Design Classics #27: Arco Light

The original and the best: Arco Floor Lamp

It was, in the end, perhaps the Lamp wot won it. Following the revelation that Samantha Cameron had bought a fake Arco for her new kitchen at No 10, Michelle Ogundehin, the editor of Elle Decoration, was outraged.

Writing on her blog, Ogundehin called Cameron  “cheap, hypocritical and fake”  adding: “That’s all we need, the endorsement of faux-furniture by the prime minister’s wife.”

It was all so much worse, because not only did Cameron buy her knock-off for around a fifth the price of the original, but she works for luxury designer brand Smythsons and we all know the handbag companies are furious when their bags are ripped off and made into cheap copies.

Ogundehin launched a campaign, Fight the Fakes, demanding a change in the law that would give copyright protection  to the life of the designer plus 70 years. The same rights that are currently granted to art, music and literature. On 23 May, the Government announced that it would change the law.

So what is it about this lamp? The lamp that should perhaps henceforth be known as the lamp that launched a thousand signatures.

Designed in 1962 by Achille Castiglioni and his brother Pier Giacomo, the Arco is essentially a floor lamp that works as an overhead light without the need for wiring.

But that is to ignore the simple elegance and style which have made it, like many of the brothers’ 150 products, a design classic that is still selling strongly today.

Born in 1918, Achille and his brothers Pier Giacomo and Livio (who later left the partnership) were all trained as architects. Achille’s philosophy was that as a designer you should be a problem solver, dealing with issues that the consumer might not even realise are there.

A spokesman for the Design Museum said: “He maintained that in order to design a new product, or improve an existing one, you should first decide if it was necessary before looking at what technology and materials were available for doing do.

“He described this process as ‘start from scratch, stick to common sense, know your goals and means’.”

In an interview with the Design Museum, Paola Antonelli, design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, who was an architecture student at Milan Polytechnic in the 1980s, said that Achille was one of the most popular tutors.

“For his lectures on industrial design, he would arrive with a large Mary Poppins-like black bag from which he would extract, and line up on the table, that day’s chosen pieces from his stupendous collection of found objects – toys made from beer cans that he had bought in Teheran, odd eyeglasses . . . wooden stools from Aspen, Colorado. These were the most effective tools of design instruction,” she said.

Just as the Arco worked as an overhead lamp throwing light some eight feet away from the base, so his famous Sella stool – a bicycle seat on a round base – was, he said, for “when I use the phone. I like to move around but I would also like to sit, but not completely”. This was before the cordless phone was invented remember.

His products were both humorous and practical. The hole in the base of the Arco is not a design feature but is in fact for sliding a broom handle through so that two people can carry it.

During his prolific career, he worked with Flos lighting, Zanotta furniture and Alessi, taking care to always infuse his work with wit.

Before his death in 2002, he lamented the “professional disease of taking everything too seriously” and said that one of his secrets was to joke all the time.

It’s a moot point if the Arco’s owners are so amused however. Simon Chaplin, of Chaplins Furniture, which sold the 40th anniversary Arco with a black marble base and signed by Castiglioni, said: “This light currently holds the record for the light that most customers have banged their heads on.”

first published in The Independent





Tags : arcodesign classicfight the fakes
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.