When Isamu Noguchi designed his series of washi paper lamps in 1951, he dubbed the works Akari, the Japanese word for light, nodding to both their function of illumination and their seemingly weightless design. Noguchi’s self-described “light sculptures” revived the centuries-old Japanese Gifu craft tradition — which employed mulberry bark paper and bamboo to make lanterns and umbrellas — and brought it into the mainstream. In the process, he became a household name in modern design. Contemporary designers are picking up where he left off, with contemporary paper lamps that boast the same ephemeral qualities. Here, we round up four recent favourites:
Presented at Euroluce 2023, this cone-shaped pendant expertly translates Norm Architects’ signature Japandi flair to lighting. Originally designed for a private summer home on the Swedish coast, the design mimics the residence’s triangular roof structure. Veiled in a single piece of translucent washi paper held in place by magnets, light elegantly filters through the top, sides and bottom, imbuing the fixture with a warm glow while concealing the light source.
Similarly to Noguchi’s Akari pendants, the N-PL01 is built like an accordion, supported by near-invisible wooden ribs. For added weight, a ring of natural or smoked oak forms the base, detailed by delicate beading. The versatile and minimal design is available in two sizes.
Aptly named for the Japanese word for adaptation, this customizable collection merges traditional techniques with modern technologies. Using a conventional dimmer switch or mobile device, users can modulate both the intensity and colour temperature of the LED light source to suit the desired ambiance, allowing for unparalleled versatility. Inspired by washi paper lanterns, which date to the 14th century, the lamps are manufactured in the Japanese city of Mito, which specializes in their production.
“Washi is the best solution for two reasons. Firstly, its long fibres make it strong and flexible creating a resilient surface that lasts for decades and secondly the material is an excellent diffuser, scattering the light as it passes through to create its distinctive soft glow,” explains Dickens. The expansive collection is offered in horizontal, vertical, circular and oval configurations.
Launched in celebration of Le Klint’s 80th anniversary at 3 Days of Design 2023, the Model 328 is a well-executed take on a classic icon. With an oak base and an understated brass detail that connects the base and upright support, the design by Aurélien Barbry references the Le Klint lamp’s archetypical pleated paper shade. “I wanted to design an upright that supported and pays tribute to the beautiful handmade lampshade, and as such the upright had to be functional while also being discrete,” says Barbry.
The simple design prioritizes craftsmanship down to the details: The impossibly thin brass connection, a feat of physics that took several months to fine-tune, gives way to a textile-wrapped cord. Available for purchase in the fall of 2023, the collection will be well worth the wait.
Many paper lamps utilize accordion-like folding to give them their structure. Jamie Wolfond’s Y-Lamp for Floyd takes a different approach, instead evoking a windswept sail frozen in motion. Held in static tension by a forked powder-coated steel base, the washi paper shade, made from mulberry trees at one of Japan’s oldest paper factories, is illuminated by a cone-shaped lighting source designed for both direct and ambient lighting.
Though compact enough to tuck into a corner, the Y-lamp’s eye-catching design, available in classic black or white or a bold red-orange, is sure to draw attention.
Lightweight and airy, these barely-there lamps offer a modern spin on a design classic.