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The Tolomeo: A Retrospective

Tolomeo Micro LED Table Lamp by Artemide.

The Tolomeo: A Retrospective

There aren’t many 1980s designs that are as relevant today as they were then, but Artemide’s Tolomeo lamp just keeps getting better and better. We’re taking a look back at this Italian masterpiece.

“Made in Italy.” These three words lend clout, sophistication and a sense of style to products that are fortunate enough to bear the stamp; in modern times, they might all thank Artemide. In 1987, the Italian brand launched the lamp that would become a phenomenon: Giancarlo Fassina and Michele de Lucchi’s Tolomeo task lamp.

Designed at the dawn of the tech era, Tolomeo brought high design to the desks of architects and design professionals as well as the burgeoning dot-com industry offices. Its simplicity of form belies a painstakingly thoughtful design process that aimed to ensure ultimate adjustability and comfort for the user, traits we still value more than 30 years later. We find that the design has never gone out of style, looking (and working) as seamlessly modern as it did when it was first conceived.

An Icon Invented

An Icon Invented Sketch

The Tolomeo design itself seems simple enough—and perhaps that’s what makes it so radical. Designer Michele de Lucchi made a name for himself among the anti-design movements like the Memphis group, whose bold, pop art-inspired creations polarized as much of the design community as it energized. His own studio, Produzione Privata, continues to champion his avant-garde ideals and ideas with artisanally crafted goods created with lasting use in mind.

Giancarlo Fassina brought his industrial design know-how to the equation, and the duo set a new standard for modern Italian design with their collaboration, earning the highest honor in industrial design when Tolomeo won the Compasso d’Oro award in 1989.

But let’s get back to Tolomeo.

An unadorned conical shade. Articulated arms. Exposed joints. The design is deceptive in its simplicity; the head rotates 360 degrees, the visible wires along the arms control hidden springs inside—and let’s talk about customization. Tolomeo started as a task lamp, but it now comes in a dizzying variety of sizes, finishes in a rainbow of colors, lamping, base and shade options...the design is an icon of versatility as well as usability. In its all-metal iterations, Tolomeo’s slim silhouette smacks of techie sophistication, while the parchment shade version lends a warmer quality that suits modern living rooms as well as offices.

The Tolomeo was among the cast of characters on Showtime’s series Dexter.

The Tolomeo was among the cast of characters on Showtime’s series Dexter.

One of the best-recognized lighting designs of all time, Tolomeo is spotted on movie and TV sets with steady regularity. Everyone from Miami’s good-guy serial killer Dexter to Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist had a Tolomeo lighting up their workspace. It’s a design that appeals to the tech-savvy, the scientific, the artistic and all points between—a modern iteration of a Renaissance-man, in lamp form. Fitting, considering designer Michele de Lucchi’s well-earned reputation for embodying the modern Renaissance man himself.