Decorative Lighting, Home Lighting

Lighting Design Trend: Carbon Filament Bulbs (aka Edison Bulbs)

Design Trend: Carbon Filament Bulbs

Gone are the days of plain, utilitarian light bulbs! Carbon filament bulbs are ushering in a fashionable new era in home and commercial lighting design.

Carbon filament bulbs, also known as antique filament bulbs, squirrel cage bulbs, or Edison bulbs (after their inventor) are bringing chic, vintage style back to lighting. Since the 1980s, these statement bulbs have experienced a regular resurgence in popularity every few years thanks to their industrial charm and warm, relaxing ambience.

Unlike standard light bulbs, which have a tightly coiled filament, Edison bulbs feature a looser, visible filament that comes in a variety of styles, including:

  • Squirrel cage (top right): The filament is threaded vertically up and down to resemble the bars of a squirrel cage.
  • Spiral: These bulbs feature a tightly coiled spiral filament.
  • Hairpin: These filaments are shaped like a hair pin (also known as a bobby pin).
  • Loop (bottom right): Commonly refers to a filament with three or four vertical loops.
  • Christmas tree: These bulbs are named for the zig-zag shape of their filament, which resembles the shape of a Christmas tree.

History of Carbon Filament Bulbs

squirrel cage carbon filament

loop carbon filament

They may be named after Thomas Edison, but carbon filament bulbs (also known as Edison bulbs) were initially developed by British inventor Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1850. Sir Swan’s early efforts and published research, along with the work of other scientists, eventually lead to Edison’s breakthrough invention – a long-burning light bulb with a bamboo filament made to last.

In 1879, Edison patented a prototype of the carbon filament bulb. His prototype emitted 16 watts and was capable of burning for over 1200 hours, but the bamboo filament would eventually be replaced with the tungsten filament still use today.

In 1980s, Bob Rozensweig began creating reproductions of antique filament bulbs, sparking a renewed interest that was compounded in the 2000s by the push to adopt CFL bulbs. For those who didn’t appreciate the shape and cool light provided by traditional CFL bulbs, Edison bulbs provided a warmer, more stylish alternative.

Style Profile

The exposed filament in carbon filament bulbs evokes feelings of nostalgia and adds a touch of warmth and industrial-chic to any space, including homes. The light provided by these bulbs is understated and warm, which makes them ideal for creating a welcoming and cozy ambience.

carbon filament edison squirrel cage bulb design style

Their soft glow and amber hue is reminiscent of candlelight, making these bulbs especially popular for restaurants, cafes, and shops.

In addition to their warmth, carbon filament bulbs feature vintage-inspired bulb shapes designed to recreate the hand-blown glass appearance of Edison’s original bulbs. Here are some of the most popular bulb shapes:

Metal shades, wire guards, and other strong lighting fixtures can complement the exposed filament and unique bulb shape, but many lighting designers, businesses, and homeowners prefer to leave their carbon filament bulbs exposed to create a vintage, industrial look and feel. Instead of hiding Edison bulbs in a complicated fixture, try mounting them as a simple pendant!

Going Green

Because 90% of their output generates heat instead of light, carbon filament bulbs are less energy efficient than CFL or LED bulbs. As a result, they can be more expensive in terms of both upfront purchasing costs as well as power usage.

Good news: there are energy efficient LED and CFL antique filament bulbs, making it easy to experience the charm of Edison bulbs without the expense.

Shop our full range of luxury Castello Style LED filament bulbs.

If you want to simulate the look of traditional carbon filament bulbs using LEDs or CFLs, look for a warm bulb, such as a 2300k bulb. You could also opt for energy efficient light sources as your main source of illumination and reserve your carbon filament bulbs for accent lighting.

Designing with Carbon Filament Bulbs

Carbon filament bulbs are more than just a passing trend. Their warmth and vintage appeal make them an ideal choice for any space, including homes, restaurants, and other businesses.

Who ever thought a light bulb could be so stylish?

Shop our selection of carbon filament bulbs.


About Nicky Walker

Nicola is a lighting specialist at The Lightbulb Company with a keen awareness of the important role lighting plays in our everyday lives. She enjoys discovering new ways in which lighting can affect science, mental health and of course, most of all, reduce our carbon footprints.