Bright sparks: Plumen’s latest energy-efficient bulb recreates the soft glow of an earlier age
In 2010, entrepreneurs Nicolas Roope and Michael-George Hemus launched Plumen, an energy-efficient light bulb with design credentials. Six years later, Plumen has become a full lighting company, and the bulbs are now the illumination of choice for hospitality establishments from Bratislava to Jakarta.
The company’s first bulb is part of permanent collections at MoMA, the V&A and Cooper Hewitt, and was nominated as design of the year by London’s Design Museum in 2011. After launching the second bulb in 2014, the pair are now ready to unveil the ’Plumen 003’, a slight departure from the more rational designs of ’001’ and ’002’ and a more poetic, slightly nostalgic approach to the light bulb.
The debut bulb was made in collaboration with designer Sam Wilkinson, and Bertrand Clerc worked on ’002’. The company’s third launch was developed by British designer Claire Norcross, a product designer with a portfolio of lighting pieces, and French jeweller Marie-Laure Giroux, a Central Saint Martins graduate whose jewellery references organic geometry. Working with a jeweller seemed a natural step, says Roope: ‘Jewellery is animation. Jewellers deal with light, they use highly reflective metallic materials with a very nuanced sensitivity and sensibility for colour; they are basically light designers.’
As with previous versions, the two creatives worked on the new bulb with the in-house team. ‘We don’t really start with drawings; we don’t start with how it should look – we start with the technology and we develop it from an engineering standpoint up,’ says Roope.
The result is a bulb that combines the efficiency of LED technology with the romantic, nuanced glow of candlelight or an Edison bulb. Roope and Hemus have been pioneers and enthusiastic spokespeople for energy efficiency but admit something is missing. ‘With incandescent bulbs, when you look at them you can see this glow and there is something magical about that; in early quotes about Edison bulbs, people were incredibly poetic, saying it felt like somebody had taken a piece of the sun and trapped it. We often say that with technology we lose something and what we try to do is bring back the feeling of something burning, something magical and poetic.’
In the new bulb, the LED filament is encased in the optic and shaded by a textured brass structure, enclosed in a large blown-glass shape. It’s a concept that has roots in the iconic works of Poul Henningsen: legend has it the Danish designer created his ’PH’ lamp in 1925 after speaking to his mother, who complained that the new electric bulbs were harsh on her skin compared to candles and oil lamps. He created a shading system that diffused light, providing a softer glare. Coincidentally, it’s a similar concept that guides the ’Plumen 003’; the textured brass diffuses and warms the light, creating a glow, while the bottom of the optic directs it downwards, into a spotlight.
The ’Plumen 003’ produces a kind of light that finds its natural habitat in intimate spaces – restaurants and bedrooms – where a candle would be as appropriate (but perhaps less practical). ‘Our aim is simple; we want people to use efficient lights,’ says Roope. ‘You can smash them over the head to make them do it,’ he says, ‘or you can make things beautiful and people will respond.’
As originally featured in the October 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*211)