NEW YORK — When articles are written about Mid-century Modern designs, much of the attention is devoted to furniture from the likes of Eames, Saarinen, Knoll, Wegner and McCobb. But a study of the era would be remiss if it did not look at lighting — a key element for bringing together a room. One of the most renowned and experimental lighting design companies in this era, aka the Atomic Age, was the Italian firm Stilnovo. The company’s name translates into English as “still new,” and unsurprisingly, its streamlined designs suit today’s home decor as well as in did in the 1950s.
In June 1946, Bruno Gatta launched Stilnovo in Milan, Italy, and after making an impressive showing the following year at the Milan Triennale, he had his brother Paolo join him after the latter graduated university in 1949. Together, they opened Stilnovo Srl, which became a coveted source for modern lighting.
Using brass and aluminum, they created lighting fixtures that were user-friendly and striking in appearance, and many of their offerings were adjustable for task lighting. The brothers effortlessly combined sleek materials with the science of diffusing and targeting light in a variety of fixtures from wall sconces and ceiling chandeliers to table and desk lamps.
While Stilnovo’s vintage designs can be found across the world, Italian auction houses actively seek them out for obvious reasons. A circa-1950 pair of Stilnovo (XX) sconces made €21,000 (about $22,267) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020 at Piasa.
If pressed to choose a lighting fixture that was most emblematic of the 1950s, however, the answer would undoubtedly be the Sputnik chandelier, which takes its inspiration from the Russian satellite that traveled around the Earth in 1957. Several designers and manufacturers have issued their own version of the Sputnik chandelier, although credit for the first goes to Arteluce’s founder Gino Sarfatti. A circa-1950s example of Stilnovo’s Sputnik hanging fixture in brass and painted metal brought €21,000 (about $22,267) plus the buyer’s premium at Piasa in October 2021.
Suspended and hanging light fixtures are among Stilnovo’s most enduring and popular designs, and the company issued them in many variations and sizes. A fine example of an early model is the 1950s pendant ceiling lamp in brass and etched glass that earned €16,000 (about $16,965) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2018 at Wannenes Art Auction.
Stilnovo’s model 1158 chandelier, designed by Bruno Gatta with a three-prong suspension structure, is elegantly simple and provides warm and soft lighting. An example in lacquered aluminum and brass, softened by opal glass diffusers, realized €12,000 (about $12,724) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020 at Cambi Casa D’Aste.
Several famous designers worked for or partnered with Stilnovo to create fixtures, including Gae Aulenti, Ettore Sottsass, Achille e Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and Joe Colombo. One of Stilnovo’s most iconic models was its Saliscendi hanging lamps, first designed in 1957 and initially custom-made for the Milan Chamber of Commerce. The design proved popular and is still in production today as an adjustable dual-emission metal lamp with dimmable LED light sources that can modulate and diffuse light. In the late 1950s, Stilnovo’s head designer Gaetano Sciolari came up with the A 5011 Saliscendi hanging lamp, which uses a counterweight suspension. It was produced by Stilnovo in lacquered aluminum, burnished brass and molded glass. An example boasting a nearly 14in-tall diffuser sold for €5,200 (about $5,496) plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Aste di Antiquariato Boetto.
Stilnovo lamps and lighting fixtures are still highly sought-after with best sellers including the Buonanotte table lamp, the aforementioned Saliscendi and its flexible Periscope lamps. The company closed in 1988 but reopened in 2012 to reissue some of its classic designs, and relaunched in 2021 under new ownership by the Linea Light Group. Collectors who have a love of vintage and authentic Mid-century Modern goods can find original examples in all sizes and styles, from large and majestic multi-globed suspended lights to small task lighting for home offices. With new generations of collectors and admirers discovering its work, Stilnovo’s future looks bright.