Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chinoiserie for Your Porch

In my last post, we toured East Cambridge where I noticed that many of the early-1800s-period homes had chinoiserie light fixtures. Chinoiserie is a french term meaning inspired by Chinese design or reflecting a Chinese influence. The Old China Trade, a name given to an active period of commerce between China and the United States, occurred between 1783 and 1844. So it makes total sense that a Chinese influence might be seen in the fixtures and furnishing of early American homes.

Since I'm doing more of a classic vintage but eclectic look (with a mix of antique pieces) on the interior of the house, I was planning to use a porch light something like this schoolhouse fixture. But after my field trip to East Cambridge, I'm rethinking that idea. Here a few of the fixtures I found that are considered American Traditional but have a distinctive chinoiserie feel.

All of these light fixtures were fun to look for and consider, but I don't think any of them will work for me. First, my house is very petite. it's the smallest Greek Revival I've seen anywhere in the city. My interior ceilings are 7'5" and although I can expect a little more head room out on the porch, I don't think I have enough head room for a pendant.

If I want to have shutters on the front windows, there's no room left over for a wall sconce.

But if I really pimp out the back porch...
...it might be nice to have a light source that isn't overhead.

Another problem is they vary in price from a few hundred dollars each to over $1000 for the top one. I would need three lights: one for the front porch and one for each of the back porches.

I'm on a really tight budget with this project so anywhere I can save money right now is really important.

So now that I've studied the details of these expensive fixtures, I'm better able to look for something cheaper that might express the same feeling. I can always swap them out later when I'm a little more flush with cash.

So I found this ceiling mount fixture which solves the potential head room issue and I think has a little bit of that same chinoiserie feel. I realize I'm compromising here but at $26 each, I'm able to buy three so that all of the exterior fixtures will now match.

I'm happy with this choice. I think these will look appropriate and won't steal the show on the front porch. They'll have a good supporting role.

But don't tell anyone they were so cheap. It'll be our secret.


  1. Hi Steve,
    I actually very much like the one you have chosen - I think it has all the qualities you're looking for and will look fabulous on your porches. It's looks just as great as the pendants you showed.
    I love the schoolhouse pendants and would use them inside - maybe in your kitchen.
    Be happy about the price...you can spend the money somewhere else like "pimping out" the back porch!

    :) Sarah

  2. hi steve,

    oh i do love chinoiserie and the first one, mmmmm. but i understand your dilemma with the size of the cottage and your budget. you made the right decision. we just recently found a pair of lights that we installed on our tiny front porch that we got at a junk sale for $5 for the pair. they are authentic to the period and fit perfect. so you never know what you'll find down the road.


  3. I really like your choice. A bargain is always a good thing.

  4. Great choice. Can't wait to see the results!

  5. Hi! I'm new to your blog -- I live in mid-Cambridge now, though I'm relocating to Vermont at the end of the week. Anyway, there is the most amazing light fixture on my street that you really must check out. I think the house is 37 Trowbridge Street. It's a smaller, single family Mansard victorian house with really lovely landscaping (and right next door to where the Russian spies lived.) I've often thought that their light fixture over the front door is the most amazing one I've ever seen! If i think of it, I'll snap a quick picture on my way home tonight. :)

  6. Steve..I am also new..via A Country Farmhouse..You have great taste and ideas..My husband and I are both from Cambridge..he West, myself North.. transplanted to West Medford..but will always be Cantabrigian's .We have been looking at lights for our front porch and I believe I found it...my I ask where YOU found it? Best of luck with the redo..can't wait for updates..Ellie

  7. I googled "historic exterior lighting" and went through several websites that came up. The ones that are pictured are from Circa Lighting, Yale Electric which you probably know in Dorchester, and a few I can't remember. The lights I purchased are made by a company called Maxim and there seem to be many distributors that carry them. I found one I liked and then goggled the model number to find the best price.