A Biological Imperative: Giant Chandeliers

St. Regis Atlanta’s Astor Court , photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels

St. Regis Atlanta’s Astor Court, photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels

What is it about oversized and unapologetically opulent chandeliers that makes even the grumpiest minimalist smile? The reason they’re so hard to hate is that they embody one of the most powerful of the universal “Aesthetics of Joy” . (Remember? The ones that Ingrid Fetell Lee says we’re all biologically programmed to seek out.)

We’re talking about the Abundance Aesthetic.

It’s the serotonin burst we get when we see a lot of one thing in one place. It originated as an evolutionary reward for discovering and stockpiling food resources beyond our immediate needs. So rather than just foraging aimlessly all day, humankind learned to get excited when we found something that could sustain us beyond our next meal. Which, of course, freed us up for longer-term pursuits like discovering fire, inventing the wheel, and renovating our caves.

In other words, nature designed us to be greedy little hoarders, so it’s no surprise that any modern display of excess can trigger the same sense of giddiness as a prehistoric tree packed with ripe fruit or a herd of wooly mammoths.

 
St. Regis Atlanta’s Astor Ballroom , photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels

St. Regis Atlanta’s Astor Ballroom, photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels

...nature designed us to be greedy little hoarders, so it’s no surprise that any modern display of excess can trigger the same sense of giddiness as a prehistoric tree packed with ripe fruit...

Whether it’s a silo full of grain, a Scrooge McDuck pile of money, or thousands of brilliant crystals on a fixture that’s the size (and maybe the price) of a small car, our reptile brains just can’t get enough of getting enough, even if our logical grownup brains know better. Our primitive eyes crave lavishness and profusion even if our stomachs or “finer tastes” no longer do.

Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead , photo courtesy of Hyatt Corp.

Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead, photo courtesy of Hyatt Corp.

That’s why certain design characteristics that embody multiplicity have endured for millennia—because they appeal to our deepest desires. Opulence isn’t terribly practical to live with, yet throughout history, displays of abundance and grandeur have been aspirational lifelines in a largely resource-poor world, from temples and towers to cathedrals and castles.

These days, our sacred and celebratory moments are increasingly taking place in lobbies, ballrooms, casinos, and multi-story atriums, but the design principal remains the same. Whether they’re regency, rustic, roccoco, or a hybrid, traditional oversized chandeliers bring a sense of occasion and indulgence that feels like a treat, and for certain hospitality spaces, that’s precisely the point!

Sandy Hughes