In most professions, staring at a screen for a sickening majority of the day has become the new norm. This has left office workers scrambling to improve work stations with healthy add-ons, like standing desks and posture-improving devices. Another accessory to add to that mix: a good desk lamp. Peering at the glow of a screen without any additional light can apparently wreak havoc on sleep patterns, worsen eyesight, and maybe even raise risks of depression, obesity, and heart disease.
To find the best desk lamps, we consulted a group of people with high aesthetic standards: architects. While they may spend less time these days, if any at all, staring at physical blueprints in favor of CAD work, that doesn’t negate the need for a desk lamp. The Luxo L-1 Task Lamp — the design that inspired the Pixar mascot — is the beloved classic. Designed in 1937 by Jac Jacobsen, the style has shed light on the drawing boards of generations of architects. But there are updates and more inventive designs out there, so I asked 14 architects in six international cities to tell us which desk lamps they use, and why. From a cheap-but-reliable Ikea version to a colorful Memphis-style design, here are 12 desk lamps that go beyond the L-1 (plus, of course, the classic Luxo up first).
Best industrial task lamp
“At my desk, I’m staring at a row of L-1 Luxo table lamps — the classic workhorse lamp found in many architectural offices for over 50 years now. But my desk lamp is different: I have a Tolomeo Table Lamp designed by Michele de Lucchi, for Artemide Lighting, in 1989. It’s a wonderful blend of clean lines, circular hinges, and exposed cabling. The stainless arm meets the aluminum shade and has a unique ‘paperclip’ handle for 360-degree adjustments. The Luxo sits at the pinnacle of mid-century design; the Tolomeo at the cusp of the technology boom. Best of all, my lamp still provides the warm glow of a 40-watt incandescent bulb.” —Jane Greenwood, principal at Kostow Greenwood Architects, New York
Best splurgy task lamp
“Over the years, I have owned many desk lamps. My first was the classic Luxo lamp. My current desk lamp is manufactured by Louis Poulsen, which updates the Luxo approach with a more elegant design, as well as mounting flexibility, and it provides beautiful diffused light. The purchase was serendipitous: A proactive sales person from Poulsen wandered into our design office last year and brought the beautiful and simple new lamp with her. We bought 25 of them. It has multiple brightness levels, with warm LED light. It also has a small footprint, and accommodates a variety of mounting options. The shade stays cool to the touch, and allows easy adjustment. We have been using the lights for nearly a year. We haven’t had any repair issues; we will buy more when we expand.” —Clifford Selbert, founding partner of Selbert Perkins Design, Los Angeles
Best cheap task lamp
“I’m afraid my choice of desk lamp was made for practicality, for my fast-growing studio. My lamp is from Ikea, called Forså; I bought a lot of them for my office, so they’re everywhere. The design is generic, I like that they are not fastened to the desk, and the price is good. I can always buy more of them, and it keeps the studio less chaotic to have the same desk lamp on all the desks.” —Páll Hjaltason, owner and founder of PlusArkitektar, Reykjavik
Best task lamp with a Memphis streak
“Two of my lamps recently broke — my most recent one was from Target. Now, when I need extra light on my desk, I typically prop my iPhone 7 up on a shelf about 16 inches above my desk and turn on the flashlight. This works fairly well for most circumstances. The next desk lamp I’ll buy will likely be the Type 75 Mini Task Lamp from Design Within Reach, in pastels. I like this lamp because it looks a bit more free than other desk lamps, which tend to feel somewhat foreboding. I like my work space to feel joyful.” —Rebecca Braun, project designer at DIGSAU, Philadelphia
Best desk lantern
“I’ve used this specific light for decades. It is made out of paper and split bamboo and is lightweight and delicate. Therefore, I buy a replacement every ten years. This reminds me that as humans, we are fragile, and nature is more powerful than we are. Plus, I like to support the traditional craft economy and this family-run business. I love the fact that Noguchi took the craft of traditional paper lanterns and turned it into a contemporary light fixture as well as an affordable work of art. I’ll also give this as a gift to friends and family — it comes packaged in a beautiful black box.” —Jonathan Marvel, founder of Marvel Architects, New York
(Editor’s note: Strat editor Simone Kitchens just bought her second one of these lanterns, and loves them.)
Best LED desk lamp
“The Pixo has a friendly, playful silhouette that blends high-tech LED and USB charging capability, and is surprisingly warm in lighting temperature. I’ve had it for 18 months. I like this design because it’s not what an architect may typically choose to put on his or her desk. The designers really thought about modern behavioral tics by incorporating an elegant concave base platform that can hold various tchotchkes or electronics, instead of being a formalistic dust collector. The USB charging port hidden under the lip on the base is brilliant.” —Angie Lee, principal at FXCollaborative, New York
Best desk lamp (that’s a floor lamp)
“My favorite desk lamp is one that doesn’t obscure my desk. So, I have a floor lamp that kinks to bend around the edge of my desk and can be adjusted to be closer to the desk surface or a little higher. The models are typically called ‘architect lamps,’ so I feel justified. I originally bought it by accident when my roommate bought a smaller version for her desk — I didn’t check the dimensions before hitting ‘purchase’ in my online cart. The base just rests under my desk, but allows me to have a completely free desk surface: Nothing that can be broken by a clean sweep is allowed on the desk.” —Harrison Ratcliff, lead façade designer at LaufsED, New York
Best vintage Bauhaus desk lamp
“This enameled metal lamp was designed by Marianne Brandt in 1928 and mass-manufactured by Kandem in Leipzig, Germany. Its familiar — even ubiquitous — silhouette is the result of a successful collaboration between Bauhaus designers and 20th-century techniques of mass-production. It’s a beautiful and functional piece of design by a pioneering female designer that elevates the experience of an everyday object.” —Marlisa Wise, principal at Interval Projects, New York
Best modernist desk lamp
“When I would often take work home, I got to draw on paper, and I often did it at the dining table under a skylight that we put lights in. This created a diffuse and indirect light. However, I bought a version of this halogen model 30-plus years ago — and lo and behold, it is still around. This was bought as a bedside light, and it followed me from Phoenix to Boston to San Francisco to Los Angeles to Seoul and to Brooklyn, until finally busting a couple of years ago. It became my go-to lamp as it left the bedside and became my apartment drawing lamp when I was in grad school, doing design competitions.” —Scott Oliver, partner at Noroof Architects, New York
Best rose-gold desk lamp
“I love this lamp: It looks like a classic model, but the mixture of silver and copper make it modern, and also easier to match with other lamps and furniture metal details. It has a simple mechanism, too. Luckily, I found it at a store in my neighborhood.” —Natalia Camacho, designer at Kisp, Inc., Buenos Aires
Best minimalist desk lamp
“I researched a number of sources before deciding on this design. I’ve had it for one year. The light has modern, simple, clean lines, and I like its matte black finish and LED dimmable light source. The height is adjustable, and it rotates around its vertical column.” —Guy Geier, managing partner at FXCollaborative, New York
Best desk lamp for $10
“I’ve used these lamps for years, as I can buy them cheaply at my local hardware store, Mazzone Hardware Store in Carroll Gardens, for about $6 apiece. Their utilitarian style works well with my used, industrial shelving. I position the lamps such that I can bounce light off of the walls and ceiling, helping to provide even lighting on my desk, which is an Eames Aluminum Group conference table.” —Peter Dumbadze, designer at vonDALWIG, New York
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