Glamtiques: Nelson Bubble Lamps®

George Nelson, 1947

Driven by his desire to own a lamp that was just too expensive, pioneering American designer George Nelson decided to make it himself. This was the beginning of the enduring Nelson Bubble Lamps - a major turning point for Modernist lighting.

Born in 1908, accomplished American designer George Nelson was heavily influenced by European design and thought. He had a unique understanding of American modernism, always looking for ways that interior and product design could solve problems instead of caving to outdated conventions. As Director of Design at Herman Miller, he was responsible for some of the company's most beloved designs. Nelson also started his own successful design studio in 1947.

It was in 1947 also that George Nelson set his sights on a Swedish spherical lamp, featuring a wire frame wrapped in silk. He wrote, "We had a modest office and I felt that if I had one of those big hanging spheres from Sweden it would show that I was really with it, a pillar of contemporary design." The one he found for sale was $125, out of his price range.

He looked at it closely, and photo he'd seen in a newspaper came to mind: a fleet of ships being sprayed with self-webbing plastic for preservation during storage. The inventive and pragmatic Nelson quickly constructed a sphere-shaped metal frame and found the manufacturer of the web-like plastic - and the Bubble Lamp was born. Of his epiphany, he wrote: "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."

The first lamps were released to the public with great fanfare in 1952. Influential industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames hung Nelson's Bubble Lamp in their Pacific Palisades living room, inspiring the country to follow. The popular collection quickly evolved to include many shapes, like the saucer, bell, pear and cigar pendants, as well as wall, floor and table lamps.

Each of the Bubble Lamps has a steel wire frame gently wrapped in a soft plastic cover, which casts soft light and reduces glare. Their distinctive and delicate shapes are both striking and calming, delivering just enough light to the space. The steel ceiling plate allows the pendant versions to float lightly overhead. Streamlined, clean and stylish, equally evocative of vintage lanterns and the Space Age, the Nelson Bubble Lamps are at home in every room.

Herman Miller took over the rights to production in 2016, updating the materials to ensure a still-affordable product to an ever-growing audience of fans. Designed to last for decades, Nelson Bubble Lamps are still made according to the original specifications from the 1940s and 1950s. This midcentury icon is also on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art.

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