When is a lamp, a lamp?

Architectural Vs. Decorative Lighting.
Rockwell elevator lobby pendants


While coached in different words, we are often asked this question In the course of our business. Palayan fabricates decorative lamps, not architectural lamps. The difference between these two types of lamps can be simply put as: the decorative lamps mainly prettifies the place whilst the architectural lamps mainly serves to provide illumination. One sees architectural lamps indoors as recessed or surface lighting which illuminates while trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. These are usually the modern-looking lamps that are embedded in ceilings, coves, and other nooks and crannies where they can be hidden to give soft light. These are all mass-manufactured items with prices ranging from a few hundred pesos to thousands of pesos for name premiums (not necessarily performance premiums). A subpart of the architectural lighting category are the outdoor lights, such as exterior building lights, garden lights, driveway bollards, etc. These exterior lights are also readily imported from ready catalogs.


Original copies?


Palayan thrives on making these one-of-a-kind “original” lamps. Do we copy? Yes but no. We do not fabricate direct facsimiles because we improve on these original designs and are able to deliver these design variances at an affordable price. So the lamp we make for our customer ends up similar to the original foreign design but not the same. The Filipino lamp owner goes home happy with a lamp he has designed, similar to but not the same as a particular foreign lamp, with change to spare in his pocket.


Dare to be different. Dare to design.
Rockwell function room pendants


But there are still those brave designers who make a statement by presenting lamp designs that they have conceived, without any external influence or guidance. We are honored to serve their needs. If they entrust their designs to us to execute and keep these proprietary for them, then we can only do these justice by doing more than our best to ensure that the final lamp complies with the designer’s intent. It is admittedly hard to think of and pioneer new designs. The designers who go beyond their mandate to design specific lamps for projects, and not rely on catalogs alone, really deserve to be rewarded with a fee bonus. We salute them and pray that their tribe increases.


The science in lighting design.
Rockwell office pendant
Rockwell elevator lobby pendants


So we go back to the original question. If we take the extreme case of a theoretical decorative pendant lamp that is 2 meters in diameter, lit by a single 12 watt LED bulb, to hang in a cavernous hall, will this still be a lamp with its meagre illumination? Yes, it is still a lamp – a decorative lamp.

For large commercial projects, like hotel halls, restaurants, churches, theater lobbies, etc., developers usually hire lighting consultants to study their illumination requirements. They model this with precise lighting design software that eventually tells them the exact luminaires, locations, and lamping of the architectural lamps needed. They can be very precise about their recommendations because architectural lighting manufacturers subject their products to laboratory tests that ensure performance consistency. So it is very impressive to see a lighting consultant whip out his laptop and walk the client through a 3D rendering of the project when lit with the lights they have recommended. They can show how the project will look like at various times of the day and night. Clearly, there is no room for error with these lighting simulations. These lighting consultants would have likely gone through a lighting design specialization course as part of their 4-year Interior Design studies to be able to parade such tech wizardry.


So here is the rub.


The lighting consultant may specify the architectural lighting requirements properly, but he does not subject to the same rigorous study the decorative lamps which may be required. For after all, these lamps are mainly for show, and whatever illumination they can provide, is mainly fill light and not as consequential to the overall project as the ambient lighting of the architectural lights. Besides, how can one evaluate a decorative lamp that has not yet been designed, or produced, at this stage? Thus, the design and choice of the decorative lights – all those pendant lamps, chandeliers, plafonieres, wall sconces, table lamps and floor lamps – are left to the discretion of the owners and suppliers like Palayan.

Rockwell pendants


It is at this point that Palayan can draw from its 6 decades of decorative lighting experience to advice on possible designs. We do not insist on proven design formulas from our other projects, because beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder – the owner in this case. So we guide, but never decide. Since we fabricate all our lamps, we can immediately tell which designs are doable with local resources. This knowledge base shortens this whole design process.

Rockwell driveway ceiling lights


Where this has been found invaluable by our clients is in the specification of residential decorative lighting. House owners don’t have the benefit of lighting consultants and thus must rely on their designers and architects – and Palayan – for lamps that are BOTH decorative and illuminative. We will subject to the owners validation what we think may be a nice design for the space in question. The contemplated lighting is then taken into consideration to determine the needed lamping of a proposed deco lamp. So this process becomes an iterative one: beauty-function-beauty-function.
Unlike lighting consultants therefore, Palayan cannot draw from set formulas that guarantee the success of their deco lighting projects. But we have more hits than misses. And our customers over these 60+ years will tend to agree.

Lighting Places of Worship

Maalaala mo kaya?
St. Agustine Lubao Pampanga

Malamang hindi. I don’t think there is anyone reading this post who could have seen for themselves the evolution of Church lighting from candles to oil to gas and, till recent history, to the widespread use of electricity. The wrought iron chandeliers which were initially installed in our vintage Churches were all imported by their original builders. While the different Churches were built by different religious orders, we have noted from our work restoring many of these, that there is a lot of commonality of design and fabrication methods. It seems like that these frailes all had a favorite lighting store in Europe that they commissioned for particular Church missions in the Philippine islands.

Electricity could not have come any sooner to our Churches. The growing literacy of their parishioners meant that these were now able to follow services with printed guides. And these readers needed good lighting in the dim interiors of the big churches. Illumination provided by all lighting prior to electrical lamps was not sufficient for this purpose. They also emitted black soot which regularly clouded the glass virinas of the chandeliers and defaced the ceiling frescoes, icons and altar retablos. Electrical lamps had none of these problems.

Some local lighting company, employing local pandays, must have done good business towards the tailend of the 19th century converting all of these chandeliers to successively use the available power source. Palayan Lamps is not old enough to have participated in this work. But Palayan has been commissioned to restore many of these vintage Church chandeliers over the years.

How are Houses of Worship lit today?

New churches tend to favor the use of architectural lighting, foregoing chandeliers and ceiling pendants for several reasons. Firstly, the primary use of lamps inside the churches is illumination. So the lamp’s decorative value has become secondary. Architectural lamps provide even and controllable illumination well-suited for reading by aging parishioners. Secondly, architectural lighting is cheaper than traditional chandeliers and pendants and are also easier to operate and maintain. Thirdly, architectural lamps which are positioned properly can provide precise illumination where needed. The altar can be lit by stage lighting while the nave pews are evenly covered by the light from the ceiling. Gone are the problems of uneven illumination with the traditional lighting schemes of old-chandeliers plus wall lamps. All churchgoers are now covered by light at all corners of the church. Lastly, new church designers now have the option to decorate ceilings and not be bothered by line-of-sight obstructions of hanging lamps.

What has Palayan done for church lighting?
San Juan de Dios chandelier San Rafael Bulacan

It is well and good that architectural lamps now light most modern houses of worship. But there is some difficulty of retrofitting a heritage church with architectural lighting completely. The church will lose a lot of its character if its chandeliers and pendants are brought down. In fact, doing something as drastic as this, would need the permission of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, whose role it is to preserve heritage churches.

So we are here today, Palayan still restoring church chandeliers and pendants. Where our work is backstopped by the Catholic church’s preservation office, we bring these pendants and chandeliers to our shop where their metal members are repaired. These are stripped of all paint, powdercoated with primer colors, and wet-painted with their original colors. All electricals are replaced and brought to standard. Missing glass virinas and crystal pendalogues are replaced. In some instances, the number of arms is increased to accommodate more bulbs. The same service is done for the wall lamps and the stations-of-the-cross lamps. More wall lamps are added where needed.

San Juan de Dios chandelier San Rafael Bulacan

Because of the need for the best illumination, Palayan has worked together with suppliers of architectural lighting to ensure that the church built and designed in previous centuries will continue to serve its purpose well in modern times.

New churches are more difficult to serve. Their hanging lamps need to have contemporary designs but must nevertheless maintain a certain formality of a house of worship. Since churches don’t renovate regularly, the adopted design should also be able to withstand changes in interior design norms and not look old too soon beyond its time. Conceptualizing these lamps is usually a collaborative effort of church management, parish sponsors, the community in general, and Palayan.

Pampanga church chandeliers

We humbly submit that our work with Philippine churches has given new life to the lamps of heritage churches and helped establish the character of new churches for its parishioners to appreciate for many years to come.

Case Project – Ang Tanging Habilin
San Juan de Dios San Rafael Bulacan
San Juan de Dios San Rafael Bulacan


Their faith and love for their Church, The St. John of God Parish in San Rafael, Bulacan brought Palayan and a family of parishioners together to work on their wish to decorate the church dome with a donated chandelier befitting its beautiful interiors. The church had recently been gifted with two small chandeliers that found their place at both ends of the transept. The dome thus seemed bare.

It must have been fate that led them to contact us because of a recent post on our Fb page about past church lighting projects Palayan had worked on. They first inquired about our experience with this specific type of lighting. Having been apprised of our past work, they then proceeded to discuss the fabrication of a dome chandelier for their church. Knowing that there were two existing chandeliers, we were challenged to match their classic design but upscaled to the much larger space of the dome. In the end, a 3.5m diameter chandelier, 3.75m high was produced with turned wood center posts, 42 12-inch clear glass virinas and a 0.6m diameter cast Spanish glass bottom lens diffusing light from 6 bulbs was contracted to be made. The chandelier was powdercoated with a gloss gold finish.

Prior to signing the contract, we were admonished: “Inaasahan namin pong magagawa ninyong maganda ang chandelier ng aming simbahan”. We were somewhat concerned during production, because given the size of this chandelier, it was impossible for us to determine confidently beforehand if there were any design or proportion flaws. Happily all good intentions were met. St. John and its generous benefactors would be pleased.

Our Lady of Manaoag chandelier Pangasinan
capiz bird lamp
Misibis Bay chapel chandeliers Albay
Rockwell chapel wall lamps
St. Agustine chandeliers Lubao Pampanga

The Shade Defines the Lamp

shade frame being welded

A lady in her mid-twenties visited us at the shop to have her vase converted into a table lamp. She said that she wanted the new shade to be in the same durable material that her late mother’s shade was made from seventeen years before. She had inherited this lamp with its original shade and this has been in constant use all these years. Except for a slight yellowing of the polystyrene lining, it was still decent and serviceable. Seventeen years may have set the bar for the durability of our lamp shades. But we are not surprised by this at all, because our hand sewn shades readily outlast cheaper shades that are only glued together. We have seen this often enough to accept this as gospel.

But why all the fuss about lampshades?
shade polystyrene backing being cut

Think of it this way, when one enters a room lit by a chandelier and several portable lamps (table lamps and floor lamps), one’s attention is immediately drawn to the bright spots in the room. Being brightest, one notices the chandelier immediately but the attention then momentarily shifts to the table lamps. So now, regardless of how beautiful or expensive the lamp vase might be, one notices its bright shade first.

shade fabric being sewn

The shade on the lamp is what is first seen in a table lamp. Its shape provides the silhouette that defines the table lamp. Is it a formal lamp, a modern chic lamp, a theme inspired lamp, a general do-it-all conservative lamp, a funky-fun lamp or a conversation piece lamp? Its shade largely determines how the table lamp will be appreciated. Its silhouette (shape and size) is a major determinant of this.

All things considered, it is the shape of the shade that also dates a table lamp. Show us a vase and shade set and we can easily tell you, within a year or two, when the table lamp was made. Unless, the owner deliberately chose a shape that was so plain and simple to withstand the cycles of fashion and current taste, the age of the table lamp is told by the shape and size of its shade.

Flatten that fashion cycle.
shade bias being sewn

Many come to the shop with old table lamps the owners want restored. The lamps are old and they look their age – not in tune with current interior design preferences. This need is magnified if these lamp owners are renovating their houses at the time. Their table lamps which looked good in the 80’s would no longer be compatible with their new interior’s design. Because of the durability of our shades, some of these owners are even surprised to realize that they have kept their lamps long enough for the next fashion cycle to catch up and make their lamp design current again. However most are mindful of where fashion currently lies and do not wait as long.

Before one trashes the table lamp or commission an extensive renovation of the vase itself, we suggest that we first try a simple and inexpensive way to make that dogged, tired-looking table lamp fashionable again. In current-speak, let us try to “flatten the fashion cycle”. REPLACE THE SHADE. Change its silhouette to conform to what is new and popular, e.g. the old tall cylinder shade to a squat conical shade. Alter its size relative to its vase. Big and bulky shades, once the fashion norm, have given way to smaller, slimmer sizes. Be daring with colors, Shades do not have to be always in white. If one is not daring enough to use a printed fabric cover, then try a soft pastel color that complements the furnishings. Having changed the shade, then the owner can consider improving the vase. From long experience, this will no longer be needed at this point.

It is best to bring the table lamp to the shop so that this may be assessed properly. Design considerations cited above will be discussed. In this regard, different shade silhouettes (shape and size) on the shop floor can be tried on the vase. Actually seeing a similar shade on the vase greatly helps in the purchase decision.

What’s needed to order the right shade?
shade bias being sewn

Other minor but needed points to consider: A) How will be the shade be attached to the vase? Will a traditional lamp harp and finial set be used? Or, will the shade be held to the socket with a flange that does away with the need for a harp and finial? B) Will a bottom or top diffuser be needed? A bottom diffuser is sometimes requested by people bothered by the bulb’s glare seen from the bottom of a bedside lamp? There are others who also ask for an upper shade diffuser to mute the shadows thrown up the ceiling by the lamp’s harp or flange spider (the lateral frame rods which connect the shade to the socket)? C) Will a special decorative piping at the shade edges – a particular ribbon or lace – be required? D) Will a specialty cover material be needed? Other than the usual silk, pongee, linen, etc. normally used, certain vase and interior designs may call for raffia, buri, buntal, woven bamboo/rattan, metal brass/copper/aluminum), acrylic, parchment, etc. Will these specialty materials be provided by the customer? All of these different materials have their individual pros and cons with respect to feasibility of use as cover for a specific shade design, translucence, durability and maintenance. D) Based on the contemplated lamping, will the shape and size of the shade be safe – not a fire or electrical hazard. Yes, there are a lot of these small things to consider. But worry not, you will be guided closely. This is the reason a personal visit to the shop is quite helpful.

Give the lamp shade the importance it deserves. It may turn up to be the one furnishing you will enjoy or rue for the next seventeen years.

Achilles’ heel of shade longevity.
old shades to be recovered

This is how a 13-16 year old shade looks like. We often receive shades in this state to recover.

Oftentimes when we tear the fabric from its wire frame, the frame is so disfigured that it would no longer be worth the trouble to straighten and reuse it. So the recover order actually becomes the fabrication of a new shade altogether.

You will note that after all these years of use, the fabric has stood up well. If not for the yellowed polystyrene liner, the fabric could just have been washed with mild detergent and water to make it look new. This is the benefit of handsewing. Not like the glued shade, it will not come apart with washing and sun drying.

The polystyrene lining, being plastic, is sensitive to the heat and UV rays given off by the bulb. This causes it to discolor and become brittle. We have still to find a plastic liner that will not deteriorate this way. In the meantime, the polystyrene lining remains as the Achilles’ heel of the fabric shade.




Restore or Junk That Crystal Chandelier

chandelier to be refurbished
Restoration Candidate


Palayan has restored thousands, of all types of chandeliers, over the years. But crystal chandeliers call for the most care. Glass and crystals are fragile materials and cannot be glued together if broken but must be replaced.

What gives us pause when accepting these projects is the age of the chandelier and its state of disrepair. Replacement for missing crystal and glass pieces of antique chandeliers are impossible to find locally. These chandeliers would have been likely imported from Europe. And even in Europe, it is very difficult to find specific parts of old chandeliers. There are dealers in the UK who specialize in antique chandelier parts. But one would have to get very lucky to find what you need from them.

Spanish chandeliers which made their way to the Philippines during our colonial days can still be bought from provincial mansions and estates. Some antique dealers also buy parts of broken Spanish chandeliers for sale to people like us. Again supply of these spare parts is not assured but occasionally show up in the market. Chandeliers from current foreign manufacturers (Baccarat, Daum, Lalique, Steuben, Tiffany, Waterford, Swarovski, etc.) are relatively easier to restore with respect to the sourcing of missing parts. Oftentimes, the same models are carried over many seasons. These traditional chandelier designs usually have ready parts for sale. Foreign manufacturers realize that breakages which occur during overseas shipment of their products create a secondary market for parts. The only problem here is the very high cost of parts when compared to the cost of the complete chandelier. Unfortunately too, these high-end manufacturers do not have local service for their products.

So What Chandeliers Are Worth Restoring
disassembled chandelier parts to be cleaned

As a rule of thumb, they say that repair costs which exceed half of the original acquisition value argue for the thrashing of the broken item. If we follow this rule, chandeliers from European name brands, such as those cited above, should be restored because cost of local restoration would be a small percentage of their replacement values – of hundreds of thousands of pesos. In this category are also all those chandeliers, which may not be expensive per se, but nonetheless holds special sentimental value to its owner. Thus the rusting tin chandelier bequeathed by Lola Binang from the provincial ancestral home is a must for restoration at whatever reasonable cost. On the other hand, Chinese chandeliers, because they are so inexpensive, are generally not worthwhile to restore.

So What Do We Do To Make It New
chandelier parts being buffed
chandelier part being baked to dry sealing lacquer

The first problem we encounter on these projects is the pulldown and conveyance of the chandeliers to our shop in Makati. Because of their fragility, the chandelier must first be completely dismantled before transportation to the shop. Parts are carefully packed for this trip.

Once we receive the disassembled chandelier, we then remove all the metal connectors that still hold the various parts together. With the glass parts separated, they are now ready for their thorough cleaning in a bath of diluted muriatic acid. This will remove the surface grime that has built up on the glass parts. Clean and clear again, these same crystal parts are given a final bath in mild detergent and water. They are then sundried.

The metal parts are separated for finishing. If made of brass or copper, they are soaked in diluted nitric acid to remove their dark patinas. After rinsing, they are subjected to machine polishing to bring back their shine. Sometimes, machine buffing is not possible because of the metal’s intricate designs and patterns. On these occasions, polishing is done by hand. Shiny brass (and satin brass) are sprayed with a clear auto acrylic coat and baked in an oven to dry and seal the shine. Such shine is good for 4-6 years.

If the metal parts are painted, the nitric acid also strips them of their old paint. After a coat of primer, they are wet painted in their original color. Powder coating is not done because powder colors are not always available in specialty hues.

The clean crystal pendalogues are painstakingly strung together with special brass pins. Old pins have been discarded because they are no longer shiny and have become brittle. A lot of labor goes into stringing the crystals together in a process locally called binubuo ang rosaryo.

chandelier being electrified
chandelier crystals being strung together

At this point, the chandeliers internal light tree is readied. New sockets and electrical wiring are installed. With the frame finished, each crystal strand is individually reattached. For certain chandelier designs, like the one shown, the chandelier can be delivered fully assembled on an A-frame dolly. Otherwise, chandeliers with glass arms are assembled on site prior to installation to avoid breakages during delivery. We have seen many customers gush with appreciation at their restored chandeliers, which were now hardly recognizable from their initial state. For after all, these were chandeliers that had been in use over some fifty years. Others however do not wait as long for restoration. These are usually timed with some major renovation of the house, how soon this may be.

In the meantime, restored chandeliers are easily maintained with gentle dry dusting. Soap and water is not recommended because it leaves smudges on the glass that are hard to remove. The cleaner has to moderate his dusting to protect the hanging crystals. And he should also move around the chandelier to clean the other far side and not turn the chandelier on its hanger. Doing so might break the chain or the electrical cords may be chafed and fray. Such simple maintenance should keep the chandelier in fine form for many more years until the next Palayan restoration.

Fully restored chandelier

47-Year Itch Waiting to be Scratched

It has been a 47-year itch waiting to be scratched.

Palayan Lamps was commissioned in 1969 to fabricate and install the three capiz-and-crystal chandeliers of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It was only after 47 years, in 2016, that we were called back to refurbish these chandeliers in preparation for the Center’s 50th Anniversary in 2019.

ccp chandelier brass arms

Over the intervening years, the brass arms of the chandelier had oxidized and lost all its shine. Capiz tiles had clouded over and become less translucent. A lot of the Austrian cut-glass trim had fallen and been lost. Perhaps because of budget constraints and schedule conflicts, these chandeliers were never seriously maintained. In-house maintenance would merely dust and replace busted bulbs, but these efforts had no hope of bringing back the chandeliers to their original state. In fact, in an attempt to improve the tarnished brass parts, some pieces, which were originally mirror-polished, were serviced in place and painted black. For sure, the chandeliers were never brought down and dismantled for the needed servicing.

These chandeliers were designed by Dale Keller and Associates of Hong Kong, the CCP’s interior designers in close collaboration with National Artist, Arch. Leandro Locsin, the CCP’s architects. Even to this date, the design of the chandeliers’ structure, its general silhouette, was unique in comparison to the more popular all-glass chandeliers from Europe. Most especially, the daring use of capiz (an organic element) in combination with brass and glass was innovative and a design statement in itself. Capiz pendant lamps at that time were commonly seen in the form of Tiffany shades with capiz cut-outs and simple cascading shower-type pendants from Quinta market in Quiapo. No substantial project in the Philippines had ventured to use capiz so prominently. But the design mandate then to Locsin and Keller must have been apparently clear: make it Filipino, make it contemporary.

ccp chandelier capiz and crystal trim

It is noteworthy that this type of lamp design has since been resurrected in our many projects. CCP’s former neighbors, the old Hyatt Hotel on Roxas Blvd., followed shortly with their own version of capiz-glass chandeliers for their lobby. When the hotel closed down, these chandeliers were repurposed for use in the chapel of the Misibis Bay Resort in Albay. But in whatever present form capiz chandeliers take, we always look back to the CCP chandeliers as what started it all.

How do you handle a chandelier weighing more than +700 kilos, 3 meters in diameter, and some 6 meters high without using a crane? A lot of muscle power together with some heavy-duty block-and-tackles will do the job. Fixing such a behemoth to a concrete slab anchor, through a dark and dusty crawlspace barely 24 inches high, also took a lot of perseverance. Need we mention that the chandeliers had to be lifted to a ceiling that was some +30 meters high. Because of its weight, the chandelier had to be hoisted without some of its trim. These strands then had to be individually attached by men balancing on very high, precarious scaffoldings. It is understandable why past maintenance work on these chandeliers did not even consider pulling them down.

capiz shells being trimmed and edged with brass
ccp chandelier being assembled onsite

All the capiz tiles in the chandeliers were replaced. Each raw capiz shell was trimmed to size, scraped, washed with muriatic acid, polished, bound by brass edging and lacquer coated to seal the shine. All these +11,000 capiz shells needed by one chandelier were done by hand. Some +4,500 new octagonal crystal beads were then interspersed and stranded with the new capiz shells. CCP management had insisted that the capiz tiles would be reoriented from the original with their long dimension horizontal. This they felt would present a broader side of the capiz shell to view. While the Austrian rectangular glass prisms were reused, new premium-grade K9 crystal octagonal beads were stranded with the capiz. K9 crystal is a type of laboratory glass that is used in cameras and microscopes, cut by machines and polished by hand. Cheaper many fold than the equivalent popular Swarovski crystals, they are hardly distinguishable from each other in terms of shine, brilliance, and color. At a friendly budget, this was seen as a welcome affordable improvement of the chandeliers’ glitter.

ccp chandelier being assembled onsite

The luminaire members are all solid brass. Upon disassembly, they were all soaked in nitric acid to remove whatever lacquer remained and clear the accumulated dirt and grime of 47 years. The brass members were then polished on mechanical buffing wheels. When their original shine had been restored, they were then given a new coat of clear lacquer and baked in an oven to seal this protective coat. Such metal treatment would ideally protect the brass from oxidation for some 4-6 years, but definitely not 47 years.

ccp chandelier being installed

Finally, all the sockets and electrical wirings were changed. The 61 bulbs on each chandelier were replaced. Reassembly had to be done on site as transportation of built-up lamps would be prone to breakage.

Thus ends the 47-year wait for us to scratch this itch. Hopefully, when one next visits the CCP and looks up at the omnipresent three chandeliers, one would do so approvingly of our efforts to bring them back to their 1969 beauty.