BHG Real Estate

2022-05-05 09:27:36 By : Ms. Jenny Yuan

Although you can't call a light fixture that's more than 70 years old a new trend, paper lantern lights are resurfacing in the Instagram feeds and homes of design-savvy people everywhere. Proof that good design never goes out of style, these fixtures have made a comeback in recent years thanks to their timeless style and versatility. Like glowing sculptures, hanging paper lanterns cast a warm, ambient glow and bring a touch of playfulness to any room.

Based on candlelit paper lanterns invented in Asia nearly 2,000 years ago, modern paper lantern pendants were reimagined as electric lights in the early 1950s by American designer Isamu Noguchi. This electrified 20th-century interpretation of the ancient lanterns launched a sea of imitators in the U.S., cementing the paper lantern light as a permanent fixture in the interior design world. 

Noguchi's designs were revolutionary because the electric light fixtures were constructed using traditional Japanese techniques and materials like washi paper and bamboo, which were historically used to make paper lanterns and umbrellas. His fixtures could also be mass-produced, collapsed, and packed flat for shipping across America. Along with other modernist designers at the time, Noguchi applied innovative materials to create furniture for the masses, the goal being a world where everybody could access beautiful items for their homes.

Noguchi called his line of lamps Akari, a term meaning weightless light. He once wrote that Akari lights were as "poetic, ephemeral, and tentative" as the beauty of falling leaves and the cherry blossom. "All that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami [a type of floor mat], and Akari," he reportedly said often. That's a bold statement of minimalism: Plug in a paper light, roll out a mat, and your room is ready to go. 

Akari lights achieved peak popularity in the 1950s and '60s, the heyday of all things minimal and modern. They were a fixture in many classic atomic ranch houses, casting their glow over Danish modern furniture, Wassily chairs, and boomerang-shaped tables. Today, paper lantern lights are once again favored for their organic, modern feel that works with most any decor. 

"You can make these traditional shapes and materials work with classic or contemporary pieces in a room," says Dr. Anna Ruth Gatlin, assistant professor of interior design history at Auburn University. Paper pendant lights can bring elevated design to an eclectic room, add a touch of minimalism to an otherwise maximalist room, or warm up a room full of sleek contemporary furniture. 

Plus, real Noguchi paper lantern lights are tougher than they look. The washi paper and bamboo are attached to a metal frame, and the glue used to construct them helps ward off dirt and humidity. Still, they'll last longest in locations where they aren't exposed to a ton of moisture, so they might not be the best choice for a bathroom or over a kitchen sink. But in nearly every other room, paper lantern pendants are great for ambient or mood lighting. These fixtures likely won't provide enough illumination for you to read a book or stitch needlepoint, however. Layer them with other fixtures throughout the room to provide various types of light to meet different needs.

For example, a large rectangular paper lantern, like a Noguchi Model L5, can make a dramatic statement over a dining room table. A single lantern pendant light also works beautifully in a bedroom.  In a living room, try hanging a grouping of round paper lanterns in an array of sizes and shapes. Mix spheres, like the Noguchi 45A, with ovular shapes like the Akari 23A and flattened spheroids like the Akari 21A. Remember, groupings work best in odd numbers, so consider using three or five lamps. 

Paper lantern pendants come in a range of price points, too. Although Noguchi died in 1988, his Akari lamps are made to this day using the same traditional techniques and materials. You can get a real Noguchi, brand new, at, where the Akari 55A—a 20-inch diameter "light sculpture" ceiling lamp—costs $350, which might be worth it for an icon of mid-century modern design. 

If an original isn't in your budget, however, you can get high-quality reproductions from a slew of places. Design Within Reach offers an $89 rice paper shade that's very Noguchi-esque (though you'll need to buy wiring separately). Urban Outfitters has a $59 paper pendant light that comes with wiring, and good ol' IKEA has a paper lamp that will cost you $5.99, less than a loaf of artisan bread. Cord set is sold separately. 

After more than seven decades of popularity, these iconic lights aren't going anywhere. You can justify a splurge on a Noguchi because it has a good chance of ending up as a family heirloom. Plus, authentic vintage Noguchis made in the mid-20th century can go for thousands of dollars now. Because great design is eternal.