NEW ORLEANS - Duke Morgan and Keith Malvitz were strolling through French Quarter antique shops when Morgan spotted the perfect lighting fixture for his big new bathroom.
It was an oval, Baccarat 1945 chandelier dripping with more than 30 crystals; it could have been inspired by a headdress. Malvitz thought Morgan had lost his mind.
"I just didn't like it," he said. "But once it was put up, it's a gorgeous piece."
Morgan immediately knew it was right. "It's not too grand that it looks ostentatious," he said. "I wanted the mood of a luxurious bathroom."
Chandeliers in Southern bathrooms are not uncommon. Architect John Williams, of New Orleans, explains: "Think about it. What does the South have that colder climates don't? High ceilings."
Before air conditioning, many homes in hot regions were designed for climate control with high ceilings and big windows to help circulate air.
Now, it seems, chandelier lighting is finding its way into more homes in other regions, too.
"It's a way of adding a lot of interest in a small space," said Kevin Sharkey, a lighting design expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. "They come in all different sizes. East Coast architecture is suited to chandelier lighting, and there's a demand for it in California."
Not only are chandeliers becoming more varied in style, he said, but they're appearing in more rooms in the house. In colder climates, he said, they're being used more in kitchens, and in pairs over fireplaces.
Julie Neill began doing her own lighting when she started a design business in New Orleans in 2000. She said lighting is vital to setting the mood of a room, and the only things she could find in stores were mass-produced fixtures with little flair, or antiques. She designs each piece for specific clients, and gives them names such as "Lucy" and "Ethel." Some look more like birdcages than "Phantom of the Opera" props. The "Monique" has the quintessential crystal design, but is made of wood - even the droplets. Neill agrees that chandeliers in bathrooms work - even outside New Orleans.
"Bathrooms are becoming so luxurious," she said. "It's your escape."
Martha Stewart's new line has models that resemble lanterns. Chandeliers are no longer seen as accouterments for the rich, Sharkey said.
"Some people have the notion that it's a bit ostentatious," he said. "But there's polished brass and polished nickel. You don't have to have big Waterford follies all over."
Lowe's hardware stores say do-it-yourself installation can be done with an intermediate skill level; people who can install a ceiling fan or build a birdhouse can probably put up a chandelier in a day or so, the chain says. The Web site for "This Old House" rates the difficulty level of installation at easy to moderate.
The key, said Sharkey, is "measure, measure, measure. You don't want it too high - it doesn't look elegant."
Lighting from chandeliers is so versatile it can enhance any space, he said. "Strict overhead lighting is not flattering, but chandelier lighting with dimmers, I find it very flattering."
Morgan's bathroom already had natural light through a large translucent window. Recessed ceiling lights and more focused fixtures by the mirrors also illuminate, but the chandelier hooked up with dimmers makes an elegant statement while still being practical.
For parties, he and Malvitz often turn off all other light sources in the bathroom and set the chandelier on low.
Neill says a chandelier can become a room's star attraction; take the "green" chandelier she configured from nail gun bands and other recycled pieces. Nails stand in for crystal droplets.
"This is jewelry for your home," she said. "But I do enjoy that it's a useful product too."