MidCentury Modern Light Fixtures

1950s hanging lamp

1950s-style hanging lamp

1950s hanging lamp

1950s style medium atomic 3-tier hanging lamp:
13″ diameter
main tier: caramel
top + bottom tiers: sand
pattern: brown streaks

The geometric, tiered atomic shapes of 1950s-style hanging lamps, like this one, are characteristic of mid-century modern design.

Post-war design was infused with fresh ideas and a vigor that took home furnishings in a direction away from your dowdy grandma’s decor, towards the vibrant modern new world (whatever that means!). Frilly, delicate, and intricate (hence expensive) patterns and materials became deprecated in favor of the new materials that lent themselves to large-scale production. Designers were tasked with taking these materials (aluminum, plywood, fiberglass, etc), and creating products that could be economically mass-produced, bringing good design to the masses for the first time.

Fortuitously, fiberglass turned out to be an exceptional, and arguably the best, light diffusion material: it was in the 1950s, and it still is today. Fiberglass parchment easily forms to a simple curve, so fiberglass shades naturally took the shape of drums, cones, and conic section angles, like in the hanging lamp above. The simple but strong geometric shapes fit in perfectly with the geometric shapes typical of classic post-war design.

A different fiberglass fabrication technique is compression molding. This technique allows for the production of compound curves (as opposed to simple curves). These shades are characterized by their hard surface and rounded bullet shapes. You frequently find compression-molded fiberglass shades on vintage pole and task lamps, and occasionally in hanging lamps or other lighting products. It is the same material the iconic Eames chairs are made with. Pigments for compression-molded fiberglass have to be added before the molding, so they are available in only a limited number of colors. Vintage fiberglass bullet shades typically have the recognizable coarse woven fabric laminated in a tan-hued resin, although they are sometimes found in red or other colors. In answer to the many inquiries we get, we do not use the compression molding technique, so we don’t manufacture the bullet shades.

Our fiberglass parchment — the same material the original 50s shades were made from — isn’t hard like the bullet shades. It is supple and flexible, allowing us to fabricate the range of shapes shown on this site. We are also able to hand-apply our own translucent stains to this material, allowing for the wide range of vibrant colors we offer. It also enables us to add our own hand=applied patterns, like the streaks shown on the hanging lamp above.

An additional benefit of incorporating fiberglass shades in hanging lamps is the light weight of the shade, making the entire lamp light in weight. They are so light that drywall anchors can often be used to anchor the hooks or modular hangers into the ceiling (although we still advise trying to find a joist or other solid material).

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