Mid-Century Modern Lighting
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 styles, with mid-century modery lamps still being specified to accent the interiors of the world’s sleekest boutique hotels and restaurants. Whether it’s a Danish sideboard, a Barcelona chair, or a Herman Miller Nelson© Bubble Lamp, classically inspired décor can instantly make a room feel sophisticated.
The Nelson© Bubble Lamp collection from Herman Miller is an icon of mid-century modern style with an extensive selection to suit any project. Pictured above: Nelson Crisscross Bubble Saucer Pendant
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 twenty-first 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. To help you on your retro-contemporary journey, we've collected 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 for Artek 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’ IC Lights T1 High table lamp for FLOS, a brass and blown glass representation of balance and industrial simplicity.
IC Lights T1 table light, designed by Michael Anastassiades for FLOS
Play with Antique Inspirations
“The home should be the treasure chest of the living.”
Le Corbusier (France, 1887 - 1965)
Danish design house GUBI offers a wide range of classic and contemporary mid-century modern designs, including the popular Beetle family of chairs pictured above, available from LightForm's designer-furniture-focused sister company, Dwell Modern
Brass lighting fixtures and lamps are to mid-century modern design like butter is to bread. This is in no small part to iconic lighting designers such as Louis Weisdorf and Robert Dudley Best, who used it to tremendous effect in timeless designs such as Multi-Lite pendant lights (above the dining table in the image above) and BestLite BL1 desk lamp (on the credenza behind the table), and BestLite BL2 table light (in the hall through the French doors). Meanwhile, the Castle suspension light by Roll & Hill gives a nod to the classic game of chess with its bold Art Deco-influenced geometric glass panels.
While the style generally shuns over-embellishment, even Swiss-French architect and designer--and notorious proponent of minimalist modernism--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.
Roll & Hill's new Castle chandelier plays with geometry with a nod to the classic game of chess
“The primary factor is proportions.”
Arne Jacobsen (1902 - 1971)
&tradition’s Bellevue AJ8 table lamp is simple of form, but powerful in presence
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 as it had to delineate as it illuminated and decorated spaces. In keeping with Arne Jacobsen’s efficient approach, adjustable luminaires like DCWéditions' Mantis floor lamp are ideal for celebrating sleek practicality in any space.
Bernard Schottlander's Mantis floor lamp is one of many classic designs that DCWéditions has reengineered with modern technology for contemporary releases
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 10DM chandelier, designed by founder (and design titan) Verner Panton
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.
Notable among these charismatic luminaires is Verpan’s Fun Suspenion 1DM, a chandelier adorned with mother of pearl discs, as well as 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 Jean Nouvel, whose On Lines table light for Nemo casts colourful rays of light through multi-layered tones.
Designed for Nemo by Jean Nouvel, On Lines table lamp's moveable inserts allow you to play with light and colour
“Delete, delete, delete and at the end find the ‘core aspect of the design’”
Achille Castiglioni (1918 - 2002)
FLOS' Arco Floor lamp is a luminaire for which the term "iconic" is insufficient. From Diamonds Are Forever to The Italian Job its distinctively functional beauty has appeared in film and TV productions for over seventy years
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 pendant light 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 light, a 1988 update by Achille Castiglioni of a lighting design he created with his brother, Pier Giacomo, in 1960
Discover more mid-century modern lighting elsewhere on LightFormSHOP.com, or through one of our offices and showrooms in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Winnipeg.