Pro Tips on Collecting Designer Lamps

A seasoned design journalist shares ideas about building and maintaining a collection of designer lamps

By Li Haohan, Photos by Chino Sardea and Tracey Nguyen

Posted on 19 May 2022.

Right from the beginning, journalist Joseph Lim was clear about what he wanted: to collect lamps by great designers such as Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Verner Panton, Jean Prouvé, Enzo Mari, and Franco Albini. He was inspired by the way that lamps can change the look and feel of a room by simply moving them from one corner to another.

That was in 2008, he was the editor of a leading interior design magazine in Singapore, and was constantly examining newer designs by contemporary masters. “I did detract from my original intent of collecting lamps from the late design greats,” he admits, so he shifted his gaze to modern lighting by Michael Anastassiades, Ron Gilad, Tom Dixon, and Mario Botta, among others.

Today, Joseph continues to rely on knowledge and instinct in his pursuit. He knows the history of each piece in his collection, and reads about newer pieces to add to it. Take his recent acquisition, the ‘Gweilo Tang’ lamp by Nordiska Galleriet & Partisans for Parachilna, one of the 110 limited edition pieces worldwide. The lamp is moulded by hand from acrylic, and has a fluid appearance. “It caught my eye with its ghostly glow when it is switched on. After all, gweilo means ghost in Cantonese.”

Joseph acknowledges a preference for Castiglioni, whose designs from the ’60s and ’70s he finds alluring and timeless, that he has made space for the designer’s pendant lights in both the bedroom and kitchen of his apartment.

Timeless Style and Character

“I’ll stick to my original intention of collecting pieces from the late design greats,” Joseph says. “These luminaires possess a timeless flair; their works still look relevant in today’s homes. They even retain their special character even when they are not switched on.”

Although Joseph has developed an eclectic taste in designer lamps, he remains careful where he sources new pieces. He only buys through authorised distributors in Singapore or directly from Milan shops whenever the Salone del Mobile brings him to the city.

Currently, over 30 table lamps make up his collection, many of which are strategically positioned throughout his apartment. But as with any growing collection, it is inevitable for some of them to share a tabletop space or a deep corner. Other pieces are kept in the storeroom and make occasional appearances when Joseph decides to re-style his space.

Joseph does not rule out adding a few more pieces to his collection particularly when the classics are reissued. “I’m already eyeing the Cobra lamp designed by Elio Martinelli in 1968 for Martinelli Luce,” he lets on. “The shade of this graceful lamp can be swivelled to appear like a cobra’s head.”

Collection and Maintenance

Besides lounging around or having friends over to his apartment to enjoy his collection, Joseph also spends time in their upkeep, which mostly consists of polishing the chrome parts with soft, dry cloth or a scrunched-up aluminium foil. He also ensures that the Bluetooth LED bulbs are replaced. He uses the Philips Hue system and activates his living room lights through Google Assistant.

He reckons that he spends upwards of $2,000 a year on new acquisitions. “But this varies depending on the number of classic designs that are re-issued, which may mean new colours,  finishes or even sizes.” Throughout the year, he updates himself by reading periodicals like Elle Decor Italia, Belle, Vogue Living and Elle Decor UK, as well as following his favourite lighting brands on Instagram.

Joseph shares expert advice on building a collection such as his. “You can start with small table lamps from Kartell or Flos, which can cost below $500. In fact, the trend is now portable and rechargeable lights. Some brands that produce such eco-friendly lights include Menu, Marset, Artemide, Flos, &Tradition, and Foscarini. Many lighting brands are rolling out these handy lights which can spruce up a table setting or a corner without any harm to the environment.”

He also suggests gunning for brands such as Artemide, Flos, Fontana Arte, Nemo, and Oluce – the Italian lighting industry stalwarts. “They often have designs from well-known design masters, and you can trust the quality of products from these brands.”


Follow Joseph Lim on Instagram at @supadupadecor where he shares useful ideas and inspirations about lighting and home décor.