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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Nothing stays these brokers from the swift completion of their appointed showings

Sun, Dec 3, 2023 3 min
What is the worst weather you have ever had to contend with while showing a home?

Justin Fox, broker/owner, Re/Max Professionals, Cottage Grove, Minn.

In the summer of 2011, I was driving some buyers—a mother from out of town with her two young daughters, each under 6—to look at homes. The first two showings were uneventful, but as we headed to the third, we encountered a giant wall cloud on the road. I see wall clouds all the time, but for those not familiar with them, it’s a giant tower of clouds, and it’s very dark and ominous-looking, so it can be scary. My buyer, who claimed to have been some sort of weather watcher, started freaking out, saying things like, “That’s a wall cloud! It’s dangerous! We’re going to have a tornado!” That in turn caused the daughters to start screaming and crying hysterically. They were kicking so much in the back that they caused the threading of my leather seat to come loose. I did my best to calm them down, but then the torrential rain and thunder started, and that led to more screaming from the kids. Thank God we made it to the next house within 10 minutes. I pulled my car into the garage to avoid the hail, and we sheltered in the basement for 25 minutes until it lightened up outside. Then we went on with our showings like nothing ever happened.

Victoria Rong Kennedy, associate broker, the Corcoran Group, New York, N.Y.

I wouldn’t say this was the worst weather, but it was definitely the weirdest. On June 7, 2023, I had three private showings lined up at 2:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to show my listing on the Upper East Side, which was a duplex penthouse with three terraces listed for $3.3 million. That morning, Canadian wildfire smoke was blowing through the sky of Manhattan. They were telling everyone on TV and radio to stay home all day, and I kept watching my emails and texts, hoping that all three groups of buyers would cancel their showings, but no one did. By 1:30 p.m., the sky was really dark. There was almost no visibility, but, still, there were no cancellations. At 2 p.m., I searched for an old Covid mask, put it on and walked out like a hero to go on the combat field. I could barely see anything a half block away, but I walked 11 blocks and two avenues and managed to get to the building. Well, all three groups of buyers and their brokers showed up on time. We all chatted about how strange the weather was. We put our masks back on when we stood on the living room terrace, which overlooks Billionaires’ Row, but we had no visibility. The sky was red and black, and all we could see was a small circle of light in the sky. It looked like the moon behind heavy clouds. It was like a scene from a movie.

Jeffrey Decatur, broker associate, Re/Max Capital, Latham, N.Y.

Living in upstate New York, I have experienced all kinds of bad weather—snow so deep it was up to my thighs and rain so hard that I wished my shower had that much pressure. However, the worst took place in April 2017, when I was showing a home in Waterford, N.Y., a suburb of Albany. It was during a late-season blizzard that came on fast, and there had to be about 2 feet of snow. The home had a normal-size driveway, but it was a foreclosure and was not shoveled. So, my client and I trekked up the crunchy, snowy driveway and eventually got into the house. As we were walking around, complaining about the Arctic blast and blizzard, I heard the sound of babbling water. I thought it was a fountain, so my buyer and I continued to walk around the house. As we moved toward the garage and family room, the babbling got louder, and as we headed for the basement, we saw that the pipes had frozen. The basement ceiling had fallen, and water was pouring in from the ceiling and the walls. The floor had about 3 inches of water and ice. I called the listing agent and left a message, but I couldn’t just leave the water running, so I waded through the freezing cold water in the basement and turned the water off. I didn’t really think that through, because I was drenched and then had to make my way back through the house and out into the blizzard again. When I opened the front door, I nearly froze immediately, and by the time I got to the end of the porch, I was crunchy and icy. When I got to my car, parked at the end of the driveway, my hair was frozen to my face, and I could barely bend my legs or feel my hands. I was walking like the Tin Man. It took me several hours to thaw out.

——Edited from interviews


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