From the natural symmetry of a modest vegetable to stellar inspired executive office dressing, vintage lamp designs from the middle of the 20th century continue to fascinate. I had an illuminating struggle to come up with four lights I simply had to share. Class costs, and right here is where you start paying for those retro leanings. If these beauties just inspire us look at more modest high-street luminaries with new eyes, then we’re seeing the light.
¦ Fase Boomerang, c1970. It may be curiously USS Enterprise in look, but once a Fase Presidente lamp from Madrid was seen hovering over the desk of Don Draper in Mad Men, it shot at warp-speed from a boutique classic to a popular sensation. These were executive desk lamps, reserved for those with a corner office and an expense account, and exported to 27 countries worldwide. For some, the early Fase lamps were tainted by association with Franco’s civil service, where The Presidente, The Presidente SC, The Falux, and The Boomerang 64 first performed desk duty on a government contract. The lamps are not only gorgeous but made but move like silk. My favourite, the Boomerang, has the unusual ability for a fixed-necked lamp of being able to swivel the light housing a full 360°, even turning up on its side. Most Fases, with the exception of some rather staid angle lamps from the 1980s, are highly sought after. Expect to pay in the order of €300-€500 for a Boomerang 64 in good condition with the odd nick, a two-pin plug and — crucially — the plastic diffuser intact. Try Fase specialists www.thekula.com
¦ PH Artichoke, c1958. If you want to know what turned the grandeur of the traditional chandelier on its glittering head in 1958, it was simply an airborne artichoke. Drawn by ‘architect of light’ Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) at the age of 64 for the Langelinie Pavilion restaurant in Cophenhagen, and manufactured by the great house of Louis Poulsen, the PH Artichoke is a heavyweight of iconic design. Strung on steel aircraft cable, it’s a light that proves that worthy, unremarkable materials, gathered with geometric genius, can be heavenly to the eye. The 72 leaves layered around and concealing the bulb are made of laser-cut copper or steel in three choices of finishes, set on 12 arches of steel. Even expensive reproduction lights (Poulsen still make the authentic PH Artichoke in Denmark) are generally presented in lighter aluminium. The inverted cone light is gorgeous by day, and throws diffused and sharp shadow without glare, within and away from the light. Sadly, an illuminating investment at €6,800 new. www.louispoulsen.com.
¦ Louis Kalff for Philips, 1950s/60s. More affordable are the light imaginings of Louis Kalff (1897-1976), who joined Philips of the Netherlands in 1925. His pieces from the 1950s are wonders of sophistication and show his efforts to coax the company up to the Atomic Age with new finishes, shapes, and attitude in domestic and office lighting. Like all great design, a Kalff lamp could sit as easily on restrained Georgian table as on a mid-century slab of McIntosh sideboard. Look out for Kalff’s mushroom-style table lamps with slender stems and flat or dish shaped shades. The finishes are a powder coat which can take a bit of a beating over time, so don’t expect perfection. Space-age angles channelling the obsession with the Sputnik and jaunty angles to a perfectly balanced lamp add interest too. Ebay throws up a regular stock of Kalff lamps. As with all vintage lighting, especially metal lights which can carry a dangerous smack of a shock, have any dubious piece rewired by a RECI-qualified electrician. Prices start around €220 for a nice Philips Kalff in fair condition.
¦ Beat, contemporary. Right, I’m going to stick my neck out and elect a modern classic, and I’m on safe ground judging by the amount of ‘inspired’ lights of this type clogging up the internet auction sites online. There’s sometimes just a ‘rightness’ to a piece that keeps you coming back for more and, with its confident retro influences, these pieces still don’t feel too derived. Self-taught and relatively young at 54, Tom Dixon’s celebrated designs in furniture, sculpture and lighting have hit the popular charts with his Beat collection of pendants. Inspired by the homely honesty of the brass cooking pot slapped in black paint, the shades are spun and hand-beaten in India. (Unfortunately for Tom, the knock-offs appear to be made in the next village down the valley.) The matte exterior is a luscious foil to the glittering punched brass inner surface, Beat is all put irresistible to anyone kitting out a contemporary space. There are three shapes to choose from — Fat, Wide, and Stout — and, with the same finish and feel, different choices can be hung together in a chandelier or bar configuration without difficulty. Available in brass, black, or white. Prices from €334-€819 per lamp (including bulb housing). Stockists available at www.tomdixon.net.