Mid Century Modern Lighting

Make a Design Statement with Mid Century Modern Lighting

What makes a piece of mid century modern lighting eye-catching? Why is it that you personally connect to some pieces more than others? Often it’s about the interplay of three design elements – line, color, and shape. Choosing a table, floor, or ceiling lamp with these elements in mind can help you create a personal statement in your decorating environment.


Minimalist Design and Expressive Lines

Clean, simple lines, often contrasted with smooth curves, are a defining feature of mid century modern design. Think of it as minimalist design, but with an expressive silhouette. Take for example floor lamps in the style Greta Grossman’s Grasshopper Lamp, which feature a simple conical shade connected to a long-stemmed shape leaning on a tripod base. Instantly recognizable as mid century design, it can stand alone as a singular form against a neutral background or easily slide into a corner and integrate into the décor.




Caption: Greta Grossman Style Grasshopper Floor Lamp


Bolder Color and Rich Metallic Accents

Meanwhile, the same basic design silhouette can be made to render an entirely different statement by playing with some of the design elements. For instance, this second example of a Greta Grossman style lamp features a brightly colored red shade with a more pronounced base and tripod, yet still retains its mid century modern pedigree. A brightly colored accent or a uniform basic black – which you prefer is a matter of personal taste.




Caption: Stunning Greta Grossman Style Floor Lamp


Introducing metallics is another option worth exploring. A warm brass lamp on a rich walnut desktop is an elegant pairing, while a mod sculpted chrome design can make a stunning statement.


Italian designer, Maurizio Tempestini, designed a desk lamp for Lightolier, for example, that features a glowing brass neck connecting an enameled beige shade and base. In this case the metallic brass complements the hues of the functional parts of the lamp.



Caption: Maurizio Tempestini for Lightolier Anglepoise Desk Lamp


Meanwhile, a more exuberant modernist spring table lamp by Sonneman is far more striking statement. It features a simple black cube base in sharp contrast with a chrome socket spiraled by a large chrome coil spring. The black base and brilliant chrome play off each brightly.



Caption: Modernist Spring Table Lamp By Sonneman Lighting Company



Original Modern Shapes

The importance of shape as a design element is especially important in ceiling lamps, as the fixture itself stands alone as a centerpiece of attention. Shape and material combine to deliver an individual identity to the piece.  as in the case of a curvaceous origami lamp versus a brilliant space age sputnik lamp.


The textured Lucite material and curvaceous folded shapes of the “Origami” reflect a mid century modern organic aesthetic that emphasizes curves, rather than a more typical rectilinear shape.



Caption: Mid Century Folded Lucite “Origami” Ceiling Pendant Light


On the other end of the mid century modern spectrum is a bolder robotic shape of a chrome sputnik chandelier. The globe lights and chrome ball center bring an edgier industrial aesthetic to the piece, while still maintaining a roundness in shape that produces an entirely different vibe from the origami lamp.



Caption: Chrome Sputnik Chandelier



Form, Function and Find

Knowing and taking along the concepts of line, color, and shape will sharpen your eye for design and help you match the right lighting solution to your décor ideas.



For details on the lamps highlighted in this article and our full selection of mid century modern and other period lamps, browse through the lighting & lamps section of our online store. (Add Lighting & Lamps category link: http://lamoderninla-com.3dcartstores.com/Lighting-Lamps_c_213.html)


Designer Spotlight: Widdicomb and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings

Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings (“Gibby” to his friends) first achieved prominence in 1937 for his reconstructions of classical Greek furniture. Of course, no actual ancient Greek furniture is known to have survived, but he was the first to attempt its recreation, which he based on imaginative sketches he had made of the furniture depicted in ancient vase paintings and bronzes in the British Museum. He later recalled, “On Greek vases I saw furniture that was young, untouched by time. . . . Vitality, surging through the human figures on the vases, surged through this furniture.”

In 1936 the thirty-one-year-old Robsjohn-Gibbings relocated, from his native London, to New York, where he commissioned a young American cabinetmaker to construct six pieces of furniture based on his British Museum drawings. He then placed these pieces in a showroom for his new office at 515 Madison Avenue. The showroom had bare white plaster walls (waxed rather than painted), bronze-sheathed double doors, a fireplace without a mantelpiece and a floor mosaic showing Dionysus driving a chariot drawn by panthers. The room’s uncompromising spareness emphasized the lithe quality of the furniture, and his career was launched.

A word often applied to Robsjohn-Gibbings’s work at the time was uncluttered. An admiring interviewer wrote in 1944 that the description “extends equally to his slim, well-tailored person and particularly to the smoothly-working intelligence that animates it.” The elegance of the showroom was certainly uncluttered compared with the colorful complexity of the period’s typical decorator showrooms, but what made it unique was its scholarly classicism. It was inconceivable that such other design greats as Elsie de Wolfe, Dorothy Draper or Rose Cumming would spend their over-booked and socially alert afternoons sketching furniture from Greek vases in the British Museum. Gibby’s ancient Greece brouhaha was in part an astute marketing strategy, yet it was also an inspired and highly original source of great design. His classical Greek furniture had a rather 1930s post-Déco glibness that ancient Greece surely lacked; however, it was unquestionably dapper and beautiful in its own right.

Robsjohn-Gibbings’s clients over the next several years included the fabulously wealthy Mrs. Otto Kahn, cosmetic and fashion legends Elizabeth Arden and Lily Daché, tobacco heiress Doris Duke and New York’s exclusive River Club. One important early commission was Hilda Boldt Weber’s house in Bel-Air, California, completed in 1938, which was later bought, with its contents, by Conrad Hilton.

In 1944 Robsjohn-Gibbings established himself as a tastemaker for the general public with a book titled Good-bye, Mr. Chippendale, which made irreverent fun of the American passion for reproductions of late-eighteenth-century Georgian furniture. He further opposed what he saw as the lifeless utilitarianism of modernists such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, yet at the same time he admired the more organic and humanistic works of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.

He also maintained that a new generation of Americans would turn to Frank Lloyd Wright rather than to George III and Louis XVI. Robsjohn-Gibbings’s low-slung blond-wood furniture of the late 1940s shows striking evidence of Wright’s influence. The pieces, some of which began to be mass-produced by Widdicomb Furniture in 1946, influenced the work of many designers of the period. The characteristic look of the late 1940s and early 1950s—at once debonair and sybaritic—admired by connoisseurs today can be traced directly to Gibby’s pronouncement of 1944.

He also maintained that a new generation of Americans would turn to Frank Lloyd Wright rather than to George III and Louis XVI. Robsjohn-Gibbings’s low-slung blond-wood furniture of the late 1940s shows striking evidence of Wright’s influence. The pieces, some of which began to be mass-produced by Widdicomb Furniture in 1946, influenced the work of many designers of the period. The characteristic look of the late 1940s and early 1950s—at once debonair and sybaritic—admired by connoisseurs today can be traced directly to Gibby’s pronouncement of 1944.

In the early 1960s, however, he returned to his classical beginnings. He and the Athens furniture firm Saridis joined forces in manufacturing pieces based on revised versions of his 1933 research at the British Museum, and he publicized their work with his book Furniture of Classical Greece.

In 1966 T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings moved permanently to Greece, where he designed interiors for prominent Athenians. In the early 1970s he resumed the role of tastemaker with a series of Guest Speaker columns for Architectural Digest, which he continued to write until his death in 1976.





Designer Spotlight- Raymond Loewy


Raymond Loewy

The role of an industrial designer is a difficult one. Through his knowledge of applied art, he must create a manufactured article that will appeal aesthetically to the consumer and result in its purchase. Sales interest, stylistic trends and various other considerations are usually employed to determine how a product should look.

One of the founding fathers of industrial design and certainly the most flamboyant was Raymond Loewy. His influences still reverberate throughout countless design firms and Fortune-5OO companies, not to mention (be it ever so subliminal) the American and foreign consumer. All one has to do is look around. Chances are a fabulous Raymond Loewy-inspired design is right under one’s nose. Witness his contributions to cigarette packaging, automobiles, airplanes, locomotives, corporate identities, refrigerators, duplicating machines, pencil sharpeners and countless other everyday, taken-for-granted items.

Born in France in 1893, Raymond Fernand Loewy, an engineer by trade, served in the French Army Corps during World War I. He immigrated to the United States in 1919. Loewy’s first assignments came as a freelancing fashion illustrator for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and some of New York’s more stylish department stores. His print work for Bonwit-Teller, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue display an urbane, art-deco style popularized during the glitzy decade known as the “Roaring Twenties.” Loewy himself mirrored his designs with his impeccable dress. Whether on a client presentation in New York or sailing on a yacht in Saint Tropez, Raymond Loewy always oozed debonair charm and good taste.

Loewy became a part of a select coterie of designers who unconsciously created and defined what we now refer to as industrial design. Men like Henry Dreyfuss, Norman Bel Geddes, Walter Teague and Harold Van Doren began to plant the visual seeds that shaped the way our nation perceived itself. Their sophisticated, futuristic visions for product designs became synonymous with streamlined modernism and minimalism.

After a short stint as art director for General Electric, Raymond Loewy decided to form his own company. Timing could not have been worse! The year was 1929 and the Great Depression was sending socio-economic shock waves throughout this country the likes of which were never felt before. Armed only with a self-promotional card that read, “Between two products equal in price, function and quality, the better looking will outsell the other,” Loewy went into business. This simplistic axiom was to be his credo for a future filled with immense power, influence and wealth.

Raymond Loewy’s first assignment came shortly thereafter from Sigmund Gestetner, whose duplicating machine still bears his name. Loewy’s challenge was to redesign this cacophonous mass of mimeograph machinery into a more streamlined, productive and safer version. The original design had all of its greasy gears and pulleys out in the open with dangerous, protruding legs that no doubt caused numerous on-the-job secretarial injuries.

With five days to go before his scheduled new design unveiling, Raymond Loewy began modeling his prototype with clay. Out of desperation, he encased the machine’s workings with the grey substance and designed a sleek wooden base with straight legs. Sigmund Gestetner bought it on the spot! As Raymond Loewy reminisced in his 1979 autobiography entitled, Industrial Design, “I often kidded Sigmund about the fact that an exceptionally successful design can make a fortune for the client and put the designer out of business—waiting 40 years for the next assignment!” That was certainly not the case.

Loewy’s second major break came three years later in 1932 when Sears, Roebuck, the country’s giant retailer, gave him the task of redesigning their Coldspot refrigerator. Realizing its current model was totally out-of-touch with the “modern” kitchen nook, Sears needed Loewy to help holster its slumping sales.

Loewy, via a series of carefully reproduced clay model renderings, created an easy open and close latch, designed food and vegetable fresheners, storage compartments and even a water cooler/dispenser on shelves made of lightweight, rustproof aluminum (now standard on all refrigerators). During the first year on the market, Loewy’s Coldspot sold over 210,000 units, a phenomenal success story given the country was mired in the Depression.

Through Raymond Loewy’s incredible flair for publicity, his name always remained in the limelight and on the minds and lips of top corporate executives. They soon realized that their company’s futures were inextricably linked to Loewy’s genius. Every project he worked on seemed to turn to gold for client, consumer and himself. Loewy’s great success contributed to the expansion of Raymond Loewy International, with offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, San Juan and Sao Paolo, giving his operation a much-needed global image necessary to satisfy his “Who’s Who” clientele. With it also came sprawling city apartments and country estates in every jet-set corner of the world. Raymond Loewy lived the fantasy of the rich and famous. Always outrageous and splashy, Loewy loved his work and his clients loved him. Raymond Loewy International became a design supermarket that catered to improving the quality of life through imaginative vision.

Always fascinated with the lure and lore of the automobile, Raymond Loewy could not resist the opportunity to shake up Detroit with his futuristic car designs. First in a long line of radically different, aerodynamic approaches to the box-shaped car was the Hupmobile. The 1932 model was one of the first cars honored by the Classic Car Society of America.

With the success of the Hupmobile came an evolution of Loewy automobile designs that went on to transform BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lancia, Lincoln and Rolls-Royce. His most glowing automotive achievements, however, graced the Studebaker marque with the 1953 Starliner long-nosed coupe and the 1961 Avanti sports car. Both still stand out as glorious examples of Loewy’s adaptive changes to speed with style. They were heralded as “instant classics” and both topped-out at incredible speeds of 170 and 196 certified miles per hour respectively!

Raymond Loewy created what we today call auto ergonomics, ease of operation for the driver in cockpit-like surroundings. As he said of the Avanti, “These cars convey the impression of speed even when at rest.” As testimony to his intuitive automotive designs, an Avanti is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the only contemporary automobile in their collection.

It would prove futile in the limited space allotted to list all of Raymond Loewy’s astonishing accomplishments in the field of industrial design. Suffice to say, they could fill their own book! In noting the major ones, most people who worked with him seem to suggest the following prime examples.

During March 1940, the president of American Tobacco, George Washington Hill, dropped by Loewy’s office, sat down and tossed a pack of his company’s premier cigarette, Lucky Strike, on his desk. Hill proceeded to bet Loewy $50,000 that he couldn’t improve upon the package design. One month later, Loewy won the bet. The old green pack with red target on one side was gone and immediately replaced with Loewy’s new design. “The pack had to shine, to be more loo-min-us, ” he said in his perfect French accent. The new Lucky pack had a glossy, white background with red targets on both sides. As a result, sales skyrocketed and the unpleasant odor of green ink then in use was also a memory. Were Raymond Loewy to redesign that same pack of cigarettes today, it would have cost Mr. Hill over one-half million 1989 dollars!


Raymond Loewy created and redesigned many corporate identities, Armour, BP, Canada Dry, International Harvester, Nabisco, Sealtest, Shell, TWA, United Airlines and the US Postal Service to name a few. The most challenging, however, came in 1966 when Jersey Standard Oil, better known as ESSO, approached Loewy to change their name and logo. Stemming from a bitter legal battle over brand name identity and infringement brought against ESSO by Standard Oil, Loewy was put to the supreme test: how to change, yet retain a time-tested corporate identity. Legend has it that Loewy huddled his top designers together in a conference room and wrote the word “ESSO” on a blackboard. He then said, “Here is the problem. We have to get rid of the sound of this name.” Loewy picked up the chalk and put two Xs through the two Ss and the name EXXON was born! Loewy believed ESSO would subconsciously be recalled by consumers with EXXON and the idea worked.

In his book, Loewy relates an amusing anecdote that sums up the EXXON project: “At a dinner party in Palm Springs, a lovely young lady asked me ‘Why did you put two Xs on EXXON?’ I asked her ‘Why ask me?’ She said ‘Because I couldn’t help seeing it.’ I replied ‘Well, that’s the answer.’”

With soft pencils, scrap paper and scissors always at hand, Raymond Loewy continually needed to express himself visually and encouraged his employees to do likewise. He created the principle of MAYA, “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable,” and put it to use when he designed everything from locomotives, steamships, department stores and space suits to electric shavers, Greyhound buses, the Concorde interior, Skylab and Air Force One. Raymond Loewy forever changed the visual landscape of America. He was the consummate art director because to Loewy everything was art. He orchestrated an entire legion of loyal followers, many of which have gone on to head their own ateliers based on the Gospel-according-to-Loewy.

He has received innumerable awards and recognition for his lifetime of achievements. Loewy was proudest of the 1949 Time magazine cover story proclaiming him the “Streamliner of the Sales Curve” and historian Daniel J. Boorstin’s selection of Loewy in Life magazine’s bicentennial issue as “One of the 100 great events that shaped America.” Not content to rest on his domestic laurels, at the age of 82, Raymond Loewy ironically became a design consultant to the USSR.

Times changed and some of Loewy’s magic just couldn’t keep up with society’s frenetic pace and popular appeals. He was no longer the Pied Piper of industrial design and because he lived so long, far surpassing any of his contemporaries, Loewy became revered for his former innovations, not his latter ones. In the late 1970s, Raymond Loewy International was sold to a banker, marking the beginning of the end for his almost mythical design empire.

Raymond Loewy died in 1986 at the age of 92. His place in American industrial design is forever secure. He was a legend in his own time and was driven by an inner force that wouldn’t cease until the quality of life for people was completely fulfilled. That’s why Raymond Loewy continued to work right up until his death.

Two former design directors of RLI, John Lister and David Butler, said in a letter to the New York Times shortly after Loewy’s obituary appeared, “Raymond Loewy dramatically altered the look of American life by bringing his streamlined style to nearly every aspect of our lives. He was alone among the giants of design in this century in his understanding of the relevance of design to everyday life.”


The Invention That Changed The Way We Write


Today is the 125th anniversary of the Ballpoint pen.

The first patent for a ballpoint pen was issued on 30 October 1888, to John J. Loud, a leather tanner, who was attempting to make a writing instrument that would be able to write on his leather products, which then-common fountain pens could not. Loud’s pen had a small rotating steel ball, held in place by a socket. Although it could be used to mark rough surfaces such as leather, as Loud intended, it proved to be too coarse for letter-writing. With no commercial viability, its potential went unexploited and the patent eventually lapsed. The manufacture of economical, reliable ballpoint pens as we know them arose from experimentation, modern chemistry, and precision manufacturing capabilities of the early 20th century.  Patents filed worldwide during early development are testaments to failed attempts at making the pens commercially viable and widely available. Early ballpoints did not deliver the ink evenly; overflow and clogging were among the obstacles inventors faced toward developing reliable ballpoint pens. If the ball socket were too tight, or the ink too thick, it would not reach the paper.  If the socket were too loose, or the ink too thin, the pen would leak or the ink would smear. Ink reservoirs pressurized by piston, spring, capillary action, and gravity would all serve as solutions to ink-delivery and flow problems.

 László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor frustrated by the amount of time that he wasted filling up fountain pens and cleaning up smudged pages, noticed that inks used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge free. He decided to create a pen using the same type of ink. Bíró enlisted the help of his brother György, a chemist, to develop viscous ink formulas for new ballpoint designs.

László’s innovation successfully coupled ink-viscosity with a ball-socket mechanism which act compatibly to prevent ink from drying inside the reservoir while allowing controlled flow. Bíró filed a British patent on 15 June 1938.

In 1941 the Bíró brothers and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, fled Germany and moved to Argentina, where they formed Bíró Pens of Argentina and filed a new patent in 1943. Their pen was sold in Argentina as the Birome (portmanteau of the names Bíró and Meyne), which is how ballpoint pens are still known in that country. This new design was licensed by the British, who produced ball point pens for RAF aircrew as the Biro. Ballpoint pens were found to be more versatile than fountain pens, especially at high altitudes where fountain pens were prone to ink-leakage.

The first great success for the ballpoint pen came on an October morning in 1945 when a crowd of over 5,000 people jammed the entrance of New York’s Gimbels Department Store. The day before, Gimbels had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the first sale of ballpoints in the United States. The ad described the new pen as a “fantastic… miraculous fountain pen … guaranteed to write for two years without refilling!” On that first day of sales, Gimbels sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens-at $12.50 each!

Designer Spotlight- George Nelson


George Nelson

One designer who has been extremely prolific in reducing that backlog is Eames’ friend and fellow designer for Herman Miller –George Nelson. Nelson has either initiated or perfected many innovations which have profoundly affected the organization of the modern house. In his storage wall – an idea he has continued to explore for new variations since the late 1940s – he devised an ingenious system of shelves and supports that could be assembled to accommodate in one out-of-the-way wall all manner of equipment including bar, television, hi-fi and desk, as well as storage space. He was also one of the originators of the now ubiquitous modular system of furniture, in which seating, cabinets, tables and desks are composed of interchangeable parts, adaptable to any new use or whim. An architect as well as a furniture designer, Nelson has always attempted to integrate furniture with architecture to achieve greater space, utility and harmony; and most of his designs for free-standing pieces, such as sofas and armchairs, like his storage walls and modular systems, are simple geometric shapes, usually with raised “platform” seats, to harmonize with the straight lines of the modern house and to preserve its open expanses.

Nelson merrily strayed from his geometric bent with what may appropriately be called a delicious 1956 collection of seating including confections like the marshmallow sofa which plumped people down on an array of individual foam rubber “marshmallows” and a hard-shelled, triangular number called the coconut chair. Impertinent commodities like these, combined with broad curiosity about everything from abstract ideas to semi-abstract clocks (he designed the screen titles for The Misfits and concocted a Camera Three television program called How to Kill People: A Problem in Design), and a critical intelligence that weaves the most irreconcilable contradictions into lucid human organization, has prompted one critic to call Nelson “his own best design.” Sociable, articulate and witty to boot, he is in much demand as a speaker and writer.


The kind of modern house for which Nelson planned his near, geometric furniture – a house with open spaces, overlapping volumes, indoor-outdoor flow, and everything possible built in – placed the chair in the limelight. There it stands, in splendid isolation, the most conspicuous piece of furniture in the room.

Mid Century Modern, Art Deco, Antique and Vintage