If you are looking to add an iconic piece of Nordic design to your home, then you won’t go far wrong investing in a Danish lamp.
But why is it that so many of the world’s most renowned lights come from Denmark? And where do you even start when choosing which one is right for you?
Thankfully, I recently chatted with one of Denmark’s leading experts on lighting, author Malene Lytken.
If anyone can shed some ‘light’ on the subject it’s her, as she has recently released the first comprehensive account of lamp design, ‘Danish Lights: 1920 to Now’ which tells the stories of 100 lights as well as the designers behind them.
Here’s what Malene had to tell me:
It’s no secret that the Danes are obsessed by good lighting, but where and when did your love affair begin?
I’m as crazy about lamps as other women are about shoes and bags, and this all started with my mother. Our childhood home was filled with great design as well as a cosy ‘hyggelig’ atmosphere. Every evening we would sit around the dining table under a Poul Henningsen PH 5 pendant, and to this day I associate this piece with so many lovely memories.
I originally trained as a designer at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and when I returned to Denmark to work with exhibition design and set design, I learned just how crucial lighting really is.
To support my work, as well as my own curiosity, I began to study design history, firstly at the University of Copenhagen before going on to complete my PhD, and a thesis on the topic of lighting, at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
When Strandberg Publishing later asked if I was interested in writing a book about Danish lights for them, I was so happy. It was such a rewarding experience to delve into the individual stories behind these phenomenal designs.
In your book, Danish Lights: 1920-Now, you tell the story of 100 iconic lamps. If you had to choose your own personal favourite, which would it be and why?
When you fully research so many lamps you fall in love with a lot of them. After all, they are produced for very different purposes and I didn’t just look at them as individual objects, but spoke to all the living designers who created them. In fact, I did over 60 interviews for the book.
Of course, I am still a big admirer of Poul Henningsen, and I would love to own a large copper Artichoke lamp one day. I would also love one of Kaare Klint’s beautiful Fruit lanterns or Arne Jacobsen’s AJ lamp.
Danish lighting continues to be much loved by designers and homeowners around the world, why do you think it has historically been such a huge influence?
In Denmark we spend a lot of time inside, so we want to reproduce the natural light around us as much as possible. Whether it is for working to during the day or for rest and relaxation in the evening, we use our lighting to replicate the warmth and ‘hygge’ we need.
In the early 20th century half of the Danes now had electric light in their homes and people become interested in creating a good glare free lighting that no longer relied on flames. Poul Henningsen taught the Danes that good light was beautiful light, and thus, by definition, the design of the lighting itself was beautiful too.
He certainly set the bar high as many designers have subsequently studied his treatment of light and learned from it.
Lighting is fundamental to creating the perfect hygge moment. What would be your top tips for setting the right mood?
In Denmark, the concept of hygge has been instrumental in creating a high demand for luminaire designs that emit soft, warm light.
Dimmable lamps are a really good investment for achieving this, as well as a candle or two. I also prefer to switch on as many lamps as possible around the same room, rather than having just one very bright light at the centre.
Also, as the weather is getting warmer, outdoor lighting is also really important for creating a warm and cosy atmosphere in a garden or balcony. I use lanterns extensively on my own roof terrace together with String lights.
Looking to the future, which Danish lighting designers are leading the way and what lamps should we all be investing in now?
In recent years there have been rapid technological developments in lighting manufacturing and the new opportunities for achieving good and life-giving light are amazing.
A good example is Øivind Slaatto’s Shade ØS1. It is a very simple, small circular design, but it is rather ingenious as it enables people to create precisely the light they need in a given situation. The light is controlled with a ‘smart switch’ but it can also be controlled via an app.
We also need to think about sustainability when we talk about new lighting design, and the recent pandemic will have further consequences for production going forward too.
In the book I highlight Jonas Edvard, who makes lampshades out of seaweed and limestone, because these are materials that are abundant in nature. But as he said to me when I spoke to him, sustainability shouldn’t be a burden or a chore but something we do because it’s fun.
Whatever the future holds we all need to make the right choice, demand good quality products that will last and can be repaired. They may cost more initially, but good lighting will always be needed.
Thank you so much to Malene for chatting with me, Danish Lights: 1920 to Now is available now from Amazon priced £33.75.*
Want to know more?
Also, if you are looking for some further Nordic lighting inspiration then pop over to Pinterest as I’ve a board dedicated to it, enjoy!
*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission when you click on a link or make a purchase.
To celebrate the publication of ‘Danish Lights: 1920 to Now’, I’ve teamed up with publishers Strandberg Publishing to create an Instagram competition. One lucky Nordic Notes follower will win their very own copy.
To enter: Just follow both Nordic Notes and Malene Lytken on Instagram. Like the competition photo and tag a friend who you think would like to win. You can tag as many people as you like, and each tag counts as one entry.
Disclaimer: The giveaway is open to those in the UK only and ends at midnight on Monday 8th June 2020. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on my Instagram account afterwards. Good luck!
Please note this competition is in no way associated with or endorsed by Instagram.
Photo two courtesy of Malene Lytken. All other images by Nicola Capper.