No nautical theme is complete without a lighthouse in the mix, but lighthouses have an enduring popularity that allows them to break out of the beach house and into everyday décor – but why?
A look into history and pop culture reveals a few clues about what makes lighthouses so attractive.
Aside from the legendary Pharos of Alexandria, lighthouses emerge first not in history books, but on coins, which could be viewed as a hint to how they established a toehold as decorative fixtures in landlocked societies. Archeologists have found lighthouses on the currency of many ancient seafaring civilizations on the Aegean Sea, which begs the question of what inland traders - possibly never having seen a lighthouse - must have thought when they saw them stamped on the coin of the realm.
The first lighthouses were illuminated with flammable materials like wood or coal, but little information survives regarding how the fires were maintained. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 18th century that lighthouses started popping up in the forms more reminiscent of modern times, and it is only on the rare occasion that lighthouse design dramatically deviates from that which was established long ago.
These entwined facets of lighthouse history lend a mixture of mystery and familiarity that is unique in global architecture, and has no doubt fueled their allure over the centuries.
<strong>Lighthouse Lore & Pop Culture</strong>
More than its shape and history, though, the lighthouse’s appeal stems from what it represents, both literally and figuratively: a beacon of safety in the storm. The varied interpretations of its symbolism makes it the perfect centerpiece for almost any medium, whether in literature, painting, poetry or photography.
A few places lighthouses have shined brightest up in pop culture:
- French photographer Jean Guichard, who captured <a title="'Phares dans la Tempete'" href="http://www.atgstores.com/framed-art/amanti-art-dsw115135-jean-guichard-phares-dans-la-tempete-framed-art_g964727.html" target="_blank">the famous photo</a> above during a violent storm off the coast of Brittany in 1989, has made a career out of lighthouse photography.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, author of <em>Treasure Island</em> and <em>The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde</em>, hailed from a long line of lighthouse engineers and keepers, and featured the structures in many of his poems and stories.
- Jules Verne, perhaps best known for adventure tales like <em>Journey to the Center of the Earth</em> and <em>Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea</em>, also penned <em>The Lighthouse at the End of the World</em>, a swashbuckler inspired by the lighthouse at the Isla de los Estados, Argentina, which was published posthumously in 1905.
These days, it’s not uncommon to see a lighthouse as an accent to décor in nearly any setting. The myriad ways it can be presented give it versatility as a decorative item without losing the sense of strength, solitude and mystery it conveys.
Remember: You don’t need an oceanfront view to enjoy a little lighthouse décor.