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17 August 2023
How the UK’s most famous workshop lamps have become an interior design cult
British style is a mix of tradition and creativity, informal taste, and attention to details. It is a style that undergoes different influences and atmospheres that draw now on the ancient aristocratic houses, now on the street and even more on the aesthetics, very characteristic of the historic London underground network. In the stations and tunnels every detail is imagined and designed with care and never by chance. Just think of the famous tiles that cover the walls, the “metro tiles” which in recent years have also become a dominant trend for interiors, moving from the public space of the transport network to the private space of the home. It is about evoking an atmosphere because this is, after all, the goal of interior decoration: to enrich functionality with a suggestion. A similar path is taken by the lamps created for the first time in 1933 by Coolicon, an English company with a fascinating history behind it.
Since its inception, Coolicon has specialized in the production of ceiling lampshades and has been the choice for workshops and factories throughout Great Britain. And then become an authentic icon when Franck Pick, London Underground branding manager in the early 1900s, chooses these lamps for the entire network. The choice is both technical and formal: the Coolicon lampshades in fact have a semi-open neck which allows less overheating than the incandescent lamps of the time and therefore a longer life. Light has two exit points, and this makes lighting more efficient. But Pick’s choice is also a choice of style: he introduced a coherent and strong image for the London Underground, making it iconic also through a series of choices relating to the design of the stations and trains, as well as information material. During WWII Coolicon also illuminates Winston Churchill’s bunker and underground telephone exchange.
It is the dawn of the industrial style that these lights perfectly embody, and for this very reason, today they take on a new and very interesting spirit, evolving by experimenting with new colors to adapt to domestic and family interiors, without ceasing to tell their story.
A history rooted in English manufacturing since these lamps are still produced by hand in the industrial heart of the country. The company’s classic collection is called Standard: here we find the original chromed steel lampshade with the semi-open neck from which it diffuses the light, now no longer incandescent but LED. The strong point of this collection is the color palette that includes pastel shades, light colors and dark colors and lends itself to illuminating any room in the house. A special version of this model is expressed in the Underground collection in which the famous design of the London underground map is embossed on the inside or outside to evoke its atmosphere and add a decorative detail. Coolicon is the only company to have obtained the license to imprint the original design, the work of Harry Beck, on its products, precisely to underline the privileged link between the company and the history of the London underground.
Coolicon’s sense of craftsmanship is also expressed in the Craftsman collection: here the lampshades are made not in steel but in Bone China to give a lighter and more delicate look. The color is typical of this material and refers to another tradition dear to the English, the processing of ceramics and porcelain. The shape and proportions are the same as the Standard collection but take on a more sophisticated and discreet style.
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