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Curio Cabinet Lighting

Apr 19, 2008
The variety of curio cabinets is almost as diversified as the many types of curios themselves. In terms of basic build and operation, however, all cabinet styles can be lumped into two major categories: those with mirrored back panes and those with wooden back panes. Both require different curio cabinet lighting fixtures and techniques to optimally display contents. Choosing the right light for a curio cabinet that may have been imported or custom built can be very difficult, if not impossible--especially when shopping on line.

Generally speaking, the most difficult obstacle to overcome when lighting custom curio cabinets with mirrored back panes is reflective glare. Any light source positioned above eye level is a potential glare bomb. For lighting curio cabinets made from solid wood, the problem is pockets of shadow resulting from uneven distribution of lighting and the size and shape of specific collectibles. Everything casts a shadow, as they say, so trying to get rid of all the shadows requires multiple lighting fixtures--something that often causes an eyesore when more than two lighting fixtures have to be installed.

Many cabinet lighting manufacturers attempt to find a middle ground between glare, shadow, and distributed illumination by installing one to three overhead lights in the tops of larger curio cabinets. These lights shine down through a series of glass shelves, illuminating stored collectibles in the process. The reasoning behind this is simple. Multiple shelf lights will eliminate most of the shadows, and if a mirrored back panel happens to be present, the reflection will further disperse the illumination.

Honestly, this is not a bad approach to lighting a curio cabinet, provided that it is a standing wall cabinet of larger than average size, and provided that the shelves are made of glass. The recessed light will pass downward through the shelves and also reflect off the mirror, wrapping itself around the collection in the process. However, people viewing the cabinet from a sharp side angle or a seated position will see too much glare that blocks the details of showcased items.

This is an almost unavoidable disadvantage when lighting a display in front of a mirror of any type.

In a wall curio cabinet made from dark, solid wood, glass shelves will allow overhead light to pass all the way to the cabinet floor without the nuisance of reflective glare. However, each object will cast a shadow beneath itself, so without a secondary LED accent lighting source of some type there will be increasing pockets of darkness as the eye moves from top to bottom.

If the shelves themselves are made of wood, they will of course block overhead lights, and something completely different has to be implemented in their place.

To generate a truly superior display lighting source for your curio cabinet, you might want to consider moving beyond any of the traditional types of curio cabinet lights and instead invest in low voltage Phantom linear strips. These unique, patented lighting strips offer two things that no other form of lighting fixture offers: precise custom fit to exact vertical, horizontal, and even radial dimensions, and a completely low profile design that hides them from normal viewing angles.

Of our six unique linear strip designs, three offer optimal curio cabinet lighting with specific features that will work to overcome the obstacles previously discussed. The key is innovative wiring technology and the ability to both shield and conceal the light source itself so that the viewer sees the light, not the fixture.

Phantom strips can be fitted with incandescent, xenon, or led bulbs, each of which offers unique advantages to the specific type of curio cabinet they light and the nature of the collectibles on display. Wooden curio cabinets with no interior mirrors need the brightest illumination possible, so we generally recommend incandescent bulbs that are renowned for producing the whitest light. You can set the dimmer switch to a higher setting when guest are active throughout the home, then turn the lights down to leave them at lower levels once most people have gone to bed.

Low voltage xenon bulbs are a better choice for lighting a curio cabinet that showcases crystal, porcelain, or silver items. In the world of lighting design, xenon is considered to be the most sophisticated light source and generates a slightly golden aura that works to enhance the finer details of more expensive items.

If extreme cost consciousness is a consideration, Phantom LED lamps now have the capability of rendering color at levels nearly equivalent to xenon. Only a lighting expert can really tell the difference, so you might want to consider using LED bulbs if your cabinet is on display in an office, library, or special room in the home for more than 20 hours at a time.

Lighting a curio cabinet made entirely of wood offers a greater degree of flexibility than lighting a curio cabinet with a mirrored back plane(s.) It allows you to use up to three different types of Phantom linear strips, all of which remain concealed from any viewing angle. Our HM (Horizontal Mount) series mounts to either the back of a horizontal strut or the front bottom of a shelf or cabinet top. The VM (Vertical Mount) series mounts to any interior vertical interior surface. A variety of combinations of these two series can be used to create a "field" of sourceless life within shelving that appears to come from multiple directions. This is shadow free and tends to create a shroud like effect that enhances refined ornaments and makes less expensive curios look more sophisticated.

In some wall mounted curio cabinets with mirrors, HM series linear strip lights are some of the best curio cabinet lights you can use. The shallower depth forces the light down across the surface of the mirror, then outward around the collectibles. Whereas mirror panels in larger cabinets may actually show reflections of the linear strips themselves to seated guests, wall mounted cabinets feature more narrow surface depth that actually helps create the optical illusion that the lighting fixtures manufactured are actually built into the top of the cabinet.

An even greater source of effect lighting in curio cabinets can be achieved with our Cove Mounted (CM Series) that fits to any circular or semi circular cabinet top. These strips are specifically engineered to fit any radius and can pass a literal circle of light straight down through a series of glass shelves with no shadows or drop in lighting levels. When reflected by internal mirrors, the field of light they create is truly radiant and appears to come from both within and around the items on display.
About the Author
Phantom Lighting is a manufacturer of high end lighting projectors and linear strip display lighting fixtures. Phantom operates throughout North, Central, and South America through a network of agent representatives. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/curio_cabinet_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com for more information.
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