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12 Popular light classics

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Ingo Schaer
Written by Ingo Schaer

Whether flowered dresses with fancy patterns, the good old kidney-shaped table or the well-kept beard in combination with a neat hair parting – the retro look is currently absolute en vogue. In the light design area old classics are being remembered as well. Embark on a journey through the light design of the 20th century and learn more about the most popular lights…

Akari light sculputes by Noguch

Akari light sculputes by Noguch

Old craftsmanship combined with modern electricity: a bamboo scaffold is covered with Shoji paper for these Japanese light sculptures. A beautiful old Aston Martin, a well-kept Alfa Romeo spider or a Mercedes cabriolet – these old-timers would have already fallen into oblivion, if enthusiasts would not restore the old coaches with a lot of passion and care. It is a real pleasure for the proud owners when they may take the carefully cherished, motorized gems out of a dusty garage on warm sunny days and drive through the city. But not only in terms of cars are getting some of us nostalgic when we enjoy the design language of past times. When it comes to furniture and lighting design, classic designs from the past exert a very special charm on us as well. Not without reason produce many manufacturers the old classics today again, some of them even with innovative LED technology. 1924 – Wagenfeld lamp The number 24 carries two different meanings with regards to the Wagenfeld lamp: the timeless classic design was created in 1924 by the then 24-year-old designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld. While its base and column are made of glass, the rims are made of nickel-plated metal. Its classic forms and clear lines perfectly reflect the aesthetic of the Bauhaus school, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, to which the skilled silversmith Wilhelm Wagenfeld belong to, starting in 1923. Therefore the lamp is known under the name Bauhaus lamp. Today the company Tecnolumen in Bremen produces the classic based on old drawings and an original lamp. However, you have to be careful when buying this lamp! The real design pieces can be identified by the Bauhaus and Tecnolumen logos on the locknut below the foot plate.

Wagenfeld lamp

Wagenfeld lamp

With its classical forms and clean lines, this lamp reflects the Bauhaus style. 1930: BestLite “BestLite” – this most beautiful word game hides the name of the inventor Robert Dudley Best and at the same time the not quite immodest promise, that this is not more and not less than the ‘best’ light. The modern design classic had no immediate breakthrough, since it was more ridiculed than admired in the beginning. The lamp only attracted attention when it was placed on Winston Churchill’s Desk (supposedly the lamp even accompanied him during his numerous travels). The BestLite was initially mainly used as a work light in auto repair shops and hangars of the Royal Air Force, but it soon became the preferred working place light of creative people. Despite its general popularity the English company Best &Lloyd was not able to market the lamp successfully. When the Danish designer Gubi Olsen visited the British company in 1989 it was on the brink of ruin. But nothing was in the way for the introduction of BestLite in numerous living and office rooms after Gubi took over the distribution rights for Scandinavia and the worldwide distribution rights as of 2004.

gubi

BL1 table lamp by Gubi

This lamp even stood on Winston Churchill’s desk and was said to have even accompanied him on his travels. 1931: KAISER idell TV viewers, who regularly watch crime stories, should be familiar with this lamp, since the lamp with a smooth high-gloss surface showed up repeatedly on the desks of famous TV police chiefs since the 50s. This is the reason why it was given the loving nickname “police chief lamp”. The lamp is made of high-quality steel and was designed in 1931 by the Bauhaus artist Christian Dell. To indicate that the design was his idea, Dell named his creation Kaiser idell. Today, the classic is produced by the company “KAISERidell A/S” in Vejle, Denmark. Just like in the beginning, the lamp is available in the original colors black, ivory or high-gloss black green and is hand painted. With regards to design and craftsmanship the lamp in on the same level as the older models. The lamp was adapted to current policies with regards to technical parameters only. A real KAISER idell can be identified by a certificate of authenticity and has a serial number, which is engraved under the base.

kaiseridell Luxus

Kaiseridell – Luxus table lamp

1934: Anglepoise Originally the industrial designer George Carwardine developed shock absorbers for the automotive industry. But a resourceful designer knows how to adapt his concepts to other areas as well. Today the Anglepoise is considered the “mother of all spring loaded lamps” and represented a true revolution at the time. The three springs did not only allow movement of the lamp shade, but also allowed a different positioning of the entire lamp. Carwardine was inspired by the functional mechanism of the human arm – today you would speak about “biological design”. The practical designer lamp with a distinctive shape did not only have prominent users like the Queen of England, the author Roald Dahl and the politician Lloyd George, it was also the model for another classic, which is now at least as famous: the Luxo L-1 by the Norwegian Jac Jacobsen. The Anglepoise was issued in a new form for its 75th birthday; it even had an own stamp dedicated to it in England.

anglepoise

Original 1227 lamp by Anglepoise

1950: Cobra She married a jazz musician, emigrated to America in 1940 and became part of the glittering society on the California coast. Celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergmann and Paulette Goddard valued her for her exquisite taste and let her design their houses and apartments. Greta Magnusson Grossmann, who we are talking about, had made a name for herself in Stockholm before, since she received the Swedish design award as one of the first women of all times. It was said that she also designed the crib for the Swedish Princess Brigitta. Today she is known above all for her light fixtures Grasshopper and Cobra (floor and table versions), which were released by the Danish luminaire manufacturer Gubi in a re-edition in early 2011.

cobra

Cobra lamp by Gubi

1951: Akari light sculptures Sustainable design with a regional touch is absolutely en vogue these days. The Japanese-born artist Isamu Noguchi anticipated this trend back in the mid of the last century. When he traveled to Japan in 1950 and visited the city of Gifu, the city’s Mayor asked him to develop light fixtures which could help to revive the traditional lantern industry. The Akari lamps combine old craftsmanship with modern electricity. Handmade Shoji paper is pulled over a scaffolding of bamboo ribs. The lights are folded and packed in flat boxes for shipping. The structure of the wrinkles gives the Akari light sculptures their own patina. The light sculptures are available at Vitra. 1958: PH cones Poul Henningsen, the inventor of the world-famous “PH cones”, was a true multi-talent. He never completed his architectural studies, but he still achieved a lot. In addition to his work as a designer, he worked as a journalist, painter, author and inventor. 1924, at the age of 30, he began the development of pendant luminaires made out of circular reflectors. A year later, during the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, his ‘PH’-light series, which were displayed in the Danish Pavilion, earned him a gold medal. The Pine Cone was created in 1958 as a commissioned work for the Langelinie Pavilion in Copenhagen. The special feature of the artichoke-shaped lamp is its soft, gentle light that is visible from any angle and seems totally glare-free. For its 50th anniversary the Danish luminaire manufacturer Louis Poulsen issued a “cone de luxe” – a special edition of 50 pieces, which were decorated with 24-karat gold.

PH artichoke lamp by Poulsen

PH artichoke lamp by Poulsen

The individual scales of this lamp are arranged in a way that the light is not visible from any angle and seems to be totally glare-free. For the 50th anniversary of the lamp, Louis Poulsen released a Special Edition 50, decorated with 24-karat gold. 1960: AJ by Arne Jacobsen The Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen is known like no other for Danish modernism. His designs are characterized by clear, reduced forms and a sense for proportions. While he is not only known for the design of timelessly beautiful fixtures, the chairs “Swan” and “Egg”, which he designed, can be seen all over the world. Whoever paid attention to the Kubrick classic “2001 – Space Odyssey” might remember the futuristic cutlery that was used on the space shuttle. This is a product of the brilliant creativity of the Danish designer as well. His famous lamp AJ, which he designed in 1960 for the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen, was re-issued for its 50th anniversary by Louis Poulsen in collaboration with the Radisson Blue Royal Hotel, Copenhagen.

Aj table lamp by Louis Poulsen

Aj table lamp by Louis Poulsen

1965: Pipistrello The native Milan Gae Aulenti, designer of the Pipistrello table lamp, had no style – and everybody agreed. But perhaps we should go more into details: on the note that her work lacked a uniform style, she answered dryly: “Because style is a mistake. I cannot work everywhere with one and the same handwriting.” It hasn’t hurt her varied works of art. The conversion of the Gare d’Orsay to the Musée, led by the studied architect and the Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou, whose design she coordinated, were well received by the audience. She designed her extraordinary table lamp Pipistrello in 1965 for the manufacturer Martinelli Luce. As the Italian name implies, the lamp made of methacrylate reminds a bit of a sleeping bat. The Pipistrello comes in different colors.

Pipistrello table lamp by Martinelli Luce

Pipistrello table lamp by Martinelli Luce

1969: Globe Lighting design goes space: The Dane Verner Panton was inspired by the Apollo mission for the globe light in the ultimate space-age design. The designer is regarded as one of the first who introduced pop art into the furniture world, and he embodies the psychedelic design of the 60s and 70s like no other. His spherical pendant lamp made of transparent acrylic glass has two partially blue and orange painted reflectors inside, which are slightly arched and therefore provide light distribution and dispersion. This results in a fascinating play of transparency, form and color. With his pop designs Panton wanted to fight against the grey beige monotony in many homes. Today, the classic is manufactured by the Danish company Verpan. The originals can be recognized by an individual engraved number and the corresponding certificate of authenticity.

Globe by Panton

Globe by Panton

This spherical lamp embodies the space-age design of the late 1960s. The Apollo space missions served as inspiration for the design. 1977: Atollo The Italian Vico Magistretti has nearly been forgotten. Even though it was him, who made plastic designs acceptable in the late 1960s. Apart from Artemide and Cassina, he designed many classics, especially for Oluce, where he spent a few years as an art director. His “Atollo” table lamp with the characteristic “mushroom hat” out of hand-blown Murano glass is his best known creation as of today. But we can’t say that nothing was done to promote Magistretti’s fame. In 1997, the Milan Furniture Fair accommodated Magistretti’s own furniture exhibition. He was honored twice with the prestigious Italian design prize “Compasso d ‘ Oro”. Today, you can admire his works in permanent collections at the MOMA in New York, the VictoriaAlbertMuseum in London or in his Milan Studio, which was redesigned to a museum.

Atollo by Oluce

Atollo by Oluce

1987: Tolomeo The “Tolomeo” by Artemide is still relatively new on the stage of light classics, but therefore not less famous. The portable, versatile table lamp by Michele de Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina was awarded several international design awards in 1987 and is since then a permanent fixture in design stores all over the world. The technically sophisticated light has a spring balance system that allows an infinitely variable alignment of the arm. The head of the light fixture rotates in all directions as well, creating a perfect and guaranteed glare-free light distribution. Through the top opening of the lamp head indirect light is directed to the ceiling, which creates a wonderful work atmosphere. Therefore it is no wonder that the Tolomeo is one of the best selling lights as of today.

Tolomeo lamp from Artemide

Tolomeo lamp from Artemide

About the author

Ingo Schaer

Ingo Schaer

Ingo has been in the lighting business for over 20 years. He regularly blogs about trends and tips in the industry while running one of the most complete contemporary lighting ecommerce sites on the net. Please take a moment to browse his website and feel free to contact Ingo for all your lighting needs.

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