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Lighting is an essential element of midcentury modern design, playing a key role in the aesthetics and functionality of modernist interiors. In Denmark, the birthplace of midcentury modern, lighting design has been treated as an integral part of architecture ever since Danish modernist design principles first emerged in the mid-20th century, and at the peak of the midcentury era architectural project briefs would invariably include a complete specification for lighting. This is the reason so many Danish architects, including Andreas Hansen, Bent Karlby, Jørn Utzon and Louis Weisdorf, were actively invoved in lamp design in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
During the midcentury era the production quality of household fittings like lights and lamps was extremely high, especially in affluent nations like Denmark, and particularly at the luxury end of the market occupied by modern design-driven companies such as Fog & Mørup, Lyfa, Louis Poulsen and Nordisk Solar Compagni. No expense was spared by these companies in the development and production of their light fittings, which were designed and built to last a lifetime.
Inevitably this approach meant the lights were often expensive, sometimes costing the equivalent of a week's average wage at the time. But their high quality means that many of them are still in excellent condition today, half a century or more after they were produced, while their timeless modernist style remains fresh and relevant to both retro modern and contemporary modern homes.
The role of lighting in midcentury modern interior design is to help define different activity zones and to create appropriate lighting and atmosphere for each area. These functions originate in the open-plan architecture of midcentury modern interiors, but are also appropriate to non-open-plan layouts. In the midcentury lighting style, instead of using just one or two centrally-positioned light fittings to illuminate an entire room, multiple lights are deployed across different areas to provide specific activity-appropriate illumination.
For example, a localised pool of light beside an armchair or over a coffee table will create a cosy area for reading or relaxing, while a pendant lamp hung just above head height over a dining table can provide a well-lit but glare-free and inviting environment for family meals and entertaining dinner guests. Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of the midcentury modern lighting style is that pendant lamps are often hung low or even very low when they're being used to provide localised ambient light in the Danish hygge mode. Pairs and multiples are also a common feature.
Check out our lookbook of original vintage midcentury lighting styles below for ideas and inspiration.