Design Backstory: L’Arc Floor Lamp

May 7, 2015


The world of design is about the constant search for a better mousetrap, and New York lighting designer Robert Sonneman’s rare and striking 1974 L’Arc floor lamp is a perfect example of the art of improvement. Since the beginning of his career in the 1960s, Sonneman has been one of the most prolific American lighting designers of the past 50 years. His signature polished aluminum shades and chrome metal globes (such as that of his famed Orbiter lamp)—are among the defining looks of 1970s sleek, high-tech interior design.



Lot 66 Robert Sonneman L'Arc floor lamp, Designed c. 1975

Lot 66, Robert Sonneman, L’Arc floor lamp, Designed c. 1974
May 17, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Sonneman developed L’Arc after discerning what he thought of as a flaw in Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s 1962 modernist icon, the Arco floor lamp. “I remember looking at lamp the Castiglioni brothers had designed for the Italian company Flos and thinking: ‘Interesting . . . well, that’s been done.’ But something nagged at me. The Arco has a boom, or armature, fixed in place to a marble plinth that weighs well over one hundred pounds,” Sonneman told LAMA. “But I couldn’t help wondering why someone would want something that big that was static. I thought that it should move.”

He devised and patented a lever and pulley system to raise and lower the cantilever armature, and attached the stem—the lamp’s upright pole—to a turntable base so the piece could rotate 360 degrees. The complexity of the floor lamp’s design made it expensive to fabricate and very few were built to order. “Everything in our factory in Queens back then was machined and assembled by hand. It was more like an atelier,” Sonneman says. “I suppose I made L’Arc because I didn’t know I couldn’t. But I’ve always seen the mechanical as an art.” We can understand why.

Lot 66
Robert Sonneman
L’Arc floor lamp
Sonneman, designed 1974
Model no. 8144
As illustrated (adjustable): 78″ x 17″ diameter at base
Literature: Sonneman catalogue, nd., p5.
Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000

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