What classic movies teach us about lighting

Is there anything more glamorous and timeless than a classic movie on the silver screen? We still go to the movies or watch them at home, but remember when a Saturday night meant getting dressed up and going to theatre with curtains across the screen? The sheers would be mechanically drawn and viola!–stars, sets, and stunning scenes. There seemed to be nobody more handsome than Cary Grant or Steve McQueen, nobody more beautiful than Marilyn or Audrey. And the sets! “Casablanca” transported us, while “Auntie Mame” made us want to re-decorate every six months. Those were the days—and you can have that glamour again if you follow these tips for lighting.

  • Warm, soft lighting for faces. How we adore thee. A low-wattage incandescent bulb still casts a warm flattering light, while inner-lined silk lampshades soften the hard lines in a room. Some classic decorators would even line these lampshades in a soft pink, but we’ve never ventured this far. A halogen bulb beneath amber-colored glass also casts a flattering glow. This romantic scene, below, from Chocolat, shows what a difference lighting can make.


  •  Chandeliers and sconces as a focal point. There will always be a need for straight-forward task lighting. But for entertaining, why not have some fun? The chandeliers in “Casablanca” (almost) steal the show:

  • Just as the exotic, warm port city in Morocco inspired “Casablanca,” so the golden sky of coastal Italy inspired Quoizel’s Genova chandelier. The Sienna-hued glass casts a flattering light on those dining below. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid. 

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