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French-Wired vs. Standard-Wired Lamps

Know Your Lighting Terms

May 02, 2019
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French-Wired vs. Standard-Wired Lamps

Know Your Lighting Terms

May 02, 2019

So you've decided to get a new table lamp. It's an excellent idea: a foolproof way to freshen up a space, a great way to get more texture involved in the room. Beyond their decorative impact, lamps serve as accent light in creating a room's mood, as well as task light for important domestic activities such as reading.

We call them "portables" in the lighting industry because you don't have to hardwire them to your wall or ceiling. You can move them around whenever you want, making them perfect for a quick refresh. Since they're not wired to the wall, they have a visible cord. This raises questions for the designer as well as the consumer. How much should a cord be seen? Should it have a dimmer on it? Is it part of the lamp's aesthetic design? Should it be covered in fabric?

This issue of the visibility of the cord mostly comes down to how the lamp is wired.

The two main styles are French-wired and standard-wired.

Standard, true to its name, is the more common way, the norm. The wire is hidden in the body of the lamp and discreetly exits through the base, making it easy to conceal. But French? What's with that?

Come with us for a minute on a fun thought experiment.


Design: Up to Date Interiors | Lamp: Mia by Mitzi

Imagine for a minute it is many years ago—let's say anytime between the twenties and early sixties—and you're living in Paris. Put yourself in those clothes; give yourself that haircut. You have an apartment and you're furnishing it bit by bit, finding just the right pieces until it all clicks into place. 

The best place to find these items is in the flea markets. You find one-of-a-kind objects that have a certain je ne sais quoi. Even better, you get them at a steal, securing bragging rights when people ask about them (which they invariably do). 

Wandering these markets in France, you chance upon a really cool old decorative object. You say to yourself, 'This is a really cool thing. I would love to take this cool thing home and use it as a light fixture. People will notice this cool thing—so obviously unique, so very not store-bought—and compliment my excellent taste and market-scouring savvy.'  

To transform this sweet flea market score into a working light fixture, you'll have to install a socket, switch, and cord. The cord will exit right from the socket. Maybe you're a savvy one, and you do this yourself. Maybe you get someone crafty to help. In either case, you wind up doing something that eventually takes this French locale for its name, and Voila! There's your new French-wired table lamp!


The Saint Ouen Flea Market, started in the 1870s, one of Paris's most famous ones.

In this way, the French-wired lamp was born. 

People continue to make their own lighting fixtures like this out of vintage decorative objects with their own distinctive charm. But why would a lamp that was made to be a lamp be French-wired? And does that make it superior or inferior to a standard-wired one?

The main point of French-wiring is to circumvent compromising the material that forms the body of the lamp. In a standard lamp, the electrical wiring travels through the body, often down the center through a metal cylinder we call the pipe. Exiting discreetly through the base, the cord is easy to conceal. For most people and most lamps, this is aesthetically preferable and entirely practical. 

But when the body of the lamp is made of some clear material like crystal or acrylic, it may be both aesthetically undesirable as well as utterly impractical to do it that way. The rich appearance of these materials would be compromised by this pipe; if those materials form a circle or some other shape with a hollow center for the body, there's no way to go the standard route. In those instances, lighting designers go back to those flea market finds and French-wire it. The cord exits the fixture from the area around the socket or neck. 

 

We don't believe one way is inherently superior to the other. It's a question that comes on an individual basis: what is the best way to wire this particular lamp, given its material, shape, design? 

Today, having visible wiring is seen as a desirable thing. It's part of a certain look. For people drawn to that look, a French-wired lamp might be preferable. It's easy to imagine the sort of person who might be drawn to the French-wired lamp because it's less common and it has that historical element to it.

Other folks just can't stand seeing a cord, and like it neatly tucked behind a sidetable out of view. For them, it's going to be a standard-wired lamp, any day of the week.

The decision isn't always so cut and dry, though.

 


Tompkins, Hudson Valley Lighting. A standard-wired lamp.


Nicole, Mitzi by Hudson Valley Lighting. A French-wired lamp.

A good example is Hunts Point. This elegant table lamp (also available as a floor lamp) has a metal base and shade which run parallel to each other from a body off to one side. Hunts Point has a thick acrylic post, which is rather glamorous. Drilling a hole down through the center of it for the wire would ruin the look and compromise the material, so the wire comes out from the shade and runs down the back of the post. To conceal this electrical cord, a small hoop keeps it neatly tucked and out of sight. 

Hunts Point, Hudson Valley Lighting. A French-wired lamp designed to keep the cord mostly out of view.
 

Most of our lamps are standard-wired. Here are a few from the Hudson Valley Lighting Group that have standard wiring.    

Quick View
 
16.75"W x 23"H
$218.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
16"W x23"H
$336.00
In Stock
2 Finishes Available

Quick View
 
14"W x 21"H
$138.00
Available 6/28/2019 (Confirmed)
2 Finishes Available

We have a lot less the other way. Here are most of the French-wired lamps at the time of this writing.

Quick View
 
17"W x 32"H
$830.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
19"L x 7.50"W x 14.75"H
$578.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
13.50"W x 17.25"H
$578.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
1"L x 17"W x36.25"H
$596.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
15"W x 27.75"H
$684.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Quick View
 
13.50"W x 16"H
$830.00
In Stock
1 Finish Available

Whether standard- or French-wired, lamps are an easy way to give a room personality and freshen things up. They're also a great way to add another texture to your space. Plugging directly into an outlet, they're fun right out of the box. 

We've been designing a lot of them recently, and speaking of out-of-the-box, some of them are in some rather unexpected forms and materials. They're well worth checking out. Alas, we're not at a French flea market together (but it was fun pretending!), and these are not prêt-à-porter, but they are pretty and portable. You can explore table and floor lamps here.