Wednesday 16 October 2019

Kirstie McDermott: why mid-century lighting will just never go out of fashion

It's the circle of light

BRASS PLATING AND A MILK GLASS GLOBE: the perfect pendant for a smaller space with a hint of mid-century sputnik style. €100,
BRASS PLATING AND A MILK GLASS GLOBE: the perfect pendant for a smaller space with a hint of mid-century sputnik style. €100,
Lovely for a bedside: Metal pendant light,; €79.99
Try mixing the Shera table Light, at, with similar pieces of differing heights; €45
The differing shape of the globes on this Milk Glass Chandelier, at, makes it a standout; €556
Most wanted: West Elm's Sphere and Stem Floor Lamp, at; €349
The Faye chandelier, at, is a really accessible price and a great piece for a high ceiling; €225

Kirstie McDermott

Post-war, a new-found sense of optimism combined with some handy technological developments helped usher in a modern renaissance in product and furniture design. Swooping shapes and forms in new materials such as plastics began to come into production, and a cadre of designers - now venerated names - such as the Castiglioni Brothers, Poul Henningsen and Alvar Aalto came to the fore.

While there are a lot of box-ticking identifiers for the often interchangeable mid-century and atomic design periods - atomic tripod legs, a geekery for teak and rounded, curved forms are just three - in lighting, it's globular sputnik chandeliers in their many guises that so often define the decades after World War II.

Suspended, milky white or clear glass globes held on polished chrome or brass arms are particularly typical. And thanks to our seemingly never-ending obsession with scoring the exact right vintage G-Plan sideboard for our modern homes, this style of lighting is getting a fresh look in too.

"It's our obsession with mid-century design that has led us here," agrees Yvonne Nugent, head of homewares, bedding and furniture at Harvey Norman. "Think about looking up at old schoolhouse-style circular pendants or the continued obsession with the metal task lamp in all its guises. It's an era that we simply never ignore."

Before, you could look, but you couldn't touch a beautiful opaline glass and metal chandelier or lamp - unless you had very deep pockets. Now, the difference is that, thanks to the proliferation of online shopping brands such as, design-led imports like West Elm - and Harvey Norman itself - reproduction mid-century lighting is now democratic, affordable, and available to all. "Previously lighting like this would be unattainable for most of us and either used commercially, or in very high-end restaurants or cocktail bars," Nugent agrees.

Of course, it's still possible to buy the originals - head to sites such as or if you're feeling spendy - but consider one thing first: scale. The originals were designed for grandiose schemes and the generosity of post-war open-plan.

Newer pieces will be smaller, to take into account how we live now - and that's no bad thing. "The scale of these designs is in context to how houses are designed," Nugent points out. "Lighting is a very important part of the overall function and form of your home and is often not considered until the end of your journey. In fact, it should be considered in conjunction with your initial concepts."

The other advantage of buying new is that you can buy 'families' of lighting - something not often available with vintage. "Having three minimal coordinating pieces, well balanced in scale, and spaced well in a room will provide you with all the right functionality as well as beauty," Nugent points out. That means you can create symmetry or scale with a dramatic central chandelier, add a table or floor lamp and complement with wall sconces.

Dramatic circular glass lighting is at its best in hallways and living spaces where it - literally - gets a chance to shine and be admired. But this isn't all just about good looks.

"These milky white opaline glass lights cast a very soft muted light," Nugent says. "It means we can now rest assured that when we look up, we are no longer blinded by light - however, we meet something very beautiful instead."

Kirstie McDermott is editorial director of House and Home magazine

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