The Mushroom Lamp: Why The ’70s Icon Is Back
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The Mushroom Lamp: Why The ’70s Icon Is Back

For a new generation of interior designers, mushroom lamps are a playful way to shake up décor and connect it to nature.

By Dale Hrabi
Thu, May 26, 2022 11:17amGrey Clock 4 min

LET ME introduce you to the least-cool name for a suburb ever: Pleasantview. That’s where I grew up, in 1970s Canada, in a split-level with an uncool fake fireplace in which my parents proudly displayed a book called “Gnomes.” The only, only cool thing we owned—sorry, “Gnomes”—was a white, plastic mushroom lamp, the slimmest of connections to foreign concepts like grooviness, Studio 54 and Cher. But even its stubby glamour was compromised: It sat on the TV, forced to coexist with “The Waltons,” surrounded by kitschy figurines: a china shepherdess, a prayerful child, a buffalo, none of which had ever snorted cocaine with Halston. Still, as a kid aspiring to aesthetic sophistication, I disproportionately pinned my hopes on that white, glowing lump of plastic we likely bought at Sears.

I hadn’t thought about it in years. But on a recent, soggy April day in New York City, where I now live, I ducked into the MoMA Design Store to escape the rain and could not ignore the many, many mushroom lamps with their distinctive semispherical shades that, priced from $30 to $1,430, had sprouted in nearly every corner. And so began a quest to find out how the sole ray of chicness in my oppressively pleasant childhood has resurfaced as a décor (and social-media) darling in 2022.

“Design from the 1960s and ’70s is back,” said Chay Costello, associate director of merchandising at MoMA, when I inquired about her store’s profusion of shrooms. “Then, like now, people were trying to connect with nature. But another reason we ended up with this preponderance of mushroom lamps is that there’s an affinity between the form of a mushroom and the function of lamps.” A fungus has a stalk and a cap, she pointed out—close, if somewhat moister, cousins to a lamp’s base and shade.

Ms. Costello is personally a fan. “I see them as delightful little mascots that suggest the natural world,” she said. “The life of the party but an old soul at the same time.” An old soul like Dolly Parton? “I was thinking of the word ‘primordial.’”

Next, I turned to Jonathan Adler, the New York design titan who, like me, grew up in the 1970s, a period that clearly influenced his pop aesthetic. “I didn’t have a pivotal encounter with one like you did,” he confessed. “I was never abused by a mushroom lamp.” Still, he acknowledges the motif had an outsize presence in design then and has again. “I don’t know why mushrooms have such reach and resonance. Maybe the Mushroom Council had an incredible publicist in the ’70s.”

As to why they’re back? “In the amped-up, Instagrammable age, people are always looking for an escape from the basic,” said Mr. Adler, who festooned the stem of his Globo version with Lucite balls. “And the mushroom lamp is just not basic.”

The earliest, looniest examples hammer this home. Charlotte and Peter Fiell, U.K.-based design historians and authors of “1000 Lights” (Taschen), opened my eyes to art nouveau designer Émile Gallé, whose c. 1900 glass ‘Champignons’ lamps—literal riffs on fungi—appear to be collaborations between Mr. Tumnus the Narnian faun and LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary. In 1950s Italy, glass mushroom lights again reared their domed heads, now abstracted but just as swoopy, an avant-garde reaction to uptight Bauhaus geometries. Then came plastic and the mainstreaming of the lamps. “There was a 10- to 15-year delay from the avant-garde to Kmart,” said Mr. Fiell.

Ironically, just as the lamps got cheaply plastic, their appeal as a link to nature mushroomed in the hippie ’60s and ecological ’70s, decades when psychedelic “magic mushrooms” were giving people agreeably irrational views of their fern-filled décor. A similar vogue for nature in pandemic America has given rise to the popular Instagram hashtags #mushroomlove, #mushroomporn and #mushroommonday and even a one-off 2021 magazine called Mushroom People, an offshoot of the cannabis-themed periodical, Broccoli.

“I’ve definitely seen a lot of people communicating the desire to be more present and have less screen time, and you cannot do that better than when you’re mushroom hunting,” said Anja Charbonneau, the Portland, Ore.-based editor-in-chief and creative director of both magazines. Beyond six pages filled with several kooky mushroom lamps she bought on eBay for a total of $600 (“I was drawn to the weirdos and also they were cheaper”), Mushroom People includes a feature on a discontinued cult scent called “After the Flood” by Apoteker Tepe, famed for making one smell, as Ms. Charbonneau enticingly put it, “like decay…dank, humid, like a mushroom on a rotting stump.” Who needs Chanel No. 5?

The design pros I talked to favoured vintage mushroom lamps of a higher-than-Kmart caliber, and all offered variations on this decorating advice: Use the “playful,” “sculptural,” “funky” fungi form to vary a room’s lighting scheme. Said interior designer Neal Beckstedt of Neal Beckstedt Studio in New York, “If all your lamps have the typical lamp shapes”—the more formal of which he’d personify as doctors, lawyers and “certainly accountants”—”it gets stiff and repetitive. The mushroom lamp is more modern and creative, so it breaks up the repetition.”

Mr. Beckstedt, who describes his aesthetic as “laid-back luxury,” is so smitten with the laid-back form that he’s used it in up to 100 projects, usually atop desks. “A mushroom lamp is more casual,” he said. “It feels like wearing a T-shirt instead of a collared shirt to me.” His favourite: the Pipistrello Table Lamp, a 1965 iteration by Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti whose shade combines bat and mushroom forms, which sells on 1stDibs for up to $5,275…a not especially casual price. “OK,” conceded Mr. Beckstedt, “really expensive T-shirts.”

The mushroom lamp’s ability to lighten up a serious room like the mute décor equivalent of Amy Schumer came in handy when interior designer Melanie Liaw was tasked with updating a c. 1700 storefront in Assisi, Italy, for a purveyor of watercolour paints. Ms. Liaw, co-founder of Duelle, with offices in London and Milan, spent weeks sadly rejecting “hundreds” of lamps in search of the exact combination of levity, chicness and unpredictability to offset sombre, century-old floors and the hard lines of new wooden shelving. She and her design partner, Micaela Nardella, ultimately drove “four hours in a crappy rental car” to pick up the winner: a roughly $300 1970s design, the Libellula by Italian designer Emilio Fabio Simion. “The shop felt too tall and everything felt crisp and meticulous and serious,” she said, “and as soon as we put in the white mushroom lamp it felt balanced. It added playfulness.”

I can’t say I thought of the $5 white plastic version on my parents’ TV as “playful.” To my unfulfilled and antsy cub-scout self, it represented earnest high glamour, a possible escape from Pleasantview and its mini-marshmallow-clogged “dessert squares.” And it certainly never occurred to me to take it outside, which the latest portable, rechargeable mushroom lamps allow—a deepening of their ties to nature that Mr. Beckstedt says he particularly values when designing for kids: “I’d love to see a mushroom lamp in a treehouse.”



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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