Sabine Marcelis’ lava lamp elevates the classic design’s magic

Sabine Marcelis has worked with Mathmos on a special edition lava lamp to mark the design’s 60th anniversary

Sabine Marcelis Lava Lamp
(Image credit: Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*)

Sabine Marcelis never had a lava lamp growing up, but seeing one at her friend’s house kickstarted her fascination for design from an early age. ‘I would just stare at it, I was fascinated by its magical dance,’ recalls Marcelis (Wallpaper* Designer of the Year 2020). ‘I couldn't understand how they worked, what was inside them; they looked like alien creatures. It's maybe even the first design I witnessed that wasn't purely functional; a lamp, but also an art piece.’

Sabine Marcelis Lava Lamp: ‘a vessel for magic’

Sabine Marcelis and her Lava Lamp

(Image credit: Titia Hahne)

This year, she was invited by Mathmos, maker of the original lava lamp, to interpret the design classic on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. The only brief: the shape had to remain faithful to the original, distinctive rocket-like silhouette that has defined the Astro Lava Lamp design for six decades. As usual in her designs – among them the recent Ikea ‘Varmblixt’ collection – Marcelis’ own criteria included creating something timeless and unexpected, focusing on the effect more than the design itself.

Her lava lamp successfully merges her unique sensibility for colour, light and visual effects with the original design’s ultra-recognisable features. ‘I wanted to strip the housing of as much identity as possible by turning it into a blank white canvas: no logo, no gloss finish to reflect its surroundings, just a vessel to house the magic within,’ she says. The lamp looks all-white when turned off (perfectly achieving that alien look Marcelis admired from the lamps of her childhood), a vibrant yellow hue appears once lit up.

Sabine Marcelis Lava Lamp

(Image credit: Titia Hahne)

Despite being very simple in its formula (a food-grade glass bottle is filled with wax and water in contrasting colours for the magic to happen), the lamp’s mechanics have always been surrounded by a mysterious aura. ‘I wanted to enhance the idea of mystery by etching the bottle so that the lava liquid becomes veiled behind a haze,’ she continues. ‘The movement is made more subtle and the light is diffused as a pleasant atmospheric light. I feel like this was really an exercise in how to add my signature to something that already has such a strong signature.’

Limited edition of 600 pieces, and each piece is numbered. Each lamp will be £130 / 150EU,and available exclusively from Mathmos

A version of this article appears in the November 2023 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print from 5 October, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.