Modern Lighting: What It Is and How It Can Complement Your Style

Sometimes a dish just needs a pinch of salt. It’s that one little tweak that kicks things up a notch. The same can be said for interior design. Instead of taking on the headaches of a total home renovation, try updating your space with modern lighting. Thanks to sleek shapes and neutral tones, modern light fixtures are universally accepted. When done right, you’ll get a sense of something new without ever disrupting your home’s original design style.

At this point, you probably have a few questions. Don’t worry; we’ll walk you through how to use modern lighting to enhance your home.   

What is Modern Lighting?

To fully appreciate modern lighting, it helps to know a little bit about its roots. Modern lighting is just one facet of the modern design movement (aka modernism), which has an interesting origin story. At the very least, this will be a good history lesson.

The birth of modern design:

Modernism refers to a specific time period in history when art began to shift. It all started in the late 19th century, in large part due to the Industrial Revolution. New technologies were leading to new art-making techniques and cool, new materials.

As a result, artists began to experiment more with their craft. In fact, the creative crusaders of modernism experimented so much so that they rejected all previous influences. The ornate patterns and heavy textures of the Gothic, Renaissance and Victorian eras were all but forgotten. Instead, modern designers relied on clean, straight lines and adopted an overall love for minimalism.

The key elements of modern lighting:

With minimalism driving the design movement, you’ll notice that modern designs favor function over form. In the case of modern lighting, the light source itself takes precedence. Illumination is the focal point, because that’s the purpose of the fixture. To accomplish this very efficient, industrial-inspired style, lighting designers employ a few specific elements. Therefore, modern lighting can most easily be defined by the following materials, shapes and color palettes.

Materials – While wood is a timeless choice that you will commonly see in industrial lighting designs, it’s not the preferred choice in modernism. Remember, the Industrial Revolution came about to increase productivity and efficiencies. This ushered in affordable, easy-to-manipulate materials, like steel, chrome, and plastic.

Shapes – Even though function trumps form, shape is not lost in the equation. It is, however, pared down. That’s why most modern light fixtures are made with clean, straight lines. Any shapes you might see are abstract or geometric in nature – circles, squares, rectangles, and pyramids, to name a few.

Color palettes – When it comes to color, modern lighting takes the minimalist approach where natural tones and monochromatic palettes are the norm. To blend in with these designs, modern light fixtures remain neutral: gold, gray or black.

Which Styles Work Best With Modern Lighting?

The simplicity of modernism is what makes it such a versatile art. Almost any design style can benefit from the shapes and colors of modern lighting. The neutral finishes, for example, easily adapt to new and different environments. After all, neutral means impartial – and that makes for a flexible design. In other instances, modern lighting doesn’t just blend in; it enhances a space with a bold, geometric shape or an unexpected mix of materials.

Whether you need modern lighting to adapt or enhance your home’s personality, it will find a purpose and it will serve you well. Below are some examples of what modern lighting can do when it’s incorporated into other design styles.

Traditional style + modern lighting

Why it works:

Traditional homes are filled with detail and texture. Everything from the handmade coffee table to the patterned area rug has a rich story. But add a simple, geometric pendant to the room, and your eye travels straight up. When one thing is not like the rest, it creates a focal point.

Industrial style + modern lighting

Why it works:

As mentioned, modernism and modern lighting are inspired by industrialism. So this pairing is far from forced, especially if you choose the right finish for your light fixture. Matte black is a no-brainer, as it will complement the exposed pipes and other black steel finishes. If you prefer some shine, antique gold or brass bring out the warm charm of grainy wood floors.

Contemporary style + modern lighting

Why it works:

While modern style is not the same as contemporary, there is overlap in their forms. The repeating shapes create texture and interest without adding to the visual weight of the room. Since contemporary and modern styles are both founded on simple, uncluttered layouts, this design technique makes them a perfect match.

Scandinavian style + modern lighting

Why it works:

Scandinavian design is also rooted in minimalism, but that’s not the only reason modern lighting fits here. This Nordic style also favors sculptural elements, which modern lighting designs offer in spades. Their abstract forms really get to pop against the room’s neutral color palette. It’s like a blank backdrop that allows stand-out pieces to shine.   

Coastal style + modern lighting

Why it works:

With cool, neutral palettes, linen upholstery, and sheer window treatments, you can understand why coastal is synonymous with casual. But put a sleek, chrome-finished chandelier in the center, and your beach-inspired bungalow is instantly elevated to laid-back luxury. Not to mention, a light-bouncing, abstract accessory looks perfectly organic among driftwood décor and nautical stripes.

Can Modern Lighting be Used in Any Room?

The short answer is yes, you can add a piece (or two or three) of modern lighting to any room in the house. Modern lighting has no boundaries because it can take on so many functions. If there’s a need for it, there’s a fixture for it. The proof is in the pictures.

In the Bedroom:

Arden table lamp adds abstract modern lighting to a transitional-style bedroom.

Arden Table Lamp by Mitzi

When celestial lighting meets modern design, you get the Arden table lamp. Its open crescent not only speaks to the night sky, but it allows a soft-lit full moon to grab your gaze. If that doesn’t pull you in, maybe you’ll appreciate the crackled glass or warm aged brass. These touches of comfort on your bedside table will surely send you straight to sleep.

Avvo Max ceiling fan in Quicksilver reflects natural light, enhances a cool, coastal bedroom.

Avvo Max by Monte Carlo

With a six-speed motor and 64-inch blade span, you can count on the Avvo Maxx to keep you cool. What you might not expect, however, is the elegantly simple design to bring so much life to your bedroom. The three delicate blades look like a flower just starting to bloom. The energy is almost impossible to contain, especially when you choose the reflective Quicksilver finish. It’ll bounce natural sunlight all around your coastal-style bedroom.

In the Foyer:

Fizz mini pendant proves that modern lighting adds personality to contemporary entryways.

Fizz Mini Pendant by ET2 Lighting

All mini pendant lights have a knack for adding personality. The Fizz mini pendant just happens to take that responsibility to heart. At its core is a high-output LED bulb, which accentuates those tiny bubbles etched inside the rectangular glass cube. Hang a series in a row and your foyer will be filled with excitement.  

On the Outside:

Welcome guests to your front door with modern lighting, using the Folds wall light.

Folds Wall Light by Sonneman

The name says it all. The Folds wall sconce literally envelops its own LED light to create a smoky shadow effect. The shadows are anything but eerie, though. In fact, the bronze-tinted glow provides a sense of comfort especially when used as a guide for guests. Position one on either side of your front door to send a welcoming message to friends and family.

In the Dining Room or Kitchen:

The three-ring Orion fixture instantly brings something new to a traditional-style dining room.

Orion by Hubbardton Forge

If you’re on the hunt for something whimsical, the three-ring Orion will be a modern feast for your traditional dining room. First of all, the design swirls around itself like a twisted vine. Then, at the end of each stem is a petal of metal that draws attention when the lights are on. With its modern shape and rustic finish, the Orion offers everything you need to make a room feel new again.

In the Living Room:

With its 25 frosted edges, the Spur chandelier is a modern sculpture in a minimalist living room.

Spur Chandelier by Tech Lighting

The Spur chandelier is exactly what Scandinavian style craves. It’s light on materials and color, but rich in art. While you could hang paintings and mirrors, the 25 frosted spurs jutting out from every direction might be all you need. Even when the lights are off this sculptural design spurs conversations that will surprise you. Center it in your living room and there’s no telling how your discussion will branch out.

In the Bathroom:

Synergy wall sconce combines modern lighting function and form to light your bathroom vanity.

Synergy Wall Sconce by Kuzco

At first glance, you might think form overcomes function in the Synergy wall sconce. But once you turn on the curly creation, you’ll quickly realize how much emphasis is actually placed on lighting. Its helical design allows the bright LED light to swirl around in all directions. It’s the perfect solution for your bathroom vanity, where you need the light but want the style.

Mix It Up

There’s no design rule that says your home has to be purely traditional or solely Scandinavian. In many cases, combining styles makes for a more interesting living space. Plus, mixing a little of this with that can be easy and economical. So before you agree to any budget-busting makeovers, consider modern lighting. These uniquely crafted centerpieces may be inspired by a historical generation of art, but they will bring a renewed sense of style to your home.

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