Majestically poised and lit up

The famous British Anglepoise lamp has stood the test of time and is a brilliant addition to light up any household

Sir Kenneth Grange, creative director.

When the 70s British rock band The Soft Boys sang I Want To Be An Anglepoise Lamp, they had a point. Why wouldn't you want to be one of these, considering the supreme privilege that is associated with this the iconic British brand, famous for desk lamps engineered with a pivoted arm and counterbalanced springs.

Established in 1932, Anglepoise has seen its products grace Queen Elizabeth's desks, sit on James Bond's working desk in most of the 007 film instalments, appear as part of Pixar's logo and served as the light Picasso painted under.

The latest product of the brand, which hit stores in September, is Type 75 Desk Lamp -- Paul Smith -- Edition Two. It marks the second time Anglepoise has collaborated with the British fashion brand on its global best-selling collection Type 75, a brainchild of the renowned British industrial product designer Sir Kenneth Grange who joined the company as creative director in 2003.

Life sat down with Richard Sellwood -- the managing director who joined the brand in 2011 with an ambition to move the brand towards the realms of lifestyle and becoming more "world-class and globally significant" -- to talk about the latest collaboration, the brand's background and his ideas on lighting design and decorations.

Richard Sellwood, the managing director of Anglepoise.

More colours don't hurt

"When Sir Paul was going to do something for us, he chose to do it on a Kenneth Grange product," Sellwood said. "He hasn't changed the product. He's just given it a fashion treatment. He chose the colours. When I saw it, it was like 'Oh my god, look at that, beautiful'. I said to them at the time that we'd have to keep it for 10 or 20 years. It's going to stay in our collection. It's going to be a modern design classic."

The collaboration between Anglepoise and Paul Smith is the second attempt to bring some rainbow to the streamlined and minimalist Type 75 lamp, which normally comes in single-colour patterns. The classic lamp thus serves as a canvas for eminent Britain fashion designer Paul Smith, whose signature style lies in his masterly approach in making peace with discordant colours.

While the Edition One -- which was released last year -- comes with a set of lively colours suggestive of spring and summer, including cornflower, lime and fuchsia, the Edition Two boasts more restrained hues, evocative of autumn, including deep slate, cool grey, blue and strikingly bold orange. 

"I didn't think that the first edition could be beaten," Sellwood said. "The first edition is very much spring-like and feminine, with the pink colour and softer colours. But the second edition is much more autumn-like and masculine. When I saw it and I was like 'Oh my god, it's beaten the first one'. Maybe because I'm a guy. But when I do events and I ask who likes the first one and who likes the second one, I find it about 50/50."

Engineered to stand the test of time

While it's out of the question that those after Anglepoise lamps tend to pay attention to design besides looking at the utilitarian features of a regular task lamp, Sellwood believes it's also a part of the brand's history that fans appreciate it. He said they always look for "something of the products that they can tell their friends about".

Anglepoise's legend lies with its "Three Spring Engine", which was invented by George Cardawine, an automotive designer who founded the brand. Cardawine innovated the pioneering spring formula that enables pivoting arms to be repositioned with the lightest touch. The Original 1227, which was launched in 1935, is the archetypal Anglepoise lamp built with the system.

"The Three Spring Engine is much more complex than it first looks," Sellwood said. "They are not normal springs. For the normal springs, when you start to pull you have to put extra energy and then it's okay. This is a constant tension whether it's the beginning, the middle or the end. It's smooth. That enables it to balance.

"Eighty years after this was invented, nobody has improved it. We haven't managed to improve it. Nobody has got a better mechanism. I think that's why it's lasted because it does one job incredibly well."

Anglepoise is also known for its anthropomorphic quality, meaning that its lamps give an impression of having a personality.

"All of a sudden, the personality can change," Sellwood said, gliding his hand through the lamp to demonstrate. "Maybe that allows people to have this sort of emotional connection with it. I think that has also enabled the brand to last."

Light and people

Sellwood thinks that light can play an awful lot more of a role in home design and home living.

"People in the past, I think, designed their rooms and the concepts and they thought about lighting last," Sellwood said. "I think it's really important to consider. For example, in just an ordinary room, you can have an Anglepoise lamp by your settee to relax or read a book. In the evening, you can push it to light the wall. You can turn the other lights off and it provides some sort of wonderful ambience and mood."

However, after all, Sellwood believes that when it comes to using Anglepoise's designer lamp, there are endless ways for people to use it.

"Obviously, it's lovely to have a decorative lamp because it's beautiful," Sellwood said.

"But in terms of choosing, it's very interesting because we have all sorts of customers. We have people who want it very much to do the task and people who want a good light to read or to use a laptop. Others like just beauty. Some people don't even turn them on, which is crazy."

The Original 1227, the archetypal Anglepoise lamp.

Do you like the content of this article?