For Randall Whitehead, portable lighting fixtures are a go-to when it comes to filling out a lighting design that might be lacking something. Easy to acquire and install without the help of an electrician, “they provide immediate gratification,” he says.
We spoke with Whitehead, the Lighting Doctor, along with some lamp manufacturers for insight on how table, desk and floor lamps fit into an overall design, and a look at how today’s portable lighting offerings can make a room more functional and pleasing to the eye.
Lighting Design Tips
In any space, Whitehead says portable lighting can help create much-needed balance.
“A lighting design is successful when a mixture of fixtures are being used,” he says. “This is called ‘light layering.’ Portable fixtures can fill in the missing elements. Tabletop lamps can provide task light for reading. Torchère lamps can add additional ambient light for a space.”
Describing table lamps as “functional art,” Arteriors Director of Design Jennifer Gibbs says it’s important to have a variety of light in a room to create different moods. Lamps uniquely offer an intimate light source that provides a sense of comfort.
“I feel like table and floor lamps really provide that comfort level lighting, instead of a harsh overhead,” Gibbs says.
Especially for bedside lamps, Whitehead says it’s important for task lights to be flexible so you can direct light where you need it. He adds that designers should make sure the scale of the lamp is right for the space, and he’d rather have portable lighting that’s oversized than undersized.
Emma Lowry, Director of Product Development at ELK Group International, says the rise of open plan living calls for larger-scale items, with smaller spaces requiring special consideration for the proportions of lamps. Lucky for designers and consumers, the variety of lamps on the market today offer endless, customizable options.
Jewelry for the Home
Perhaps more than any other form of lighting, lamps can provide a unique decorative aspect to add a pop of style to the overall look of a room. While early lamps had little aesthetic variety, today’s manufacturers are creating products across styles, mediums and forms.
“I think a lamp can change the look of a room,” says Kathryn Hicks, Director of Marketing and Graphic Design at Wildwood. “It can be subtle or it can add a design pop—whether that’s the color or its more of a sculptural lamp, it can just really add an interesting artistic element to a room.”
Wildwood offers a range of lamps from its higher-end Frederick Cooper line featuring materials like solid brass, crystal and alabaster down to its more budget-friendly Marketplace line.
At ELK, Lowry says they use everything from teak roots to glass, ceramics, stone and die cast aluminum, with each material bringing its own form of beauty to a space.
“Glass is wonderful for capturing colors and undulating textures, and it always speaks to me for coastal applications,” she says. “We use concrete, which has been well received by our customers recently and works really well for industrial spaces, but at the same time plays well with modern farmhouse trends. We generally find there is a lot of cross over depending on how the end customer wants to express themselves.”
Lowry joined the company in 2008 to launch ELK’s portable lighting division, starting out with a small offering of 50 lamps that has grown to more than 500 table lamps and 150 floor lamps today — a sign of the explosion of options and growing popularity of the category.
At Arteriors, Gibbs says the design team draws inspiration from everything from nature to modern art to fashion for its lamps. Since the company offers products across the whole home, she says it’s enjoyable to see how each category informs and inspires the others.
“We are a lifestyle brand, not just a lighting company or not just a furniture company. We really want to outfit an entire lifestyle and be able to furnish the entire room as much as we can,” she says. “It’s really fun to have different trends apply to different categories.”
As for what products are selling particularly well these days, Lowry says ELK always does well with cleaner, more updated looks. Natural brass finishes have been popular recently, and lamps with blues, neutrals and two-tone finishes remain strong sellers.
At Arteriors, Gibbs says more luxurious materials like snow marble and crystal are doing well, along with reactive glaze ceramics and simple textural cast metal pieces. The company has also been getting into trending natural materials like rattan. With all of its portable lighting, Gibbs says Arteriors loves playing with materials and sourcing to create pieces with a mix of materials and a juxtaposition of handmade and machined processes.
Technology and Function
Beyond the decorative aspect and addition of lighting to round out a room design, today’s lamps are also offering the added function of USB ports. Initially used more commonly for hospitality, Whitehead says he’s increasingly seeing them added to portable fixtures geared toward the residential market.
At Wildwood, Hicks says the company started selling lamps with USB ports in the last couple of years, rolling out just a few initially as part of its Marketplace line. After seeing a strong response at market, the company has been consistently expanding the line.
“I think people are looking for ways to incorporate technology into their lighting production, and from what we’ve seen, customers really like it,” she says of the technology.
The lamps in Wildwood’s permanent line include the USB function in the back of the product to avoid the eye-sore, but the lamps the company customizes for hospitality projects tend to specify the USB port on the front for easy visibility and access for hotel clients.
Across technological advances and design aesthetics, there are more options than ever for lamps to fit any style or space. For designers, lamps present another way to bring functional art into the homes of their clients.