Two Classic Desk Lamps: A Mid-Century Modern Icon and Its Contemporary Lighting Update

Not only did award-winning Danish architect Arne Jacobsen design the SAS Royal Hotel and Terminal in Copenhagen (1960), he designed the light fixtures for the hotel. 

The table lamp he designed — the AJ Table Lamp — became a classic of mid-century modern lighting design and is now found in homes and commercial spaces throughout the world.  Jacobsen’s architecture, lighting, and furniture designs have inspired and influenced subsequent generations of designers.

AJ Table Lamp

When something works, people will seek it out.  The AJ Table Lamp has been in continuous production for over 50 years for a reason.  It’s an adjustable task light that can provide both direct and indirect illumination.  It has an interesting, asymmetrical, streamlined shape.  This desk lamp is not primarily designed to be decorative, it is intended to direct light where you want it.  As such, it embodies the simplified industrial aesthetic that was developed by architects and designers such as Jacobsen at the mid-point of the 20th century. 

The best modern lighting takes stock first of how a light bulb works and what people want to use it for (remember, lamps based on incandescent bulbs had only been in general use for about 50 years at that time).  The best modern lighting designs are eminently practical (Jacobsen even added an opening in the base of the lamp where an ashtray could be set) while employing pleasing forms.

When it comes to desk lamps, there is probably no more famous design than the AJ Table Lamp, which is manufactured by Louis Poulsen.  Jacobsen also designed a floor lamp version of this light.

One of the most famous table-lamp designs was created by Arne Jacobsen and is still a staple of mid-century modern design in lighting.

Click to see the Louis Poulsen AJ Table Lamp at AllModern in 3 different colors


You can get the AJ Table Lamp from AllModern.  It is also available from 2Modern.  These are two of the best retailers online for everything relating to outstanding interior design.  They have reliable customer service.


Diesel Perf Lamp

Which brings us to a contemporary evolution of the AJ concept:  the Perf Task Lamp from Diesel, produced in partnership with Foscarini.

Looking at the Diesel Perf table lamp, you’ll immediately note the echoes of the shade, the angled lighting, and the tubular frame from the AJ Table Lamp.  However, this Diesel Foscarini design actually fuses more international elements than just the Scandinavian/European influence of Arne Jacobsen.  The “Perf” name is short for perforation — and it becomes obvious why when you note the pattern of holes placed in the shade of the lamp, an idea that comes from the perforated lamps traditionally used in North Africa.  You can get a direct or diffused light from this table lamp, with the added interest of the pattern of flickering pinhole rays that regularly and irregularly blanket the surrounding surfaces. 

The Diesel Perf Task Lamp is not only a desk lamp that provides direct, useful light for working or reading, it provides a pattern that alters the mood of the room where it is placed.  As such, it functions aesthetically on multiple levels.  It is  interesting to look at both when it is off or when turned on.

A popular contemporary table lamp is the Diesel Perf Table Lamp, made in partnership with Foscarini and available from excellent online interior design store Occa-Home.

Click to shop for the Diesel Perf Table Lamp at Occa-Home


In recent years, Italian design firm Diesel (well-known for its contemporary clothing) has been successfully branching out into industrial design, creating an interesting collection of limited-edition items for various manufacturers.  Its line of modern lighting for Foscarini has been a highlight of this collaborative effort, producing over 30 different types of lamps that offer a cutting-edge yet functional line of modern lighting for homes, offices, and commercial spaces.

The Diesel Perf Lamp comes in a table lamp version, a floor lamp version, and as a wall lamp.  Interestingly, the desk lamp is almost identical in dimension to the iconic AJ Table Lamp — perhaps an indication that successful design of whatever era, mid-century or contemporary, reflects timeless principles with respect to what works and what appeals to the user.

The Diesel Perf Table Lamp comes in three colors — black, brown, and aluminum. 

It is available from Occa-Home in the UK (with global shipping to just about anywhere).  Occa-Home is one of the most complete and reputable online stores for contemporary furnishings, lighting, and lifestyle collections. 

And you can also find the Foscarini Diesel Perf Desk Lamp at AllModern.

Whether you go with the Louis Poulsen AJ line of lamps or Diesel’s designs for Foscarini — or a combination of both — you will know that you are getting designs that have stood the test of time and reflect ongoing advances in creative ways to light our living and working spaces.


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