Update: Very old story; all the links now broken. If you are looking for this lighting, you’ll need to google the companies mentioned.
The recessed lights throughout my 1951 colonial-traditional ranch are all in square housings. I also have two recessed lights on the stairs to the basement that are longer rectangles. From my trips to estate sales, I think that square lighting was much more common than round cans in the postwar era, although round was used.
I have searched high and low for replicas of the squares, and the best that I have found so far are the Halo lights in the drawing above. There are several other makers that have similar designs – but this company seems to have the most choices when it comes to lenses, including the cool “Glass Drop Opal Splay,” which is directionally similar to the lenses in the lights in each of my three bathrooms. I also am showing photos of the Nora lights, with both “albanite” (appears to be what we’d call “frosted”) and “fresnel” (or “pressed glass”) lenses. These are also directionally similar to historic lights, which at minimum were frosted, and often included frosted patterns, or a decorative pressed glass shade kind of ‘dropped down’ from within the housing. In terms of overall dimensions, the 8″ square is right on with the Nora – same as mine.
I do have one key issue relative to authenticity: The visible housing for these are all metal (I presume) painted white. As far as I’ve been able to determine – from extensive, obsessive online searching — nobody has them in chrome, which is absolutely positively preferable. If any readers know otherwise, please share!
In case you want more options: Thomas Lighting also offers an 8″ square with what appears to be a frosted shade. And, Progress Lighting has two choices, in 9.5″ and 11.5″ squares (see very last page of their Recessed housings page). I would check with a lighting authority – but I presume you could buy and cut patterned glass to fit, just be sure of fire safety.
These lights are great in hallways, small bathrooms, mudrooms — anywhere, really, with a low ceiling and compact volume. And, they are absolutely classic above a kitchen sink, tucked into the bottom of the soffit. Watch on your travels into midcentury homes – there are some great ones!
I do caution, however, about using them in a larger space in multiples. There is something about a square that stops your eye, compared to a circle. In my kitchen, for example, round cans were a much better choice – actually providing a nice counterpoint to the square room, square cabinets, square floor tiles…and repeating the round exhaust fan, table, and retractable light.
The “right” choice – comes from “eyeballing” the situation. But a starting rule: Small room, one light, go square. Larger room, multiple lights, go round.