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The Most Exciting Light Bulbs of 2016 Are Really Good-Looking—and Smart, Too!

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Gone are the days when a 60-watt incandescent from the grocery store was your best (and only) light bulb option. Now anyone can buy lighting that looks like art—or lighting that exquisitely shows off your art. And it's not just decorative bulbs that are cornering the market: The “smart bulb" craze is also gaining serious traction as well, with manufacturers like Phillips and GE in tight competition for the next best technology.

Photo by Linda Xiao

Below, I share my favorite light bulbs of late. Some are sexy. Some are smart. I’m still on the lookout for the Amal Clooney of light bulbs, but as George knows, good things come to those who wait.


Decorative Light Bulbs

In terms of exposed, decorative light bulbs, probably none has had more air-time than the Edison Bulb. What’s not to love? It provides a warm amber glow and instant vintage ambiance for a nine or ten dollar investment and a few right turns. The Edison bulb is the fixture.

Pendant Filament Bulbs

Pendant Filament Bulbs

From $39
Pendant Lamp with Edison Bulb

Pendant Lamp with Edison Bulb


But this symbol of ingenuity has, perhaps, outstayed its welcome in our homes, neighborhood restaurants, and local Restoration Hardwares. We find ourselves dangerously close to a put-a-bird-on-it-esque existence. (Want instant charm and character? Add an Edison Bulb!) Still, the popularity of decorative bulbs shows no signs of slowing down. Take heart, there are other options out there for your exposed bulb longings.


The Plumen Bulb

What would Thomas Edison think? Photos by Frenchy Fancy, Plumen

This fixture offers the same low cost and ease of installation as the Edison Bulb, but with a much more contemporary flare. The Plumen does not conjure up ideals of a quaint America past, but rather, what’s now and what’s ahead. Abstract forms have dominated the design market in recent years and the Plumen is right in line with that desire for organic and artful shapes to fill our homes.

Plumen 002
Plumen 002 Photo by Design Milk

And if the original Plumen is too modern for your taste, version 002 (pictured above), is shaped into a softer, more familiar round silhouette and is available as an LED.

Exposed Bulb Fixtures

While these might be considered more of a lighting style as opposed to a trend, semantics aside, they aren’t going out any time soon. Here, the bulb is an extension of the fixture, enhancing its overall design intent. The bulbs provide a modern, clean aesthetic but do not call too much attention to themselves. And the options for lighting in this category are pretty limitless (you can shop exposed bulb fixtures to your heart’s content here).

Photos by Lumens, Lumens, Y Lighting

Just a few examples of how expansive the world of exposed bulb fixtures can be (left to right, above):

  • Adjustable ball joints make the shape of this sculptural fixture by Arteriors customizable, with smoke glass shades around small incandescents.
  • This pendant by ET2 Lighting utilizes modern technology by employing a xenon bulb (that silver stem inside the teardrop-shaped glass), while still recalling the vintage silhouette of the Edison.
  • The Meurice Rectangular Chandelier by Jonathan Adler utilizes miniature globe bulbs to provide pinpoints of low wattage light that accentuate the fixture.

The LED Edison Bulb

Those who can't manage to get over their Edison bulb love affair should at least consider switching to the new and improved LED Edison bulb. Consider it the bulb’s great, great, great grandson. It’s meant for the style- and energy-conscious consumer—since the LED version burns considerably less wattage with no less class.

The LED Edison bulb, aglow.
The LED Edison bulb, aglow. Photo by Tree Hugger

Functional Light Bulbs

It’s not that any of the above bulbs don’t function; decorative light bulbs turn on and provide light just fine, but their best assets are their looks. Which might not be enough if you’re the type of person who agonizes about the appropriate color temperature for every bulb you buy. Or if you’re the type to install dimmers on all your fixtures, even in a rental. Or if you take particular notice to the different zones and areas of lighting within your home. If this describes you (you know who you are), the lighting industry has great products coming your way.

Hue by Philips

As with many other home products, there's been a push within light bulb design to create personalized lighting systems that can be controlled by your smart phone—which makes sense, considering 68% of American adults use one. Hue by Philips is a line that's already out on the market at a relatively economical price.

Hue allows you to control the temperature of your bulbs' glow, at a whim.
Hue allows you to control the temperature of your bulbs' glow, at a whim. Photo by Philips (via Elle Decor)

With Hue, you can customize your home’s lighting in terms of brightness, color temperature, and, of course, hue—choose from a spectrum of white lights (very helpful for designers) and colored lights (very helpful for theme parties?). Since the bulbs screw into any standard fixtures and can be controlled from your smart phone, it's a setup that is easy to implement with design you already have.

With Hue, you can turn the lights on or off (or change up the colors), even remotely. Photos by Philips (via Hoist Agency)

Hue 2.0 can even be voice-activated, making your Smart House dreams one giant step closer to a reality.

C by GE

If Hue sounds a little complicated or like more than you need, C by GE might be a better smart light bulb for you (especially if you love your sleep).

Photo by C by GE

C comes as two different bulb types: C-Life and C-Sleep. The sleep bulb has three settings that automatically adjust for brightness and color, so as to mimic the sun throughout the day. Evidently millions of years ago, before we had light bulbs and computers and iPads and smartphones, humans had a much easier time sleeping. C-Sleep sets out to re-create those good old days and cater to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The result helps users go to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up how nature intended.

The only apparent downside to the C-Sleep is that, at least at first, you have to buy it as a package with C-Life. (Comparatively, C-Life is an underachiever, essentially a dimmable bulb that can be controlled via smart phone.)

Photo by C by GE

Within the wide gamut of light bulb prices, the C by GE is also affordable. Starter packs will cost $70 and include four bulbs. And, if you sign up for email updates through the site, you can receive an initial 20% off your order.

As you can see, options for bulbs in the home are becoming increasingly limitless, with a number of models that would suit every kind of consumer. Since fancier bulbs (both decorative and functional) run at a higher price point and can be a rather long-term commitment, it’s important to become as informed as possible prior to purchasing. But I hope at least some of the suggestions above have been illuminating (sorry!).

For more twinkle and glow, shop our latest lighting collection.

Tags: lighting, light bulbs, home design, entertaining