mid 20th C

lightjunction: trend #4 -- classic designs of the 20th century

Kalmar Dornstab floor light set

lightjunction, our new fine lighting event, will be collocated with designjunction at the Sorting Office on New Oxford Street during Londonn Design Week, 18-22 September 2013

The most significant trend in lighting over the last few years has been the re-issuing of classic designs from the past. All the great architects of the 20th century created lights; they should be available to us and increasingly they are.

The Viennese company Kalmar is 130 years old, so they have extensive archives, that include works designed by Josef Frank for Haus und Garten. They have started plundering them, in order to create their Werkstätten collection. The pieces are beautifully made -- here is a closeup of one of the hooks used to suspend the light in the Dornstab (shown in the image above) that allow you to position it in the perfect position for you to read by:

Kalmar Dornstab floor light reading light detail

Bringing these designs back also boosts our lightjunction trend #2 (carved and polished dark woods).

Also in Vienna, Woka are one of the two most important companies to be bringing back pre-war designs (the other being Tecnolumen, who focus on the Bauhaus and Modernist designs of the '20s and '30s). They benefit from founder Wolfgang Karolinsky's deep knowledge of and understanding of the early 20th century design movements in Vienna -- e.g. the Wiener Werkstätte, the Vienna Secession and the work of Josef Hoffmann.

The quality of both the design and the production of Woka items mean that they are for true connoisseurs. For example, when part of the Palais Stoclet was reconstructed at the Lower Belvedere for last year's exhibition Gustav Klint/Joseph Hoffmann -- Pioneers of Modernism, it was Woka to whom they turned to recreate the ceiling lights.

Here is their beautiful AD7 wall light in polished brass and glass, an anonymous art déco design from 1926:

Woka AD7 wall light

It can be nickel-plated -- or, because they do all the work themselves in their own workshops, they can make special versions for you.

But some of the finest 20th designs are in the collections of Scandinavian lighting companies.

&Tradition have Verner Panton's Flowerpot in two sizes, 13 different colours and finishes, and in various typologies (floor, table, wall). They look fabulous on their own, of course...

&Tradition Verner Panton Flower Pot pendant light red

...but they are also particularly well-suited to being hung in groups:

&Tradition FlowerPot chrome pendant light in a group.

&Tradition's collection also includes this pendant from Jørn Utzon (who designed the Sydney Opera House)...

&tradition Utzon pendant light

...and this reading light (there are wall and table versions too), Bellevue, from Arne Jacobsen:

&Tradition Arne Jacobsen AJ2 floor standing reading lightThe more you study Bellevue, the more realize that it is perfect (yes!): powerfully functional, elegant lines and nothing to be added and nothing to be taken away. To anybody designing a reading light subsequently, its very existence must be as demoralizing as the music of Monteverdi is to subsequent composers.

What are the other Scandinavian lighting companies doing?

Well, Carl Hansen is producing The Pendant by Hans Wegner (he of, inter alia, the Wishbone chair)

Hans Wegner The Pendant lightIt is adjustable up and down, using the good solid handle integrated into the design, that protrudes at the bottom.

Northern Lighting  Has brought back Sven Ivar Dysthe's Butterfly light of 1964:

Sven Ivar Dysthe Butterfly wall lightThere is also a copper version -- see our post about this light here.

Finally, Fritz Hansen have only one light in their collection -- but what a corker! It is Kaiser Idell Luxus by Christian Dell, the German silversmith who ran the metal workshop between 1922 and 1925, when the Bauhaus was in Weimar. Here it is:

Fritz Hansen Kaiser Idell Luxus table light redA post on 20th century classics is always going to have fantastic images of lights in it but, nevertheless, what a great note to end on. IMHO.

And there are other typologies! Here's group of them, chatting at a party:

Fritz Hansen Kaiser Idell Luxus lighting collection

lightjunction 18 22 September 2013


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FontanaArte reissue Mano by Pietro Chiesa

FontanaArte Pietro Chiesa mano table ligjht The other light that FontanaArte have introduced to celebrate their 80th anniversary (see the post on the Ashanghai by Max Ingrand here) is Mano by Pietro Chiesa -- a leading exponent of Italian art deco..

Like Max Ingrand, he had his own studio and glass was his preferred material. In 1933, the Bottega di Pietro Chiesa was merged with the company recently founded by Gio Ponti and Luigi Fontana to create FontanaArte. They all wanted to get the finest designed objects into people's homes -- still the intention of FontanaArte (and of Cameron Peters Fine Lighting) today.

Mano was designed in 1932, before the new company had come into being, as can be seen below:

Luigi Fontana catalogue cover 1932 showing Pietro Chiesa Mano

It was a one-off, commissioned for the study of Italian author Ezio d'Errico. The interior decoration was carried out by the Torinese architect Carlo Mollino, working with Pietro Chiesa.

You can see Mano in the study in this picture that was published in 1940 in Domus no. 145:

Ezio d'Errico study with FontanaArte Mano table light Pietro Chiesa

Mano is Ø36cm H70cm and takes one E27 lamp. The white hand and black base are both made from white marble powder and resin.

The hand looks different, depending upon the angle from which it is viewed.

FontanaArte Pietro Chiesa Mano table light hand detail


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FontanaArte re-issue Ashanghai by Max Ingrand

 FontanaArte table light by Max Ingrand ashanghai Regular readers will know that we are excited by the trend to re-issue great designs from the past. But, to be a bit more precise, it is the quality of the designs being selected that really impresses.

To celebrate their eightieth birthday (and, informally, their finding their mojo again since joining with Nice Group), FontanaArte have re-issued three designs (a table and two lights) from their archive.

One is Ashanghai by the Frenchman, Max Ingrand, who was appointed Artistic Director of FontanaArte in 1954. This was a brave move! He was not really a product designer (he was an artist specializing in stained glass windows), he remained in Paris running his studio, and he only spoke French. So the Milan-based firm developed a new way of working. Max Ingrand would "...simply [outline] the artistic image of the object, without sketches or preliminary studies of a technical nature."

FontanaArte Max Ingrand Ashanghai development document

These would then be interpreted and turned into a detailed light design by the in-house experts.

It clearly worked, though, for Max Ingrand was responsible for one of the most iconic of FontanaArte's designs -- of all 20th century lights -- the Fontana table light, available in three sizes:

FontanaArte Max Ingrand Fontana table light

The Ashanghai, of 1955, is conventional, in that it is a base'n'shade -- the favourite type of light in UK. But that base is most unconventional! At first glance, it does not look as if it should work: the "...free-floating supports of [glass] rods...[form] acrobatically balanced triangles reminiscent of the chance compositions of the familiar Shanghai game, sheltered under a vast hat lamp bulb shade."

"Shanghai" = pick-up sticks:

Shanghai pick-up sticksAshanghai is Ø47cm H77cm and uses 3 E14 lamps. The base is made from transparent borosilicate glass rods. The diffuser is also glass.

It is a limited edition, so its value will go up, not down. There is therefore no reason not to buy one, really -- it would be an investment!

Here is one from the original series:

FontanaArte Max Ingrand table light ashanghai blue

But what really matters with any light is what it looks like in a real space. A FontanaArte showroom is about to be opened in Kiev, where it is beautifully presented:

Fontanaarte ashanghai table light in Kyiv

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Greta Grossman's modernist Grasshopper from Gubi in white

Greta Grossman grasshopper floor light white from GubiThe excitement generated by the current trend of re-editing classic designs from the 20th century is not just because it makes available again some of the greatest lights ever designed. It also allows us to develop a far deeper understanding of 20th century design, and of lighting design in particular. This is partly because we can can use the pieces as they were meant to be used, in our own homes, as opposed only to  seeing them in books or in museums (where they are inevitably showing off-putting signs of age). Just as all Chinese meals, football matches or Haydn symphonies may seem the same to someone  who has scant knowledge of them, so eating more, watching more or listening more will reveal the variety within, and the experience of them will be so much richer and satisfying.

By the same token, greater experience of classic light designs reveals further layers of interest and differentiation.

One of the most significant is the rôle played by women designers in the development of 20th century design. And of these, one of the most important is being promoted by Gubi within their Design Icons collection: Greta Grossman.

Greta Grossman portrait

Although Swedish (she was the first woman ever to receive a furniture design award from the Stockholm Craft Association), she emigrated with her husband to Los Angeles  in 1940 and immediately became one of the most significant designers and architects in California from the 1940s to the 1960s. She opened a showroom on Rodeo Drive selling furniture and home accessories to the Los Angeles glitterati (particularly single, professional women who who felt that Grossman designed with their needs and sensibilities in mind) and to celebrities:

"Are you Swedish?"

"Yes, " said Grossman.

"So am I," said the stranger. "My name is Garbo. Greta Garbo."

Greta Grossman also practiced as an architect during the 1950s, designing at least fourteen houses in Los Angeles. The photos taken at the time allow us to see a complete Grossman moderrnist world: building, location, interior.

This was her house:

Greta Grossman house exterior 1948

and here is an interior shot taken in 1948:

Grossman-residence-in 1948

You can see her best-known design -- the Grasshopper (Grässhoppa) floor-standing reading light -- by the chair. Gubi has sold this design for a while now in five colours (anthracite grey, warm grey, blue-grey, jet black and vintage red):

Gubi Grossman Grasshoppers on a table

They are now introducing a matt white version which will be available from October (RRP €665). You will be able to see it on their stand at designjunction during London Design week.

Grasshopper is uncompromisingly modernist (originals go for mega-prices at auction) and as such is a demonstration of Greta Grossman's own comment on her style: "It is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions...developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way. It expresses our habits and our tastes."

Here is another interior shot taken at her house a few years later which shows further modernist designs of hers, the Grasshopper by a chair again (and Greta grossman herself at her desk).

Greta Grossman interior

By the way, she also said that, "The only advantage a man has in furniture designing is his greater physical strength."

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All you need to know about the Bestlite, in HD, in three minutes...and TTFN!

Gubi Bestlite BL1_black Gubi's current catalogue is called Design Icons Through Time. It truly is "a celebration of design", containing as it does so many genuinely significant lights from the 20th century. That means fantastic designs -- the classic being the cream of the crop when assessed over time. (You can download it here.)

It also puts them at the centre of the most exciting trend in lighting at the moment. They have joined great names like VeniniFontanaArte, Nemo Cassina, Tecnolumen and Woka in making available the finest designs, by the finest designers, from the past.

Their most iconic light is the Bestlite. There is so much to be said about it, but somehow they have managed to encapsulate everything in a film that lasts just over three  minutes.

So I'll just shut up while you watch it....


See what I mean? Not only have you learnt about the Bestlite but you have also had a lesson in the range and depth of what to look for in a classic design.

Fine Lighting News is now off for its summer hols. We may put up the odd post while we are away, but their normal frequency will be resumed on the 10th September.

Even Holly, the Company Dog, is impatient to get away, au pied levé...

Holly the Company Dog raring


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