Light switches get a makeover after years in the design doldrums

Light switches get a makeover after years in the design doldrumsEssen, Germany - No room, no apartment or house can get by without light switches and although everyone needs them and uses them, these inconspicuous devices have been reduced to their simplest function for decades.

Now designers and manufacturers are discovering that all kinds of living spaces can be perked up by replacing the self-effacing rectangular plates of cream or white plastic with something more decorative.

"Light switches can play a part in the overall interior design concept", said Professor Peter Zec who initiated the internationally-recognized red dot design award in Essen.

"They are no longer being treated as insignificant".

Of course consumers have always had a variety of forms and colour hues to choose from, pointed out Klaus Jung of Germany's Electro-technical Federation (ZVEI) in Frankfurt: "What's new though is the innumerable array of shapes and materials now on offer".

Light switches are being fashioned to fit in with specific wallpaper designs or other decorative effects and the familiar functional designs compete with those made of scrolled wood, burnished copper, gold or silver.

There are switch plates made of glass, translucent plastic and even themed ones with illustrations to suit bedrooms and children's dens, all of which are designed to give rooms a vital finishing touch. Leading manufacturers point out that though form and function should go hand-in-hand and a typical example of this synthesis are stainless steel fingerplates from the German firm of Busch-Jaeger.

The "pure stainless steel" series features a novel plastic coating to prevent fingerprint traces being left on the surface. There are similar versions with frames in black glass, chrome, bronze or even 24-carat gold. According to the company, all these variants retain their "upmarket appearance" even with maximum wear.

The firm of Jung in Schalksmuehle offers a wide range of switches and dimmers too with standard rocker switches available in a whole spectrum of colours from deep blue through to red, silver and black.

Coloured switch plates are becoming altogether more popular and the Gira company based in Radevormwald in North Rhine-Westphalia state has introduced a new series of manual light controllers called "Gira Event Klar". Six of the nine frame variants consist of coloured, opaque plastic, a slightly translucent material, including versions in sand, aubergine and green.

Not only the colour of switch plates is changing, but the shape too. Peter Zec points out that rectangular forms remain the most popular but round versions from companies such as Merten in Wiehl and the retro "1930 series" from Berker can add a historically-correct touch to period rooms.

The classic rotary switch is actually a Bauhaus design which can be found in the original Dessau Bauhaus building which has now been renovated to its original state. A version made of Rosenthal porcelain is also available.

A touch of glamour is provided by the "Crystal Collection" from Berker which features glass plates and and push-buttons made of genuine Swarovski crystal. Models include "Crystal", "Topaz", "Siam" and "Black Diamond".

An even more sophisticated version is the "Berker Crystal Ball", a multi-faceted, polished Swarovski crystal under which an optical reflection sensor is hidden. A gentle touch and the Crystal Ball operates lights, blinds and shutters.

Naturally, such extraordinary switches and plates have their price. Some of the items cost as much as 400 dollars each, adding up to extra costs of several thousand dollars if the units are to be used in the entire house. (dpa)