A Closer Look at the Iconic Bubble Lamp

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By Marianne Colahan / Published by Dwell
Industrial designer George Nelson was one of the founding fathers of American modernism. Along with his studio George Nelson Associates, Inc., Nelson designed furniture, lighting, and accessories that comprise some of the most iconic modern designs, including pieces that he designed while serving as director of design at Herman Miller. Featured here, his series of Bubble Lamps successfully capture the possibilities of modern materials and production.

Nelson’s inspiration for his Bubble Lamps was a practical one—when seeking a lighting fixture for his office, he sought a silk-covered Swedish pendant, but found the cost to be too prohibitive. He recalled a newspaper photo of ships being given a mothball treatment in which the decks were covered in netting and then sprayed with a self-webbing plastic. Uniting the visual inspiration of the Swedish hanging lamp and the material technique of the ship decks, Nelson and his associates designed the first Bubble Lamp in 1947.

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This vintage photograph showcases a Bubble Pendant Installation. The Ball, Saucer, and Cigar Pendants are available in a variety of sizes.

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This vintage advertisement showcases the original collection of Bubble Lamps, including pendants, sconces, and floor lamps.

Produced in several different shapes, including the classic spherical ball shape and elongated cigar shape, each Bubble Lamp has an interior steel wire skeleton. In order to complete the lamp, the wire frame is spray coated with a translucent plastic polymer—the self-webbing plastic that inspired Nelson in the newspaper photograph he saw. The result is a lamp that is at once opaque and transparent, functions as a work of sculpture, and creates a consistent, glowing light when illuminated. The Bubble Lamps are available in pendant, floor, table, and wall lamp styles.

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This vintage advertisement features George Nelson’s Ball Pendant Light. The beginning of the caption reads: “Airy, lighthearted ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Net Lights,’ designed by George Nelson, make lamps and lighting fixtures that delight the eyes and warm the heart. Their pleasing shapes are fashioned in sturdy, lightweight steel and a special translucent white plastic.”

The Ball pendant is available at the Dwell Store in a range of sizes.

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A classic Ball Bubble Lamp hangs in The Opdahl House, designed by Edward Killingsworth for Richard and Joyce Opdahl on the island of Naples, in Long Beach, California.

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This Saucer Pendant showcases the Criss Cross technique used in many Bubble Lamps.

Other Criss Cross Styles include Ball, Pear, and Cigar.

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A floor version of Nelson’s Bubble Lamps, this Lotus Bubble Lamp is available in three sizes.

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The Nelson Bubble Lamps are also available as table lamps, including the Lantern (shown), Ball Lotus, Cigar Lotus and Cigar Tripod.

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Rounding out the range of Bubble Lamps is Nelson’s Ball Wall Sconce, which features a walnut wood wall mount.

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