How to Master the Trend
Mid-century modern design has transcended eras far beyond its 1950s heyday and second wave of popularity in the 1980s. Today, the pared-back yet sculptural style continues to be one of lighting’s most enduring trends—there’s a reason why the world’s sleekest boutique hotels and restaurants often accent their interiors with mid-century modern lamps. Whether it’s a Danish sideboard, a Barcelona chair or a Herman Miller Bubble Lamp, classically inspired décor can instantly make a room feel sophisticated.
The Bubble Lamp is an icon of the mid-century modern style
The movement’s timeless principles—clean geometric lines, organic curves and a strong emphasis on functionality—were first defined between 1933 and 1965 by an influential group of architects and industrial designers. Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Arne Jacobsen, George Nelson and the Castiglioni brothers were just a few of the names to set the tone. Their legacy is now being celebrated by leading lighting brands specialized in transporting iconic pieces and fundamental principles into the 21st century.
Perfecting the mid-century modern aesthetic in a contemporary space is no easy feat; the style can be difficult to define and overdoing it can make a room look dated. The idea is to add a touch of Mad Men elegance, not recreate the show’s retro set in your living room. Take a few cues from the masters; with these guidelines, you’ll be all set to create your own mid-century modern-inspired look with lighting.
Favour organic shapes
“Form must have a content, and that content must be linked with nature.”
–Alvar Aalto (Finland, 1898 – 1976)
Alvar Aalto’s Beehive suspension light has clear connections to nature.
Spherical pendant lights and gently curved floor lamps are intrinsic to any mid-century modern space. For this we can thank Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto, one of the fathers of Scandinavian modernism. The Beehive A331 Suspension light, designed in 1953 for Artek, remains one of Aalto’s most iconic pieces. The signature shape is constructed from white aluminium and polished brass plated steel rings that beautifully filter light. Aalto’s philosophy focused on creating composure with nature-inspired lines and simple shapes. Today, his lessons in form and function continue to live on in the works of contemporary designers, such as Michael Anastassiades’ Flos IC Lights T1 High Table lamp, a brass and blown glass representation of balance and industrial simplicity.
The IC Table Light designed by Michael Anastassiades
Play with antique inspirations
“The home should be the treasure chest of the living.”
–Le Corbusier (France, 1887 – 1965)
The Dorsey suspension light was inspired by jazz music
Brass lamps are to mid-century modern like bread is to butter. While the style generally shuns over-embellishment, Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier was a firm believer in filling your surroundings with pieces of delight. His innovative designs, ranging from chrome-plated chairs to whimsical geometric structures, are testaments to his wit and enthusiasm. In keeping with a dedication to joyful design, spaces can be accented with inspired lights like DelightFULL’s Dorsey Suspension, a riff on the musical legacy of 1950s jazz trumpet player Tommy Dorsey. Meanwhile, the Castle Suspension by Roll & Hill gives a nod to the classic game of chess with its turret-reminiscent geometric glass panels.
Roll & Hill’s new Castle chandelier plays with geometry with a nod to the classic game of chess
–Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971)
&tradition’s Bellevue Lamp
The mid-century modern movement famously eschewed bourgeois tastes in favour of democratic design (meaning: design for everyone). Leading this egalitarian approach was Danish design icon Arne Jacobsen, who often crafted original furniture and lighting for his architectural projects. In homage to his legendary architectural Bellevue projects, &tradition’s Bellevue Lamp celebrates the design’s signature swan neck and 45-degree shade while also featuring a modern mix of new colours and materials. With the increased popularity of open-concept living in the 1950s and 1960s, lighting became even more multi-functional—illuminating, delineating, and decorating spaces. In keeping with Arne Jacobsen’s efficient approach, adjustable luminaires like the FontanaArte’s Falena Floor lamp are ideal for celebrating sleek practicality in any space.
The Falena floor lamp from Fontana Arte
Consider the interaction of colour and light
“Choosing colours should not be a gamble. It should be a conscious decision. Colours have a meaning and a function.”
–Verner Panton (1926 – 1988)
Verpan’s Fun Suspension(Left) & Globe Pendant(Right)
Pops of emerald and pastel colours are used thoughtfully in mid-century modern spaces, ensuring that the focus is always on form and function. Danish designer Verner Panton was known to experiment with the relationship between light, colour and shapes. Panton broke the rules of traditional Scandinavian design and, in the process, introduced a series of modern lamps with unique personalities. Among them is Verpan’s Fun Suspenion 1DM, a chandelier adorned with mother of pearl discs, as well as the VP Globe Suspension Brass, a pendant light consisting of a transparent acrylic sphere and hand polished brass reflectors. Panton was successful in creating a set of new theories about how light impacts surroundings and how the use of materials and colours can alter its effect. This exploration is being continued by contemporary designers like Christophe Mathieu, whose Discocó Suspension for Marset creates a play of light, shadows and multi-layered tones.
The Discoco suspension light plays with light and shadow
“Delete, delete, delete and at the end find the ‘core aspect of the design’”
–Achille Castiglioni (1918 – 2002)
Flos Arco Floor lamp
Decisive decorating lends itself well to the astute mid-century modern aesthetic. The Castiglioni brothers were firm believers in using a minimal amount of materials to make a statement. The three Milanese siblings (Achille, Pier Giacomo and Livio) essentially ruled Italian lighting design in the 1950s and 1960s. A shining example of their ingenuity is the Arco Floor lamp, designed for lighting manufacturer Flos in 1962. Featuring a silhouette inspired by a street lamp, a stainless steel body and a Carrara marble base, Arco exemplifies mid-century modern’s “less is more” approach. It also delivers a powerful spread of direct but warm illumination, reducing the need to use a ceiling light. Many key Castiglioni lights have been revived in recent decades, including the Taraxacum 88 Suspension, a 1988 update to the original Taraxacum lamp created for Flos in 1960. Simple yet impactful, the bloom-inspired pendant is a testament to mid-century modern design’s gentle fortitude.
Flos Taraxacum 88 Suspension
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