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Let There Be Light: Vintage Light Fixtures Throughout the Decades

Updated: Jun 19

Never mind the furniture and throw pillows – the light fixtures you choose can make or break the look and feel of any home. From the warm glow of a vintage lamp on your side table to modern vintage ceiling lighting illuminating your dining room, the designs you pick are essential. But, with so many cookie-cutter light fixtures out there, it can feel impossible to find ones that match your unique style.

Whether elevating your home office with an antique desk and matching vintage light fixture or finding unique pieces for your bedroom, shopping for vintage lighting is the key to personalizing your home. But how have lighting designs evolved in the last century? How can you tell a 1920s light fixture from a mid-century modern style? And where do you go to find these precious pieces? Let’s answer all your questions and more with a look into the most stylish vintage light fixture decades.

Why Decorate with Vintage Light Fixtures

Adding unique vintage lighting to your décor gives your home a one-of-a-kind style. From setting up 1920s light fixtures in your guest room to selecting a daring vintage ceiling lighting piece, these small, often unnoticed fixtures are the key to transforming the mood of each room. Learning how to decorate with vintage décor and pairing lights from decades past with modern rugs and heirloom furniture creates a home that’s one of a kind.

Vintage light fixtures are made to last. Decades ago, everything from antique furniture to vintage linens, was designed with durability in mind. These pieces have survived this long, and with the proper care, you’ll have them in your home for a lifetime. Skip the cheaply made table lamps and string lights of today and invest in the sustainable and stunning vintage light fixtures from yesteryear.

Define Vintage vs Antique Lighting

Antique lighting is over a hundred years old, while vintage light fixtures are at least 20 years old. Anything from before the early 19th century would now be considered antique, whether you’re searching for chandeliers from Versailles or out-of-print nickels to start your coin collection. Vintage ceiling lighting can be from any time between the mid-century and early 2000s. Our locations have a wide variety of vintage and antique light fixture options at all price points.

Vintage Lighting Throughout the Decades

Every decade has a different style, from the contemporary vintage ceiling lighting of the ‘60s to 1920s light fixtures. Learn more and find one you love:

Antique Lighting from the Early 1900s

At the turn of the century, every conceivable style of lighting was used, with some houses still decorating with tried-and-true candlelight and others stepping away from gas lamp options into modern, electric lighting. The Arts and Crafts movement led artists to rebel against mass production, leading to vintage lamp styles that valued simplicity and symmetry. Most were designed to blend into the dark wood features of homes, so any vintage ceiling lighting lacked ornamentation and stuck to the basics.

Their boxy shape and simple shades defined the average vintage lamp from the early 1900s. The stand for the lamp was usually made with something like wood, copper, or pottery, while the shade was made of metal, colored glass, or translucent parchment. Vintage ceiling lighting from this time is reminiscent of the decadent chandeliers seen in years prior.

1920s Light Fixture and Art Deco Designs

The 1920s were a time for extravagance, from flappers donning their best pearls for danceathons to beautiful vintage light fixtures. The Art Deco movement is considered one of the most influential styles in history, and lighting designers used the key elements to create the beloved and beautiful 1920s light fixtures we still love today. Antique lighting of this period combined versatility and utility with bold geometric shapes and design choices.

In previous decades, vintage ceiling lighting was dim, subtle, and round, but with modern technology and innovations, from skyscrapers to airplanes, 1920s light fixtures had to evolve. Known for their sharp silhouettes and unforgettable glam, 1920s light fixtures bring an Old Hollywood feel into any home.

Popular 1920s Light Fixtures:

  1. Pendant bar lights

  2. Period lighting

  3. Tiffany lamps

  4. Chandeliers

  5. Sloping vintage ceiling lighting

Vintage Light Fixtures from the ‘30s and ‘40s

The popular term “The Dirty Thirties” had nothing to do with deviancy and everything to do with the dust bowls and the Great Depression. In a time when the average family was struggling, investing in brand-new or glamorous 1920s light fixtures and vintage ceiling lighting was not realistic. In fact, 90% of homes in the U.S. still didn’t have electricity—but that was soon to change. When disaster strikes a nation, styles must evolve.

Not many new designs were produced during this time of war, with most families continuing to decorate with 1920s light fixtures. But the now-vintage light fixtures made in the early 1940s leaned more traditional, harkening back to the simplicity of clean lines, basic metals, and affordable designs. Any of these vintage ceiling lights or lamps blended modernism and traditionalism, valuing function over personal style.

Mid-Century Modern Vintage Lighting

As the dust settled and the war ended towards the end of the ‘40s, a new style boom hit the market. Mid-century modern is one of the most beloved design eras for vintage lovers to this day, from the furniture to the clothing styles and, of course, vintage light fixtures. Whether you’re a fan of “Mad Men” or remember sitting in your grandfather’s stylish living room, this trend remains a favorite. If you want to incorporate a timeless feel into your contemporary style, vintage ceiling lighting fixtures and lamps from this era bring elegance and class to any home.

Bold shapes and silhouettes challenged the definition of what lamps or vintage ceiling lighting could be. From the spiky, gold design of the Sputnik chandelier, named after the first successful space satellite in 1957, to quirky, sculptural floor lamps, each piece from this time was inspired by the core elements of the mid-century modern movement. With sleek curves and angles, pops of retro colors, and simple yet futuristic forms, mid-century modern vintage light fixtures utilized affordable materials such as plastic as well as normal wood and glass to create iconic pieces.

Famous Mid-Century Modern Lighting Designers:

Mid-century modern was a worldwide trend, with standout designers emerging from all over. If you spot one of these renowned names on a piece, either while learning to sell vintage pieces or when browsing in a Florida antique mall, you’ve stumbled across a valuable, mid-century modern vintage light fixture:

  • Gino Sarfatti

  • Gaetano Sciolari

  • Arne Jacobson

  • Emil Stejnar

  • Otto Koln

  • The Castiglioni Brothers

  • Serge Mouille

The Space-Age Vintage Light Fixtures of the 1960s

For many interior designers, mid-century modern was all the rage through the ‘70s, but the ‘60s had a few staple vintage light fixtures that are still around today. With newfound inspiration, traditional and symmetrical designs became a thing of the past. Every fixture was designed with futuristic, space-age, eclectic tastes in mind, from the vibrant colors to the use of metal.

These vintage lamps, like the iconic Eclisse table lamps, were often either sleek or curved, featuring an oversized lampshade, with most using shiny metals to mimic the world’s fascination with space travel. The now-vintage ceiling lighting from this time focused on popular colors and modern shapes, from the chandeliers to the ornate bulbs. But that’s not all—the iconic invention of the groovy lava lamp brought a fresh and vibrant look to home décor never seen before in previous decades.

Colorful, Vintage Light Fixtures of the 1970s

Everything in the ‘70s, from flower-power clothing to "The Brady Bunch,” was a burst of colors, shapes, and playful touches. Lighting at this time was designed with warm, earthy tones and quirky shapes. Whether you grew up surrounded by the funky look of ‘70s vintage lamps or want to incorporate nostalgia into your modern home, these vintage light fixtures never go out of style.

From mushroom-shaped table lamps to vintage ceiling lighting with multiple layers, ‘70s light fixtures pushed the limits on what lights “had” to look like, showcasing unique shapes and styles to suit any home. Flowerpot lights, famous for their two hemispheres casting a downward, ambient glow, give that classic ‘70s look to any room. Whimsical, colorful, and oh-so-bold, this style is prominent in homes worldwide.

Bold Lighting in the 1980s

The lighting in the ‘80s was as bright and stylish as the rest of the decade. Designs were industrial and modern, from round or conical vintage ceiling lighting pendants illuminating the kitchen to the bright, exposed bulbs on the perimeter of vanity mirrors. With a brief return to Art Deco style found in the ceramic bases of vintage table lamps to the unmistakably ‘80s glow of neon lights, every vintage light fixture from this decade is bold in its own way.

Modern Lights in the ‘90s and Onwards

While this decade is technically considered vintage on paper, these lamps and vintage ceiling lighting styles were what many of this generation grew up on! For many homes, track lighting became a popular alternative to in-wall lighting, featuring exposed bulbs on metal tracks. Minimalism and muted colors became the preferred style as suburban homes across the nation evolved from the colorful and over-the-top styles of the previous decades. Sleek chandeliers and neutral, sophisticated color palettes became the norm.

How to Spot Vintage Light Fixtures

When shopping at a flea market or looking for the perfect vintage light fixture to add to your curated collection, it can be difficult to know whether or not a lamp is vintage without an expert. If you come across something you’re unsure of, check the silhouette style, type of glass, and bulb age. Edison bulbs, certain ceramics, types of metals and colors are all distinguishable features for different ages of vintage light fixtures. Research the differences between decades to prepare as you start your search.

Shopping for Antique Lighting Online

Antique lighting can be found anywhere if you know how to look! With countless collectors worldwide who share the same interests as you, you have your pick of different vintage ceiling lighting and floor lamp options. After deciding which decades you love, from 1920s light fixtures to iconic ‘70s designs, you can narrow your search on online auction sites, Facebook groups, and individual vendor websites to find the perfect fit from the comfort of your home.

Finding Vintage Lighting at Antique Malls

Whether you’re browsing the aisles of a Chicago antique mall or attending a vintage event, there are sure to be different vintage light fixture options every time. With a rotating stock and experienced vendors, shops like ours specialize in presenting you with various trustworthy and beautiful lighting pieces. Every visit is a new experience—so stop in regularly to hunt down the perfect vintage ceiling lighting fixture for your home.

3 Tips for Buying Vintage Light Fixtures

When it comes down to it, how do you decide if a vintage light fixture is worth buying?

Use our three tips to see if it’s the right fit for your home:

  1. Check to see if the vintage ceiling lighting is functional or needs repair! Many antique malls and vintage stores have an area where you can plug them in to see for yourself, but if you’re buying online, you want to have a transparent conversation with the seller to determine if it will work inside your home before making a purchase.

  2. See if the light in the vintage lamp or chandelier is warm or cool. Everyone has their preference, so make sure it’s the type you love.

  3. Consider how the vintage light fixture will work with the other décor in your room—consider color, style, and era to show off your unique style.

While vintage ceiling lighting and lamps help illuminate our homes at night, they’re about more than utility. Every room in your home can be enhanced with a vintage light fixture to show your one-of-a-kind style and personality. After learning about each decade’s signature look and iconic designs, you can easily find the perfect addition to your home.

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