ISSUE 37  |  Style on a Budget

Object Lessons: The Hardware Store Porcelain Light Socket

September 16, 2014 5:00 PM

BY Megan Wilson

The porcelain light socket, once the hallmark of the New York City tenement apartment, has come to represent the essence of timeless and affordable utility design. Its shape is taken directly from two sources: the neck of an oil lamp (the kind that uses a key to control the flame) and the base of a candleholder. This “keyless lampholder” was created in 1910 to accommodate the Edison lightbulb, which was gaining popularity in the home. Manufactured by Russian immigrant Isidor Leviton in his factory on the Bowery, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the porcelain socket soon marched uptown and into public buildings, offices, and skyscrapers. Today, this industrial classic is still made by the same company in New York. In recent years, as architects and designers have used the light prominently on ceilings and walls in every sort of room, other notable versions have cropped up, but they all stay true to the original.

Five to Buy

Above: The undisputed king of classic porcelain light sockets is the Leviton Keyless Porcelain Lampholder; $2.99, at Ace Hardware.

Above: The traditionally white ceramic socket has been reinterpreted by LA design group Commune; shown above in gray.

Above: The Commune Light Socket is $45 and is available in green and gray (shown above), as well as silver, rust, blackened bronze, light green, and black. 

Above: The Defiance Surface-Mount Fixture from Schoolhouse Electric is available with a white or black porcelain canopy cover and a black or nickel socket finish; $99.

Above: Designed and developed by Zangra in Belgium, the Pure Porcelain Lampholder is available in black or white; €40.

Above: The Swiss answer to the economical bare bulb ceiling light dates to the 1930s and is still in production today. Manufactum of Germany offers the Duroplast Ceiling Fitting in white or black for €22.50.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on iconic designs, including Noguchi’s Iconic Rice Paper Lights and the Hurricane Lantern. We featured her Connecticut shop in our post Purveyor of the Practical and the Timeless.