An object’s beauty is magnified once you know the story behind its making. That’s especially true when a piece is produced by hand, by artisans carrying on a time-honored craft tradition. The result is an artisanal product that is more than just a handsome object; it’s imbued with heritage, culture, and its own unique character-and, as we illuminate here, a fascinating backstory.
Here, four lighting brands that carry on a tradition of craftsmanship and protect the artisanal design of their products with every light they create.
More than 100 years ago, P.V. Jensen-Klint, an architect and engineer, devised a clever pleated paper lampshade to fit a paraffin lamp. In 1943, after refining and pushing the technique, he and his sons launched a company, Le Klint, to make and market the lamps. Today the family’s factory in Odense, Denmark, remains the only place in the world to produce cross-pleated lampshades, and each one is still made by hand. The pleating technique is so complex it can’t be replicated by machine, and it takes artisans two to three years of special training to master all the pleating patterns in the lighting range.
To create a lamp, a machine with a brass roller embosses a pattern onto either thin PVC or paper, depending on the model. Then the artisans dexterously hand-fold and pleat the material, following a pattern that’s unique for each design-yet without exception, mindbogglingly complex. [Watch the pleaters work here]. After pleating, the shade is sewn together and then turned inside out so the seam is invisible. Many of the designs date back to the 1960’s, yet look fresh and modern today-a testament to the timelessness of true craftsmanship and style.
Design inspiration often strikes unexpectedly. In Tom Dixon’s case, his now-iconic Beat Lights were sparked by a trip to India that he took with his students from Royal College. “I was involved with a development project in Jaipur, working for the British Council to try and maintain craft skills in urban areas,“ the British designer says. “I worked with some of the brass beaters of Rajasthan who normally make cooking pots and water vessels.“ Impressed with the technique and its long heritage, Dixon devised a lighting fixture that could spotlight the unique qualities of hammered brass. Each Beat Light takes a skilled worker up to four days to create, and the spun metal pendants tell the story through their multi-faceted interior textures: “Each and every hammer mark is done by hand,“ Dixon says. The pieces not only look great-they’re examples of how modern design can support artisans’ livelihoods through fresh applications of ancient craft techniques.
When it comes to mouth-blown glass, few compare with Vistosi. Since 1585, the Italian company has been producing heirloom quality pieces in Murano, the epicenter of artisanal glassware. Today the company is best known for their lighting collaborations with top architects and designers such Gae Aulenti, Vico Magistretti, Ettore Sottsass, and Adalberto dal Lago. Vistosi’s glass factory still produces Murano glass the traditional way-meaning each piece consists of three to five layers of glass, with colors sandwiched in the middle. Vistosi’s glass-blowers work with brick ovens that blaze around the clock for 11 months a year, reaching temperatures of 1300° C. After layering molten glass at the end of a steel tube, artisans place the glass within a mold and blow, rotating the piece to help it take shape within the mold [See example here].
Asked about the difference between handcrafted glass and machine-made pieces, Fabio Rizzolo of Vistosi aptly replies: “To understand the difference is easy: a handcrafted piece is unique-there won’t ever be another exactly the same. A standard piece is a common piece and has no personal touch. It’s like a painting and a poster: the subject may be the same, but the result is different.”
Hubbardton Forge was founded in 1974 in an old barn in the town of Hubbardton, Vermont. The values upon which the company was built-“a commitment to American craftsmanship and manufacturing and original, heirloom quality designs that are not meant to be landfill,“ as director of design David Kitts puts it-continue to inform its direction and development. “It’s about putting a product out in the market that truly has a soul,“ Kitts says. “There’s an authenticity to our product, our story, which is hard to find in an industry where many treat lighting as a commodity and not as art.“
Every Hubbardton Forge fixture is built-to-order. Each piece starts its life as raw or cut steel, heated in one of the company’s dozen forges and then hammered, bent, pulled, or twisted to form. After that, it’s tumbled and cleaned of slag; welded together to shape the design; cleaned in an extremely environmentally friendly way; and then powder-coated. It’s an intensive and dynamic process from start to finish. A single Corona Pendant, for example, is made of twelve laser-cut steel plates, heated to nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and then bent by hand. After that, it’s welded in 67 different places. [See a video of the forge and welding process here]. All that handiwork makes for a truly unique product-and a compelling narrative. “Our products carry a great story, and consumers who care about bringing special things into their home are often looking for that story,“ says Kitts. “It’s about craftsmanship, social and environmental responsibility, and a passion for unique design.“
Laura is a Texan who has called California her home the last ten years. As an experienced Interior Designer she has advanced knowledge of modern and classic lighting, furniture and bath products. She loves the design industry and is always attending trade shows and exhibits around the world. She swam competitively for FSU where she met her husband Peyton. They reside in Los Angeles with their dog Renegade.