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Let There Be Light: Choosing the Best Mid-Century Modern Pendant Lamps

by Bradley Downs (06/27/13).

An example of Bubble Lamps currently being offered by Modernica, an online company that carries licensed re-issues of the Bubble Lamp Collection.

Which of these five classic Mid-Century Modern pendant lights would you prefer? It’s a trick question because the answer will depends on style of the room, the coverage of the actual light thrown and where the lamp will be used.

The pendant light has long been the consumers answer for diffused or directional lighting over dining room tables, desks and lounge chairs. This article will explore five classic Mid-Century Modern pendants that are still readily available today in vintage versions and newer re-issues of the designs.

The classic “flower pot” pendant designed by Verner Panton (Photo: DanishDesignStore.com)

First off is possibly one of the most recognized, most affordable and classic of all the pendants, the “Bubble Lamp” collection designed by George Nelson Associates, circa 1952. This series of hanging lamps was produced by the Howard Miller Clock Company and were retailed via Herman Miller. The lamps come in various sizes and shapes and their look is perfect for any Mid-Century home or office! These types of lamps work best for dining rooms as they offer some downward directional light as well as expanded diffused light, thanks in part to the large surface area of the translucent stretched “skin” over the steel wire frame. If you like to use wall dimmers to set the mood, then this is the lamp to go with! Prices range from around $200 to $450 for new versions and $50 to $950 depending on condition and size of vintage lamps.

Second is a lamp that isn’t that well known but it is still offered today and really works well in many areas of the home or office. It is the classic “flower pot” pendant designed by Verner Panton, circa 1969. These lamps are on a smaller, more intimate scale and come in a wide array of funky “flower power” colors! The light produced is very much diffused so you can even bunch these lights together having several hanging over one location. These lights also work well in foyers or as bedside reading lights. Prices range from around $300 to $500 for newer versions and $75 to $350 for vintage lights, depending on condition.

The PH5 Pendant Lamp by Poul Henningsen (Photo: DanishDesignStore.com)

Third will be one of the most expensive lights listed here, but when you speak of classic pendants, this one is possibly the most desired option. It’s the PH5 Pendant Lamp by Poul Henningsen. This pendant consists of three reflecting metal shades that illuminate the light downward and laterally, creating 100-percent glare-free light. The interior of the white shade is painted red and features a small blue reflector to create an incredibly warm quality of light. It’s great for use in dining rooms that show off a lot of wood furniture, such as teak or walnut. Various sizes and colors are offered and prices range from $800 to $1,200 for newer versions and $300 to $2,500 for vintage lights, based on condition and age of production, as the older versions are highly sought after.

Fourth on the list is possibly my favorite of all the pendant lamps ever produced and it doesn’t even come with a “pedigree” or namesake, such as the other lights you see. In fact, some collectors may even call it kitschy or tacky but I have to disagree, as it offers up the most versatile of lighting scenarios. I am, of course, talking about the “Sputnik” or “Starburst” light, circa 1960. Now, it is believed Lightolier was the first to produce such a light, but since 1960, numerous designers and companies have copied the overall design, thus making it well affordable and available today, whether you want a vintage version or a newer one. These lights come in many different sizes and hold many bulbs so a wall dimmer is a good option for this pendant as well. Some of these lights even offer bulb caps that resemble a star or icicle. Prices range from $95 to $450 for newer versions and $75 to $850 for vintage lights, depending on size and condition.

A Sputnik lamp in its natural setting. (Photo: Mid-Century Home website and blog)

The last pendant light in this article will focus on the avant-garde of Mid-Century style! This could be considered more of a chandelier, so you’d definitely want it hanging over a gathering room table. The designer of this particular style light is Gaetano Sciolari and most were produced in the 1970s and 1980s. For a few years now, Jonathan Adler has reproduced several of the classic Sciolari lamps. Most are mirrored chrome with small bulbs and some have Lucite portions as well. These lights exude a glam side to Mid-Century Modern that does work well with the chrome and suede furnishings of the 1970s. These lights come in various sizes and finishes and they can be pricey! The Adler versions can cost between $750 and $2,000 and the nicer vintage versions run well into the thousands of dollars, definitely weighing in on the “decorator” trade side of Mid-Century Modern accessories.

Choosing the adequate lighting for your home or office can be tough to get right on your own but staying with the classics gives you a start in the right direction, especially when most of these designs involve years of research and hard work that’s already been done for you! All you have to agree on is style and design from this point.

A Gaetano Sciolari ceiling light, designed in the 1960s.


Bradley Downs is a Worthologist who specializes in mid century modern furniture and the owner of Odd 2 Mod in Atlanta, Ga. You can e-mail him at odd2modauctions@earthlink.net“>odd2modauctions@earthlink.net

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