.
AND for anyone who might be sick of industrial style decor (not necessarily me when the situation is right, but there are those who feel that way!), the thought of a yellowed Edison bulb might send them running for the nearest crystal chandelier with candelabra bulbs!
Exposed bulb light fixtures have now become so ubiquitous over the last 10 years that they aren’t really even a “trend” anymore.
Why the bad rep?
I think one of the reasons you see exposed bulb lights EVERYWHERE nowadays is twofold:
- They tend to be less expensive — They don’t have opal glass or fabric shades. Fewer materials = cheaper.
- Because they are cheaper, AND industrial looking, they are a great fit for the modern farmhouse style Joanna Gaines made so popular on Fixer-Upper (which basically became the style guide for 75% of homeowners from 2013 until recently).
And then there’s that millennial-mid-century-boho style popularized by Emily Henderson (and West Elm!).
For those homeowners who aren’t attracted to EITHER of those styles, I think exposed bulb lighting has gotten a bad rep.
Exposed Bulbs in Design History
Not that exposed bulb fixtures were ever trendy per se — in fact, the current ones are inspired by history. Exposed bulb lights have been around since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879.
I used a few different types of exposed bulb fixtures in the historically-inspired kitchen renovation of our 1790 house.
Its was a really rainy day when we did the photoshoot. The butler’s pantry doesn’t have any windows, so we had to turn the lights on in order to shoot. But here is what those little ceiling lights look like when the light isn’t blown out.
Cute, right? Well, I think so. 🙂
Playing with Light Bulb Size, Shape, & Opacity
But my little star flush mount isn’t advertised the way I ended up installing it in my home. In product photos, it looks like this:
With an Edison bulb.
I don’t necessarily mind Edison bulbs, but they DO NOT go with my Federal farmhouse, which tends just a bit formal. What I want you to notice how just changing the shape/scale affects the AESTHETIC. I switched out the Edison bulb for something a little more clean & quiet.
This little bulb is tidy and refined, just what I wanted.
Exposed bulb fixtures give you the opportunity to have tons of fun playing with size/shade/opacity!
To show you more examples, I went to one of the portfolios of one of my FAVORITE designers, Heidi Callier. I love her muddy colors and mix of history & a modern twist.
The gilt finish of the gorgeous branch chandelier tends formal, but the clean round bulbs make it feel more casual. But what if I changed the light bulbs to a candle bulb?
More formal, yes?
Look at the island pendants in the kitchen below.
Her pendants have a traditional style very similar to the ones I chose for my kitchen, but the bulbs completely change the overall feel.
Lastly, look at the classic lantern over the breakfast table.
Heidi again uses her little round bulbs to modernize a very traditional fixture. In doing so, she finely blends the fixture the traditional cabinetry & the modern Saarinen table. But look below to see how the lantern is typically photographed.
Another example — take this chandelier, for instance.
Candle bulbs = traditional. Torpedo bulbs = transitional.
You can also switch out clear bulbs for opaque ones. Not only will this change the look, but it will also soften the light, for those of you for whom an exposed filament is a total no-go.
For this illustration, I’m going to reference designer Philadelphia designer Michelle Gage.
I stored this image away in my memory file, because Michelle used the same fixture that I did in the “converted porch” area of my kitchen.
Whereas I used clear candelabra bulbs that disappear, Michelle used opaque round bulbs that pop. Makes a difference — traditional/modern.
What are your feelings about exposed bulb fixtures? Let me know in the comments!
Have I made you see exposed bulb light fixtures “in a new light?” HAHAHA.
Some additional lighting posts that you may like:
Colorful Kitchen Island Pendants
What to Do When You Can’t Hardwire a Switch
It’s gonna be a COLD Memorial Day weekend here in New Hampshire. We may actually build a fire in the stove. My sincerest gratitude to our service men & women for their courage & sacrifice! And whatever your plans, I wish you a safe and wonderful holiday weekend.
‘Til next week!
6 thoughts on “Changing the Bulb: A Cool Trick That’ll Make You Like Exposed Bulb Light Fixtures”
I love the look of exposed bulbs in many of the fixtures you featured. I sometimes use frosted bulbs to cut down on the glare, even though I know it changes the look.
Great ideas here!
Thanks, Diana! There are so many exposed bulb options beyond the farmhouse & industrial styles. And as you know, fun lighting is a great way to freshen up traditional decor!
Thank you, that was a great article on how a simple light bulb can make a huge difference.
You’re welcome, Heidi! I’m all about simple tweaks to create a subtle impact. Call me lazy! 🤪
This is amazing – I have thought quite a bit about bulbs’ impact in fixtures and not ever seen more than a random mention here and there about shape options and effects. Our LR has a black curved arm chandelier that is pretty simple and streamlined but could go farmhouse or trad with typical candelabra bulbs. My hubby got some smooth football shaped little bulbs where the whole bottom half is white, and it helps the fixture look modern. Fits in well with my millenial-mid-century-boho-vintage home!
Thanks, Julie! Glad you like the post, and feel free to share! I don’t know that I’ve seen a bulb like you mention. Would love to have a source…. -A
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