Pivotal in the 20th century design history, the definitive Bubble Lamp by industrial designer George Nelson continues to remain a tour-de-force of aesthetics and functionality decades after its making.

Nelson Bubble Lamps by George Nelson

It has been almost seventy years ago since one of the most familiar iconic objects of Modernism – the Bubble Lamp – was created by one of the founders of American Modernism and a long time design director of Herman Miller, George Nelson. Since then, the lamp, with its simultaneously organic and highly structured form, has become an undeniable staple of just about every designer and designer-at-heart’s home.

Like many brilliant inventions before it, the Bubble Lamp’s creation happened as a stroke of unexpected inspiration, when George Nelson, who terribly wanted to acquire a silk-covered, spherical Swedish lamp for his modest office but found the steep price of $125 to be prohibitive in the late 1940’s, decided to create an affordable solution of his own, using a material developed for military use in the postwar era.

Nelson Cigar Lotus Table Lamp by George Nelson


Using lightweight steel to fashion a spherical frame, Nelson chose to experiment with a self-webbing plastic spray used to “mothball” military airplanes and ships at the time to create a fibrous shell of the lamp and applied a coat of plastic to give the lamp’s skin a smooth and translucent finish. As Nelson recalled, “By the next night we had a plastic-covered lamp, and when you put a light in it, it glowed, and it did not cost $125.”

Exploring the fabrication method to create a variety of bulbous shapes, Nelson designed the entire Bubble series, comprising pendants, sconces, tripods, table and floor lamps, in 1952 for Howard Miller.

Nelson Bubble Lamps by George Nelson

While out of production for many years until the 1990’s, today the Bubble Lamp’s clean lines and distinctive shape continue to find their way into residences all over the world. At once opaque and transparent, the lamp emits a soft and even glow that eliminates glare and is pleasant to the eye, making it a highly functional art piece in any home. The timeless nature and form that is both retro-futuristic and modern is easily incorporable with any style, emanating broad appeal to different audiences.

But more than a statement piece or a talking point of a dinner party, the Bubble Lamp is a testament to creativity, integrating technological advances from industries outside of design and architecture to enhance the functionality of an aesthetically driven object. A practical work of art exemplifying the possibilities of new material exploration and production, the Bubble Lamp, much like its designer during his lifetime, continues to epitomise the value in design innovation and creative design thinking. With countless possibilities of what can happen when one goes beyond the expected standards and learns from other industries, the Bubble Lamp silently beacons one to keep the eyes and the mind open to the world.

The Nelson Bubble Lamp series is available at XTRA.

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