Indirect lighting takes America by storm

New technology solves glare, safety issues

Chances are, movie palaces changed the way you light your home. After electric lighting replaced gaslight at the end of the 19th century, most electric lighting was "specular," a fancy way of saying it came from a point source like the white-hot filament of a standard light bulb. That situation changed during the 1920s with the arrival of indirect lighting ("indirect" meaning that the light source is hidden). Indirect lighting took a while to catch on because, at first, electric fixtures were used just like gas mantles. No one thought of hiding them, since doing so would have been foolhardy with gas. Moreover, exposed light bulbs were initially seen as an emblem of modernity. If you've ever tried to read by the light of an unshaded light bulb, though, you know that the glare they produce can be a real problem. Indirect lighting provided a dramatic solution: By concealing the light source, it diffused the light and, unlike an ordinary shade, completely eliminated specular glare. Mo...