At the same time Mid-Century Modern was being infused with new emotion and color through Mod, another trend was also taking shape – Contemporary.
Popular fads and youthful experimentation weren’t for everyone, and Modern lighting designers – aware that not all customers wanted to leave traditional elegance and beauty behind – carried their rational ideals forward into a new style that was clean, cutting edge, sophisticated, sculptural and sparkling.
“Contemporary” simply means “of the current time” – but as a style, Contemporary embodied now-ness in a more fresh and expressive Modern spirit.
Lightolier – the industry leader in postwar Modern lighting – was quick to pick up on European and Scandinavian trends, importing or adapting them for the American market. This 1966 spread features a new Gaetano Sciolari series that exemplifies the cool, sophisticated, sparkling and sculptural look that was blossoming into Contemporary. (courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library)
Not content to simply import new ideas, Lightolier also applied the latest trends to conventional forms, as here in 1968 with the Spiral Light and other designs infused with an Early American flavor. The past could be Contemporary, too. (Rejuvenation archives)
On the left, Lightolier innovates in 1970 with “Lighting that will turn your guests on.” On the right, Metropolitan Lighting offers stunning imported examples of Contemporary lighting that sparkle with the trending look of crystal and ice. (Rejuvenation archives)
Alright, let’s just get this over with – Brutalism. There, we’ve said it… A controversial and much debated sub-trend of the Contemporary style (Moe described these lights in 1971 as “contemporary eclectic”), Brutalism embraced rugged, rough-edged, hand-formed sculptural effects that boldly expressed the materials being used. (Rejuvenation archives)
Progress was also cozy with Sciolari of Rome, importing the refined collection above in 1972. These fixtures perfectly illustrate the most popular features of Contemporary style – clean lines, artistic sensibilities, smoky glass, and sparkling chrome or polished brass paired with black. (Rejuvenation archives)
More Gaetano Sciolari from the 1972 Progress catalog with this stunning array of Contemporary Crystal. Delicate and forward looking without any reference to the dripping opulence of Versailles, these designs manage to communicate effortless style and timeless sophistication. (Rejuvenation archives)
The design influences in this spread from Thomas in 1974 range widely from Brutalist to Colonial Revival – yet every piece conveys the cool, smoky ambiance of Contemporary style. (Rejuvenation archives)
Lightolier invested deeply in Sciolari designs in the 1970s. Their astounding 1976 line-up is chock-a-block with fixture families that have become darlings of the high-end dealers set today, including Cubic I and Interplay One above. (Rejuvenation archives)
Have we mentioned our love affair with Lightolier and Sciolari? (we know – we said we weren’t going be snobby name droppers…) Here are the 1976 Geometric and Habitat series, and perhaps Sciolari’s pièce de résistance - Sculptura. (Rejuvenation archives)
Have we mentioned… oh, right. Sculptura in greater glory, along with Image, MSS (Modular Sphere System) and MLS (Modular Lighting System). It would be hard to overstate the importance of clear, round bulbs in Contemporary lighting. (courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library)
Progress offered these iconic imports from Gaetano Sciolari in 1976 (they were apparently perfect for women who wanted to relax). The mind-boggling TC 4506 at upper left is a “sculpture” of brass, stainless steel and Lucite called Futura. (Rejuvenation archives)
We’ll wrap up our brief Contemporary survey with this 1976 Progress spread (more Sciolari of Rome), which not only broadcasts its Contemporary bona fides in large blue letters, but also offers this summary of the style: “You will see the influence of Mondrian, Breuer, van der Rohe and the other giants of the Bauhaus in elemental lines and shapes which create interesting perspectives from every angle.” Even an angle that is almost 40 years in the future.
Unlike Mod, by holding onto the spirit of Modernism while also embracing popular desires for accessible beauty and decorative effects, Contemporary is a style that has stood the test of time - for all intents and purposes, it still exists in new lighting today (though the polyester and heavy eye shadow have mostly disappeared).