Light and Tech: Classic lighting reborn

Lighting expert Jill Entwistle reports on the return to the market of some classic lighting products in new, improved offerings and anniversary editions

Words by Jill Entwistle

There are two kinds of classic. The first is probably the truer definition, the kind of product that although designed decades ago, could easily pass for something created yesterday: clean-lined, timeless, beyond mere modishness. The second is an object recognisably from yesteryear, carrying with it the stylistic baggage of a particular era.

We frequently look to the past for creative inspiration. The fashion business thrives on recycling yesterday’s hemlines, necklines, peplums and padded shoulders. But there has been a particularly noticeable strain of retro in design for some time now, not least in lighting. The catalogues of some long-established companies with strong designer pedigrees are apparently being scoured for the gems of the past.

As life gets more digital it would appear that there is a hankering for the solidity, or suggestion of it, of those old fittings. Somehow more substantial and characterful, they evoke the charm of a bygone age. They were also often designed by masters, male and female, and have earned their longevity. Some have never gone away – Poul Henningsen is literally a classic example – others, designs by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Ettore Sotsass, Gae Aulenti, have been deservedly revived.

Bilia Mini

Gio Ponti, founder of FontanaArte, designed the Bilia in 1932. Its reductive geometry, a sphere balanced on a cone, is so striking it has almost become a brand symbol. Still available in its original size, the company has now also scaled it down – height 26cm, diameter 12cm – and extended the range of colours and finishes. The new Bilia Mini comes in white, black and primary colours, as well as black nickel, polished copper, satin nickel and satin brass.

Tacchini Edizione

Umberto Riva designed this table lamp in 1963, and it has been reissued with the name E63. Available in a range of four metallic finishes, plus yellow and pistachio green, it has a chunky, almost robotic, profile and features an adjustable head.

Nemo Lighting
Masters Collection

Lampe de MarseilleLampe de Marseille

Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand are the latest additions to Nemo’s Masters Collection. In fact Perriand’s Potence Pivotante, the Pivotante à Poser and the Applique à Volet Pivotant luminaires are being mass-produced for the first time.

Other additions include Le Corbusier’s Marseille (1949-52) adjustable wall lamp; the cochleate, brass-plated Escargot (1951); the concrete Borne Béton (1952); Projecteur 365 (1954) and Parliament (1963). Perriand actually worked with Le Corbusier and designer Jean Prouvé, and influenced both, though they subsequently overshadowed her. She designed the Potence Pivotante luminaire 80 years ago.

Pivotante à PoserPivotante à Poser

The vertical wall bracket holds a 2m-long, horizontal, swivel arm that moves through 180 degrees. On the end is a spherical, white glass diffuser. In her autobiography she rather unassumingly describes it as ‘a revolving and cheap lamp, manufactured with long, black tubes assembled in a shape of an inverted L, to bring electrical cable from the switch to the bulb’.

Pivotante à Poser, a cylindrical table lamp, was designed in the Fifties. It is open on two sides with diffusers that rotate to open or close for direct or indirect illumination. The Applique à Volet Pivotant wall light dates from 1962, and again uses mechanical principles to alter the light distribution. The sconce has an adjustable metal panel, which conceals the lamp and functions as a screen that can pivot to vary the volume and direction of diffused light.

Corbu’s Lampe de Marseille, designed for his Unité d’Habitation residential development in Marseille, is both familiar and extraordinarily contemporary in its lines. An adjustable wall lamp, it features two joints on the arm and a rotating wall fixing that provides both direct and indirect light. His Escargot is a sculptural floor lamp, available as a limited edition. With a body in aged cast brass, it has a curved inner reflector surfaced in anodised aluminium. This reflects the source hidden in the body to produce a widespread indirect light distribution.

Borne BétonBorne Béton

Borne Béton is available in small (indoor lamp) and large (exterior pathway) versions. Also designed for the same Marseille residential development, and for Bhakra Dam, Sukhna Dam in India, its concrete form curls over to give a downward light.

‘Lamps by Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier are modern objects for modern space,’ said architect Jean Nouvel in an introduction to a Paris exhibition featuring the fittings. ‘They are expressive, abstract and colourful, considering black to be a colour. They inhabit the place and mark it by their form and their light.’

PH 5, PH Artichoke AND PH Snowball
Louis Poulsen

PH 5PH 5

They probably don’t come any more classic than Louis Poulsen, especially its seminal Poul Henningsen-designed PH 5, PH Artichoke and PH Snowball luminaires. Designed in 1958, they marked their 60th anniversary last year. They are sculptural and intricately engineered, perfectly combining form and function. They are not just beautiful objects but a lesson in how to control and distribute light, producing a soft, glare-free illumination. ‘His thinking about the way design shapes light has informed generations of lighting designers,’ says Louis Poulsen’s product and design director, Rasmus Markholt, of Henningsen.

The layered construction, which gently diffuses the light and conceals the source, actually first emerged in principle much earlier. Henningsen’s first model, exhibited as the Système PH, was designed for the 1925 World Exhibition in Paris where it won a gold medal.

PH ArtichokePH Artichoke

Throughout a lifelong association with Louis Poulsen, he worked with the basic principles he established then. ‘From the age of 18, when I began to experiment with light, I have been searching for harmony in lighting,’ he once said.

Over the years Louis Poulsen has refreshed the designs with different colours, finishes and sizes. Last year to mark the anniversary, the PH Artichoke was produced in a special edition, brushed brass finish. Both the PH 5, and its new, smaller counterpart, the PH 5 Mini, were released in commemorative editions that combine copper shades and white tiers.

Designer Poul Henningsen with his PH 5s and the PH ArtichokeDesigner Poul Henningsen with his PH 5s and the PH Artichoke

The company also released the lamp in seven colours, and for the first time the PH 5 Contemporary Hues collection is available in a new smaller size.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Henningsen’s birth, Louis Poulsen is also releasing new editions of the PH Artichoke, PH 5 and PH threeshade glass lamp. A special PH Artichoke, in its original materials and finish – solid copper leaves with a rose finish on the inside – will be available in all sizes exclusively this year.

1950s / 1960s collection

Joe Colombo, Achille and Pier Castiglioni, Gae Aulenti and Ettore Sotsass are among the roster of designers who have worked for Stilnovo, founded in Milan in 1946.

The company folded in 1993 but was resurrected in 2013 by Renato Consolati and relocated to Verona. Its biggest project has been to revive its collections from the Fifties and Sixties, locating the original hand-drawn production drawings, ensuring modern compliance and, where possible, seeking the approval of the original designers or current custodians of their work for any modifications. The company also set out to find the original artisan workshops that produced the early designs. Full-scale production started in 2016 and last year the collection became available in the UK.

The Sputnik ceiling fitting (left) was part of a space-age collection inspired by the Sputnik satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. It became something of an icon, regularly featuring on TV at the time and in a number of black-and white movies.

The original collection was, and still is, handmade. Multiple brass rods splay out from a large brass central orb, the end of each crowned with a conical aluminium reflector shade that houses the light source.

In black, ivory and multicoloured versions, the complete Sputnik collection comprises a 16-arm feature chandelier, a floor lamp, plus matching wall and ceiling fittings.

Saliscendi, designed by Achille and Pier Castiglioni, was produced a year later in 1958. An adjustable metal pendant, it has a diameter of 120cm and minimum drop of 200cm.

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