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Starbursts & Sputniks

Fireworks for the Home

April 29, 2020

Starbursts & Sputniks

Fireworks for the Home

April 29, 2020

Did you ever wonder why a certain style of ceiling fixture is called "sputnik?" Like, what does a style of chandeliers from the midcentury modern period that still slays in so many different kinds of spaces have to do with a Russian satellite?

Whatever you call it—starburst, sputnik, or fireworks—the style of chandelier or pendant with a central circular body branching out bulb-bearing arms in all directions was one of the brilliant inventions of the midcentury modern period and is a certified classic to this day.

Design: Holly Hollingsworth Phillips of The English Room | Lights: Sparta (left) and Triad (right)

The first one was invented by Italian designer Gino Sarfatti in 1939, and went into production sometime in the next decade or two. It was an amazing leap forward for lighting design. Prior to it, most chandeliers were styled in the image of their candle-bearing predecessors. In other words, the fact that there would be no flames or dripping wax hadn't really figured much into the design.

There had been some fixtures made for industrial purposes, suited to warehouses and factories; these were designed from a purely practical perspective. Using them in homes as something elegant or fashionable hadn't caught on yet. Poul Henningsen and Louis Poulsen's ingenious contribution, the iconic Artichoke, had been drafted but wasn't to come out until the end of the '50s.

Sarfatti's idea proved to be adaptable as it was brilliant. By sending light in all directions, 360 degrees around the body, and going up toward the ceiling as well as down to the floor, starburst fixtures are excellent at illuminating while also making a great decorative statement, serving as dramatic centerpieces. 

The metal core sphere with arms branching out found in several of our fixtures does resemble the Russian satellite of 1957, Sputnik. 

As with the myriad new versions of Shakespeare's plays that keep coming out, reinvention and appropriation are the name of the game with forms as iconic as the sputnik chandelier.

Some place a short-armed sputnik within a large frame in a contrasting metal. Others explore what various materials and decorative adornments of varying lengths add to the sense of dynamism in these ceiling stunners. Some resemble a rousing firework going off—Sarfatti's original intention—or a dandelion in bloom, other touchstones that are as perennial as they are nostalgic.

These pictures below show what breathtaking range the contemporary starburst has to it, both in new interpretations and the sorts of spaces it may adorn.

Design: Curtis Elmy of Atmosphere Interior Design | Light: Glendale

Design: Michelle Gage | Light: Dunkirk

Photo: Tracey Ayton Photography Design: Oliver Simon Design | Light: Glendale

Design: Mabel Cheung | Light: Roundout


Design: Signature Interior Design | Photo: Jenn LaMariana | Light: Sparta

Design: Holly Hollingsworth Phillips of The English Room | Light: Sparta

Design: J&J Design Group | Light: Liberty

Design: Cecilia Walker | Light: Glendale

Design: Anne Sage and Caroline Lee | Light: Tempest by Corbett

Photo: Nathan Schroder Photography | Element by Corbett

Design/Photo: Ashley Mays of Bigger Than The Three of Us | Light: Ace by Troy

If it's a flush mount or semi-flush mount, does it still count as a Sputnik? Ask Remi by Mitzi.