Mid-Century Masters

Splugen Brau pendant lights | Originally published in Domus, 1961

Few eras of design have achieved the enduring influence and popularity that the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic can claim. Rooted in the modernist movement and including works created during the transformative middle decades of the 20th century, the aesthetic embodies the clean lines and simplicity typical of the post-war industrial era. The prevalence of Scandinavian architects during this time, such as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen, further drove an exploration of timeless forms and clear expression in design. It was two Italian designers, however, who would create the most iconic lighting designs to be produced during the Mid-Century Modern period.

Achille Castiglioni is widely recognized today as one of the most important masters of the modern design canon. Trained as an architect, Castiglioni married formal design language with provocative free association to test the boundaries of manufacturing capabilities. Despite the complexity of his inspirations and processes, Castiglioni's lighting designs display a clarity and refinement complete with all the charm of their creator. The Arco floor lamp, Castiglioni's best-known design, was inspired by street lights, a perfect example of this designer's gift for interpreting the modern world into evocative objects. His Splugen Brau pendant light, designed with his brother Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, is an excellent illustration of how organic and industrial forms were often joined in designs of this era.

Lampadina | Photo by Frank Huelsboemer

Through Castiglioni's renderings, everyday objects were given new uses and functionalities, such as with Lampadina. The lighthearted lamp features a base like a Super-8 movie reel, which can be used to store its cord. One side of the charmingly over-sized bulb is sanded to prevent glare, an element owing to the designer's hallmark attention to detail. Yet his details were never for embellishment - he was also known for economy, using only the minimal needed elements: base, arm and shade for Arco or base, holder, and bulb for Lampadina. Castiglioni's straightforward yet energetic designs set him apart from other designers of the time, and generations have turned to his work for inspiration and innovation.

Unlike Castiglioni, Italian designer Gino Sarfatti had no formal training, bringing an experimental philosophy to lighting design. His fearless, hands-on approach was driven by a desire to understand the process by which things were made, and allowed him to invent new typologies from top to bottom, including manufacturing. Sarfatti established the company Arteluce, acquired by FLOS in 1973, under which he produced over 400 lighting designs. This enormous body of work is naturally incredibly varied, yet features a unifying consideration for simplicity of form. Even deceptively intricate designs like the 2097 chandelier are at their heart comprised of simple, recognizable shapes. Also typical of Mid-Century Modern designs, Gino Sarfatti lighting often incorporates geometric profiles, like in the sleek MOD 2129 pendant light, pictured below.

The lasting reputations of these and other seminal lights from Castiglioni and Sarfatti are simply the result of good design. The timeless pieces blend seamlessly into modern homes, and appeal to the contemporary sense of streamlined, sustainable, and more urban living. FLOS is committed both to honoring the influence of design's most important figures as well as continuing their trend of innovation. Both the Arco and the MOD 2129 have been updated by FLOS with the latest LED technology without compromising the original scope and design. Take a look through the current collection to discover how these Mid-Century masters have left their mark on the FLOS catalog as a whole.

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