Vintage style in a modern light bulb: retro LEDs

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips, Green Renovations

Edison bulbs

Vintage style Edison bulbs were the last vestige of incandescent lighting for historic preservationists. When I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright Robbie House in Chicago several years ago, they were undergoing a "green" restoration. Given the poor state of efficient lighting at the time the project team had to make pathetic compromises. Where the bulbs were visible and integral to Wright's design of the fixture, there was no choice but to keep the old school, inefficient clear filament bulbs. In hidden fixtures they used CFL bulbs that sacrificed lighting quality.

If you still hold onto the cool look of the 19th century filament bulbs, you now have more choices than ever. LEDs are now available in virtually every historic style. In fact, many manufacturers have taken these bulbs a step further by creating new, modern bulbs inspired by the old school clear bulbs.

Edison LED

Antique replica bulbs are making a huge comeback thanks to new LED technology. The quality of light of the clear LED bulbs is unparalleled. They are often dimmable and come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of brightness.

Part of the appeal of the old style bulbs was the very warm, almost flame-like color temperature. Where typical incandescent bulbs are in the range of 2700 kelvins (a measure of color temperature where the lower the number the more orange or yellow it is), the 19th century Edison incandescents could go even lower and achieve a much warmer glow. The retro-style LED bulbs now come in ultra low color temperatures that rival the antique bulbs.

LED chandelier

On a recent trip to Italy, I rented an apartment in Verona that was loaded with vintage style LED bulbs. The 1920s-era apartment was decorated in what I would call a contemporary vintage revival. A vintage style dragon ball LED bulb graced a modern wall sconce. Dozens of clear candle style LEDs ornamented a modern take on a classic chandelier.

LED reproduction bulbs come in nearly every style to fit into an antique fixture. Even more are available in styles you've never imagined. Etsy is chock-full of handmade fixtures that are begging for unique light bulbs to make your home stand apart.

Types of LED Edison bulbs

The creativity of bulbs is not limited to the shape of the glass. Now designers are going nuts with the shape of the filament itself. Originally, the Edison bulbs were made with straight filaments. The technology limited it to linear strips. Now LED retro bulbs are made with diamond shapes, whimsical spirals, quad-looped and hairpin filaments.

If there is a problem with LEDs it's that there may now be too many choices. If you're going for the strict preservationist style, then you're in luck. There is an LED bulb available to replace a bulb in an existing antique fixture with an exact replica. If you want to get creative, be careful. There is a dizzying array of ways you can drive yourself insane trying to decide how many home decorators it takes to change a light bulb.

Want to see more of them? Here, Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Taliesin West gets LED lighting upgrade, and here, you can check out LED Lights for historic houses.

Photo of LED light strip via Aliexpress

Photo of Edison style bulbs via LedHouses.com

Photos of LED dragon ball bulb and LED chandelier by Matt Grocoff


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