From 20th-century prime ministers and engineering workshops to 2019 millennial living rooms, these lamps hold up
Words Miriam Methuen-Jones
A century ago this year, the German architect Walter Gropius established the Staatliches Bauhaus, a school he hoped would unite all the different strains of art under one roof, and bring art back into contact with the everyday world.
In rebelling against superficial ornamentation, the Bauhaus represented an opportunity to extend beauty and quality to every home through well-designed industrially made products; what evolved from this hub was an explosion of experimental art which quickly spread across Europe.
Many enduring classics emerged during this period, such as Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair and the Barcelona chair of Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, while the philosophy of the Bauhaus had a major impact on other designers.
One such was young industrialist Robert Dudley Best, heir to what was then the world’s largest lighting manufacturing company, Best & Lloyd. He spent the 1920s travelling around Europe, absorbing design influences as he went.
Interested in breaking down the barriers between art and industry, he enrolled at the School of Industrial Design in Dusseldorf, fell in love with the Bauhaus manifesto and was ultimately inspired to return to the UK to design his own lighting collection.
That required some serious negotiation with his father, but Best was eventually allowed to start work on a piece that he stripped of the usual adornments associated with Best & Lloyd products, and in 1930 the Bestlite lamp was born.
Thought to be one of the first instances of Bauhaus-influenced design in Britain, the clean-lined lamp quickly became a favourite in RAF engineering departments and garages across the nation thanks to its functionality and no-fuss aesthetic. Demand grew gradually, but once it became known that Winston Churchill had chosen a Bestlite for his desk at Whitehall (and reportedly took it with him around the world), the lamp’s success was sealed.
Danish firm Gubi acquired the brand in 2004, and continued the lamp’s production without making any drastic changes to the original design. Founder Jacob Gubi has always been focused on merging past and present design approaches to create timeless pieces, and under his guardianship the Bestlite collection has acquired a global following. With its enduring appeal and lasting fame, it’s no surprise the lamp has a place in the permanent collections of the Design Museum in London and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
BEHIND THE NAME Robert Dudley Best (1892–1984) gave his name to the collection. A design enthusiast heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement, he wanted to create a collection that would appeal to an avant-garde clientele.
THE VERDICT From 20th-century prime ministers and engineering workshops to 2019 millennial living rooms, these lamps hold up. The simple, functional design is enduringly elegant and likely to be just as popular in another hundred years.