A Tale of Ingenuity
An influential designer of mid-century modernism in America, George Nelson came across a set of hanging lamps from Sweden and loved everything about their modern aesthetic, except for their extravagant cost. "The Swedish design was done in a silk covering that was very difficult to make; they had to cut gores and sew them onto a wire frame. But I wanted one badly," Nelson wrote in his book, On Design, published in 1979.
A seemingly unrelated reference soon led to an intuitive idea. He recalled, "It was a picture in the New York Times some weeks before, which showed Liberty ships being mothballed by having the decks covered with netting and then being sprayed with a self-webbing plastic". Nelson located the manufacturer of this resinous plastic and used it in the making of the bubble lamps.
A Luminous Skin
The first prototype of the lamp was designed in a matter of two days. Nelson created the spherical frame with perforated rings that were inserted with steel wires, a construction that retained its shape under tension, required minimum tools and no welding costs. It was then sprayed with the resinous lacquer to form a fibrous web, and a final coat of plastic was applied, creating a smooth, translucent skin. And hence Nelson had added lighting installations to his expanding portfolio of work and introduced a beautiful, timeless lighting fixture to consumers at modest prices.