Mid-century modern design has become a dominant aesthetic in today’s interiors, and it’s no wonder why. Despite originating around 70 years ago, the style manages to combine a retro vibe with the sleek lines and minimalist spirit that never fails to feel fresh and progressive.
These qualities have made mid-century modern lighting especially in demand. Current designers are releasing entire collections of fixtures that embody the era’s fashion. Much of this manufacturing echoes the iconic creations of the period’s original designers, the pioneers of the movement.
In this post, we’re shining a light on the groundbreaking work done by these designers. Their innovations laid the creative foundation for a look that continues to influence lighting design decades later. Chances are that you’ll recognize quite a few of their pieces, since their designs so commonly copied or drawn upon to this day.
1. Gino Sarfatti
Gino Sarfatti was a prolific lighting designer with a highly experimental approach. He sought to explore new formats of lighting, creating unusual designs that could be adjusted to project beams in any direction, as well as fixtures that illuminated in multiple directions. This new concept can be seen in the design of various sconces he created in the 40s and 50s .
Sarfatti was also behind the adoption of halogen bulbs in light fixtures, allowing for the period’s designs to become much thinner and streamlined. He was a co-founder of ArteLuce, one of the original leaders in mid-century modern lighting design.
2. Gaetano Sciolari
The designs of Gaetano Sciolari channel the explorative nature of the mid-twentieth century, characterized by a fascination with futuristic themes. He came from a family that had been creating lighting since 1892, and began his own career designing for Stillnovo in the 50s.
Scolari is best known for his chandeliers , which employ staggered geometry and metals in various finishes. Such compositions crafted a bold, eye-catching look that evokes images of space satellites and brutalist architecture.
3. Arne Jacobson
Originally an architect in Copehagen, Arne Jacobson’s signature style manifested as sweeping, angular forms. He later brought this distinctive look into his later creative endeavors, including furniture and lighting design.
His most memorable fixtures are from his “AJ” series for Louise Poulsen, which included wall, floor, and desk lamps. The head of these lamps featured a cylindrical stem that flared out into a conical shade, perched on thin tubes for a spartan look. Jacobsen created the AJ series for Copenhagen’s SAS Royal Hotel, where it remains an integral part of the building’s striking decor.
4. Gio Ponti & Ettore Sottsass
The work of designers Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass is as much modern art as it is furniture. Italian lighting manufacturer Arredoluce recruited both of them to produce unique light fixtures between the 40s and 80s.
The pair brought quirkiness to the Arredoluce catalog, with curious forms that made each piece feel like it could double as a sculpture. Sottsass’s fixtures especially employed bright colors and strange shapes to blur the lines between lamp and objet d'art.
5. Emil Stejnar
Emil Stejnar is an Austrian designer whose fondness of astrology and mysticism lent a magical quality to his work as a lighting artisan. An additional influence was his background as a gold and silversmith, which he developed as a jeweler.
Though inspired by the organic forms of florals, Stejnar’s compositions often skewed futuristic. This can be seen in his iconic and often-copied design, the snowball sputnik chandelier. A design that took hold in the 1950s, it closely resembles a fuzzy dandelion, with countless glass and metal spindles projecting from the fixture’s center.
6. Otto Kolb
Originally born in Switzerland, Otto Kolb was a Chicago-based designer whose portfolio spanned everything from architecture to interior decor. Much of his work is still famous in the design field, such as his landmark family home, Villa Kolb, and his patented design for a spindle staircase.
But when it comes to lighting, Kolb made his mark with a wonderfully simple table lamp, created in 1951. Two brass prongs extend from a bulbous base, and a skinny neck extends upward into a double cone-shaped head. It is at once delicate and bold, naive and sophisticated.
7. Jean Royere
A designer with a progressive and daring style, French-born Jean Royère was a primary figure in the avant garde branch of mid-century interior design. He crafted unusual furniture pieces meant to defy expectations surrounding standard decor.
Royère is famous for signature designs like his “Polar Bear” sofas, as well as lamps such as his 1950-1959 Persane and 1958 Corbeille wall sconces. His eight-armed Persane wall light is particularly striking, mimicking the form of a delicate mushroom cluster reaching upward.
8. Achille & Pier Castiglioni
Achille Castiglioni and his brother Pierre were two designers that made a lasting impact on the world of mid-century lighting design. The Italian duo were the exclusive designers for renowned lamp manufacturer, FLOS.
There, they created the iconic Arco Lamp, which would eventually earn them a lifetime achievement award in design. The swooping chrome figure debuted in 1962. Countless copies have been made since, and the same style continues to be seen in today’s chicest modern interiors.
9. Poul Henningsen
Danish designer Poul Henningsen was a central force in the development of Scandinavian design as we know it. His philosophy was focused on functionality, aiming to create architecture and lighting that was useful and easy to live with. However, he never failed to accomplish these goals with beauty.
Henningsen’s 1958 Artichoke lamp is a timeless classic, and a perfect embodiment of his practical approach. Multiple copper panels cascade around a circular center, gently diffusing light to be free of glare. The painted underside of each copper flap imbues the light with a candle-flame hue, ensuring that the illumination is intimate, relaxing, and flattering to all who sit beneath it.
10. Serge Mouille
Another French standout, Serge Mouille was a champion of the bold, crisp style that heralded the coming era of modernism. Fascinated by the anatomies found in the natural world, Mouille’s designs were inspired by the delicate structures of insect exoskeletons and plants.
This was reflected in his 1953 Appliqué Murale series of lamps. Leaf-like shades hang at the end of spindly prongs reaching out in a number of directions, interrupted by swift, dynamic bends. The result is clean, intrepid forms that provoke thought in their simplicity.
Mid-Century Meets Modern at the Lucent Lightshop
Our workshop, we breathe new life into the mid-century aesthetic. Here you’ll find a diverse array of lighting designs that take that retro spirit into the 21st century. We invite you to peruse our shop and discover pieces that are sure to become the focal point of your newly-revitalized space.
If you have any questions about our fixtures and how we can help you achieve a perfectly-lit interior, you’re welcome to contact us. For those looking for something truly unique, we also take custom requests!