Of all the collections here at Graymoor Lane, our Light Collection brings us closest to Mid-century styles and the artists we love. Putting on a pair of Hanging Light earrings is like stepping back in time. Suddenly we’re in 1952 and George Nelson has just released his revolutionary new lighting design. His bubble lamp used cutting-edge materials to retrofit old designs, resulting in an iconic form that we all recognize today. It graced the ceilings of all the best houses and halls, and that bold geometric shape, with its bright white light, still looks beautiful today in any home.
Courtesy of Herman Miller.
Nelson’s idea was simple. Scandinavian Modern was all the rage in postwar America. From exterior design to interior furnishings, American designers looked across the Atlantic for inspiration. Minimalism, organic lines, and natural forms dominated postwar aesthetics. In Connecticut, George Nelson studied these trends at Yale, where he started as an architecture student and went on to join the faculty. He was eventually lured from his ivory tower to New York City and to the innovative design studios of Herman Miller in the late 1940s.
Herman Miller, NYC
It was with Herman Miller that Nelson began to experiment with interior design. His colleagues included legendary figures in the Mid-Century Modern movement, such as Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi. Like many of his contemporaries, Nelson was particularly interested in industrial design and materials. From office furniture to melamine plates, Nelson used new materials and new technologies to craft a new vision for home furnishings. He translated cutting-edge industrial ideas into accessible, affordable, domestic forms.
Nelson was what we might call today a Minimalist. He experimented with the simplest design forms in nature to achieve maximum functional impact. He was a colleague of Buckminster Fuller and an early environmentalist. When it came to lighting his interiors, the simplicity of Scandinavian style appealed to him, but the imported products and manufacturing techniques were cost-prohibitive for American artists and consumers.
At the end of World War II, new technologies with plastics and other chemical compounds that had been developed by the military became available for the general public for the first time. Everything from jukeboxes to cars to home furnishings benefitted from the wartime innovations. For George Nelson, these technologies opened new ways to craft his favorite Scandinavian forms.
Courtesy of Dwell.
Nelson started with a basic metal frame, the outline of a Swedish silk lamp. Onto that he sprayed a new, cheap, military-grade polymer that coated the frame in light, flame-resistant fibers. In no time at all, the angular shapes of the metal frame took on new, illuminating geometric forms. From spheres to ovals to long cigars, Nelson’s concept for the bubble lamp seemed to defy limitations of cost and material.
From 1947 to1952, the lamps quickly became a Herman Miller best-seller. They fit in any space, could be quickly manufactured in any size, and were fantastically durable. Unlike the delicate materials used in earlier designs, Nelson’s resin coating allowed a full, warm glow to fill a room through a practically indestructible, translucent cover.
Courtesy of Herman Miller.
The bubble lamp, like all great postwar designs, was easy to create, adaptable to a range of spaces and uses, as well as affordable for the postwar family. Today, Herman Miller continues to produce the Nelson design as a pendant, wall, and floor lamp design. As in the 1950s, the lamp is perfect for whatever your needs are.
At Graymoor Lane, we discovered that the organic, linear patterns on Nelson’s bubble lamp are also perfect to wear. This was actually Nelson’s point: a defining characteristic of Mid-century Modernism is that natural forms translate easily into every-day life. Whether turned horizontal on our Light Cuff or vertical, as on our Long Light earrings, the ridges and rhythms of the bubble lamp are soothing, warm, and feel right at home with us.