First you notice the cool shades -- bold drum or rectangular styles towering over supports that are cylindrical, stacked or barely there. Some new floor lamps look like twisted tree branches topped by a shade. Others are dramatic lamps that arc or articulate, spotting light where you need it.
With dashing yet simple style, floor lamps are merging fashion with function. Au courant floor lamps are changing the landscape of living areas, creating ambience as well as performing a lighting task.
This year they are a key accessory.
"Floor lamps are no longer a second thought. They are more a part of a room," says Jenny Pinto, editor of Residential Lighting.
"They may be sculptural, like a piece of art," she says, noting that lampshades can provide pattern in the decor. "People are paying more attention to lighting -- accessorizing, getting an eclectic mix. Floor lamps are a great way to do that."
Even high-end furniture designers are feeling the need to address this niche. To complement his own collection for Baker Furniture, Bill Sofield designed a high-end line of contemporary lighting that is as elegant as it is spare. One, called Branch, looks like tree bark made of cast brass. It sits on its own tripod. Another, Polarity, consists of three smoky Plexiglas columns through which gold electrical cording is visible. The lamps are pricey, selling for $2,300 to $3,850.
Richard Frinier, who is a leader in innovative casual furniture designs, created a line of Japanese- and Indonesian-inspired lamps for Currey and Co. With a range of styles that include lighted columns topped by rice paper and hammered metal pieces, the outdoor fixtures are so good-looking that you may want to bring them inside.
In interiors, floor lamps serve many more functions than simply illumination. They add verticality to a space and create symmetry when used in pairs. Some have movable parts, bringing light precisely where it's desired.
Some floor lamp designs introduce a touch of nature into a room. One organic sculptural base from Pottery Barn is composed of gnarled and twisted driftwood. The sustainable vine is harvested from a jungle in northern Thailand, so it's also eco-friendly.
Another cylinder that stands more than 5 feet tall is transparent but can morph into a decorative accent -- it can change looks by filling open space with branches, faux botanicals or even ornaments to mark changes of the season.
Decorative floor lamps have a history that dates to Victorian models from the early part of the 20th century. Vintage shops often turn up floor lamps from that era up to the 1920s, with bases crafted from marble or onyx and silky shades that often were embellished with beaded fringe.
Mid-century floor lamps brought the metal pole style, which features several lights that can be turned or swiveled in the direction needed. Retro styles similar to these are being shown today, as well as the giant drum shades popular in the 1960s.
In addition, there are tripod-based lamps and more industrial-styled tripods that recall movie or stage lights, such as one carried by Pottery Barn. Another more commercial look is that of the pharmacy lamp, but even it has been updated with slender housing and a jolt of color -- orange, in the case of one available at CB2.
What really signals a fresh look in floor lamps is a shift in proportions. The base can be a thin rod with a top-heavy shade or a chunky support topped by a rectangular or square shade that lends a modern flair. A square base updates the look, just as square plates have contemporized table settings.
And because of their simplified styling, many of these contemporary floor lamps can transition to traditional interiors. Some designers relish the counterpunch, just like mixing antiques into a minimalist space.
The rectangular shade has been a signature of fashion designer Giorgio Armani for at least 20 years. When he introduced his Armani Casa home line, that profile was part of the mix. A recent magazine ad shows an Armani lamp on a curving metal stand with a shade that hangs like a bird cage. French furnishings designer Christian Liaigre's minimal style is complemented by modern floor lamps with rectangular shades.
One trend noted by Residential Lighting's Jenny Pinto is that floor lamps are echoing what's happening in table lamps. That's especially apparent in one model at West Elm. The lamp has an exaggerated tall shade that sits above a slightly elongated egg-shaped globe base. The 491/2-inch lamp can be placed on a table or the floor.
At the Maison et Objets furniture show in Paris last January, some table lamps were dramatically lofty -- as tall as floor lamps, a scale that works in high-ceilinged rooms. In fact, open loft spaces, with their characteristically soaring ceilings, finally have floor lamps that are more suited to the space -- especially those giant arcing types.
In addition, some pendant lights or chandeliers easily translate as floor lamps. One model at West Elm features pieces of capiz, a natural shell, strung into rectangular strips that drip down to create the shade. With a breeze, the shells rustle, adding unexpected movement and sound.
Color can add not only a dash of energy, but also drama. At Maine Cottage, simple floor lamp shapes are available in a palette of punched-up pastels. One model, the Lotus lamp, has a molded resin base. Shown in pale robin's-egg blue or a richer aqua, it also has a patterned lamp shade to match.
A black floor lamp with a matching black shade is especially powerful in a modern room with white or off-white upholstery and espresso furniture frames. An example is the Nocturne floor lamp shown at Crate and Barrel. The bold base actually is a beefed-up version of the classic turned-candlestick shape.
A white shade combined with a simple metal base can be strong but not overpowering, the perfect companion to mostly neutral furnishings. When the white is punched up with an accent hue such as lime green or orange, it's especially effective.
There's also a lot to be said for the use of metal -- especially polished nickel. One of the favorite choices for bathroom hardware and faucets, as well as light sconces, is a mirror-like warm silver finish, appealing as a base for floor lamps. Matte silvery finishes, gunmetal and bronze are other metal options.
One squarish flat column from Crate and Barrel rises up like a skyscraper. Crafted from rubberwood in a rich espresso finish, its platform lends a bit of sparkle.
Contemporary floor lamps embrace a variety of furniture styles. Homeowners with lamps that are simple and nondescript might benefit from a change in lampshades to update a room's decor.
But with heightened scale and drama, the newest tall lamps will help you see the light and create an unexpected floor show in your interiors.