Think of an item — any item — you might use in home decor. Chances are somebody now sells a version of same that comes equipped with color-changing LED lights.
“Get your glow on,” suggests Pottery Barn Teen’s website, describing that retailer’s $399 remote-controlled take on a basic bedroom staple. “Backlit with an ombré rainbow glow, this floor mirror frames your reflection in brilliant color and doubles as atmospheric lighting.”
Pottery Barn Teen also has an LED color-changing wall shelf ($149) and LED sports hoop ($299) available for pre-order with delivery expected in April and July. Amazon sells coffee tables, beds, entertainment centers and patio stools with built-in LED lighting. And many retailers carry boatloads of color-changing smart bulbs that can be connected to services such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home for ease of light color selection.
Advancements in light-emitting diode technology have a certain allure for adults cognizant of the ways color can affect aesthetics and mood. And the potential for a perpetual light show has automatic appeal to many in the still-in-school set.
Heather Acevedo knows this all too well.
“I have spent so much money on LED strips,” says Acevedo, who lives just outside Millersville.
Her 10-year-old son, Andy, placed them around the perimeter of his space-themed bedroom and behind his TV and sets them to automatically change color.
Acevedo’s 15-year-old daughter, Hailee, has some, too.
“Her bed is on top of cubbies and her dresser. It’s an Ikea hack,” her mother says. “She has this little crawl space underneath, which she has wrapped in LED color-change lights.”
Then there’s the basement gaming room.
“My son made my husband go out and buy an LED strip for that,” she says. “So my entire house is LED color-change lights.”
Acevedo is a consultant for Scentsy. That fragrance purveyor sells LED-lighted infusers that cycle through a series of 16 shades. Other Scentsy offerings involve actually changing out bulbs to switch colors the old-fashioned way.
“Color is definitely more of a push now. … I’ve even jumped on that bandwagon,” she says. “Instead of using plain white; pink, purple and blue seem to set the mood a little bit better.”
Acevedo says she recently had a customer order every available bulb in every available color. She jokes that purchases like that help fund her kids’ lighting choices. And Acevedo may not be done.
“We’re going to remodel the kitchen … and I’ve even considered putting those style lights underneath the cabinets by the floor just as like a night light,” Acevedo says. “I’ve noticed when I’ve been going on Pinterest to look for ideas that that’s a new thing.”
Smart bulbs and more
Sharon Ha, an employee at the Lighting Gallery in Lancaster, says when it comes to LED lighting sold at that store, the hottest bulbs don’t change color but simply stick to ones that evoke the look of old-school incandescent bulbs.
“Primarily what we’re selling and seeing as the most popular are largely the warmer colors, the more incandescent tones of light because that’s what people are used to seeing,” Ha says. “Although in some cases people are going a little bit whiter, a little bit ‘bluer,’ especially … more in the chrome or bright white fixtures and looks.”
Lighting Gallery does carry a few different color-changing bulbs. They’re not being embraced by everyone. But customers who ask for them run the gamut from their 20s to their 50s, she says.
Smart bulbs — color-changing or otherwise — communicate in a variety of ways so it’s crucial before buying any to research if they’ll work with your system. Some work over Wi-Fi, some connect over Bluetooth and some work with technologies like Zigbee or Z-wave.
Other players on the color-changing scene are projectors that can cover walls in everything from waves to constellations. Space.com, an astronomy and exploration news-focused site, this month reviewed a bunch of those.
“While those at the more affordable end of the market tend to concentrate on room-filling, colorful yet mostly novelty-style ambient projections of the kinds of objects you might see in the night sky, the more you pay the more accuracy you get …,” Space.com suggests. “If the intended recipient is a child with a keen interest in the night sky, go for the latter, which are more impressive and educational.”
The internet is also flooded with reviews of smart bulbs. Have a look on YouTube and you’ll see pages of people walking through the pros and cons of each.
Evoking the ’80s
Once down that rabbit hole you’ll likely also run into some reviews specific to LED faux neon fixtures — the prices of which vary greatly. Five Below has some neon-esque signs for $5. Specialty boutiques sell more advanced models for hundreds.
No matter the price, LED neon lights are a different scenario than the old-school classic neon sign method. The old way of doing neon involved breakable glass tubes that could be hot to touch and could shatter.
Space — a downtown Lancaster shop focused on mid-century modern furniture, lighting and the like — has in stock some old-school neon beer signs and one that says Nintendo.
But owner Jesse Speicher says he doesn’t encounter much neon lighting from the ’80s when out and about picking product for the store. No matter the decade, Space tends to carry items that would have been mass produced for the home, he says.
“So I don’t know how much neon was flying around,” he says. “I think it was too expensive, still, in the ’80s for people to buy and put in their home unless they really wanted to.”
Lighting that evokes images of that decade just isn’t on his radar — and he’s nonplussed about that.
“Anything that has a neon ’80s design is almost always overly cliched,” he says. “Especially if it’s pink or blue. Those classic ’80s colors.”
Think hues like those sold at Over Our Heads — the fictional boutique that the “Facts of Life” crew ran during that sitcom’s George Clooney era.
At first glance, one might imagine that Pottery Barn mirror fitting in quite nicely with a mulleted Clooney. But the Pottery Barn Teen décor surrounding the mirror in the spring look book is much more subdued, more muted like cotton candy, than that long-ago sitcom’s store. And there isn’t an inflatable palm tree — an Over Our Heads offering and frequent go-to for real life ’80s teen rooms — to be seen.
You can find, however, plenty of LED palm tree lights that evoke a definite ’80s neon-sign-esque vibe — like a string of palm tree fairy lights from Target ($13.49) or a neon LED palm tree lamp from Overstock ($32.89).
“You’re seeing so many crazy things happening now because of LEDs,” Speicher says. “It’s cheap and it’s easy to make LEDs any color you want and it’s so inexpensive.”
Creating color with light wasn’t always such a breeze.
“Back in the day, the only way to achieve that would be to buy… almost like carnival light bulbs,” Speicher says.
Otherwise shifting the color spectrum was a job for the fixtures themselves — things like colored fiberglass shades that often matched the color of the lamp base, he says.
“I would say the ’50s would have been the first mass-produced, colored light fixture era,” he says.
In the early ’70s homeowners looking for colorful light sources may have bought things like bunches of acrylic grape swag lights, he says. Space recently added some of those to its lighting offerings — which Speicher says generally fall into two categories.
“One would be like those grapes. Like crazytown. Let’s just slap starbursts on this light … or have a big matador with the ginormous shade and more lights sticking out the side,” he says. “Then there’s the more cool, clean stuff that I personally like.”
Speicher suggests spaghetti lights as a vintage option for creating some color.
“They’re just a big ball on a chain, lucite, that can be any color you want with the right bulb in it — either back then or now,” he says. “They’re not terribly retro and they’re not terribly Danish chic either. They’re just kind of ubiquitous.”