Back in 2018, Flos introduced Bellhop: a small but mighty table lamp that kicked off the portable lighting boom. Defined by a rounded shade that mimics a porter’s cap, the design was an immediate hit. (In 2020, streetwear brand Supreme even released its own special edition, cementing the lamp’s place as an unlikely status symbol among sneaker heads.)

A blue portable table lamp with a rounded cap shade and cylindrical base.

The original portable Bellhop table lamp…

A white version of the portable table lamp with a rounded cap shade and cylindrical base, this time featuring a red vertical label with white text that spells out Supreme.

and the Supreme special edition.

For Barber Osgerby — the London team led by Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby that has envisioned everything from the 2012 Olympic torch to Apple’s task chair of choice — Bellhop is emblematic of the studio’s core mission: creating streamlined, deceptively simple designs that nevertheless boast aspects of innovation and charm. (The studio’s first collaboration with Flos — Tab, a reading lamp that rests a pitched shade on a slender stem — is another great case in point.)

During this year’s edition of Fuorisalone in Milan, Barber Osgerby unveiled the latest chapter in their lighting portfolio: Bellhop Glass. As with the uplighter version of Bellhop that was launched in 2021, these new models feature a glass shade — yet compared to that floor lamp, these enlarge the lamp’s shade to far more robust proportions. Add in the fact that these new models operate with replaceable light bulbs rather than integrated LEDs, and it becomes clear that far from being a simple tweak to the original Bellhop model, the new Bellhop Glass table lamp and suspension light represent a total reimagining.

Two Flos Bellhop Glass lamps by Barber Osgerby and one Flos Bellhop portable lamp shown in an artist's studio. The suspension lamp is to the left, the wired tabletop lamp with a large glass shade is in the middle, and a smaller portable lamp with a smaller plastic shade off to the side propped on top of a canvas.

The newly extended Bellhop family, featuring the Bellhop Glass suspension lamp, the Bellhop Glass table top lamp (centre), and the original portable Bellhop (right). Photo by Mattia Parodi.

Flos already seems confident that these new launches will earn their place in the brand’s history: the lights were debuted in Palazzo Visconti, an 18th-century venue that Flos first used back in 1988 for the launch of the brand’s first collaboration with an international designer, Philippe Starck. Flash forward to 2024, and the unveiling of Bellhop Glass was joined by the introduction of SuperWire, a comparatively avant-garde collection by Formafantasma, as well as special anniversary showcases of the IC lights by Michael Anastassiades and Achille Castiglioni’s Taraxacum 88.

We met up with Jay Osgerby for a morning caffe to find out the full backstory behind Bellhop Glass — and to hear some of his other thoughts about this year’s edition of Milan Design Week and the state of the industry.

Setting the Stage
A large group of Flos Bellhop Glass suspension lamps by Barber Osgerby hung in a baroque palazzo in front of a series of mirrors, creating reflections of additional lamps.

The Bellhop Glass suspension lamp is offered in three diameters. Photo by Nicolò Panzeri.

Flos launched Bellhop Glass at Palazzo Visconti in a display that divided the Baroque space with a series of mirrored partitions, creating groupings of lights that seemed to extend into another realm. What was your first reaction to seeing the installation?

Jay Osgerby:

That’s credit to Barbara Corti, who has been the creative director of Flos since last fall. She’s doing a phenomenal job — she works incredibly hard and she’s very talented. Plus, the engineering to get all those lights hung is just awesome. Filling a room with mirrors isn’t easy, either. In the olden days, people didn’t walk into mirrors. Now, because people are looking at their phones and not where they’re going, you almost need to have air bags on mirrors. But the layout of that space is intuitive.

The venue has a special place in Flos history, having previously been used by the brand for a product launch back in 1988. You and Ed founded Barber Osgerby in 1996. How does it feel to be coming up on 30 years in business?

Well, it’s also been 20 years this year since we first reached out to Flos. We didn’t launch our first product together — Tab lamp — until 2007, but our initial meeting with them was 20 years ago. Everything seems to now be like 20-, or 25-year anniversaries for us. I’m starting to feel like the oldest designer in Milan. But not yet. I reckon I’ve still got another 30 years to go, judging by the past.

It’s a funny feeling, being in this sort of age. I feel compelled to try to help out the young ones. Not to offer aesthetic advice, but just to share experiences and say, “Don’t do that.” The biggest fallacy in our industry is that you have to be a tortured soul to be creative, and money isn’t important. That’s fine if you’re a tortured soul from an affluent family, but otherwise one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that commerce is a creative enterprise. People don’t like talking about commerce, but the reality is that you can’t have creativity without it.

Meet Bellhop Glass
A group of Flos Bellhop Glass table top lamps by Barber Osgerby set on a mirrored table in a baroque palazzo.

A display of Bellhop Glass table top lamps, featuring blown glass shades and aluminum bases. Photo by Nicolò Panzeri.

A trio of Flos Bellhop Glass lamps by Barber Osgerby — two table top models (one with a white base and one with a chrome base) and a hanging suspension light above. The wall in the background is a mint green colour.

Bellhop Glass features an aluminum stem available in polished, white and cioko (dark brown) finishes. Photo by Mattia Parodi.

That feels like a good segue into the original Bellhop table lamp, which has found a lot of commercial success since it launched in 2018. How did that initial, portable version of Bellhop — and the follow-up floor lamp version you introduced in 2020 — pave the way for Bellhop Glass?

Yes, the portable Bellhop sells super well. Part of that’s because the quality of light around it is beautiful. It builds an atmosphere. It all started off with the simple idea of “Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to recreate the candle you walk around the house with?” This was around the same time, I suppose, that everyone suddenly had a $1,000 torch on their phone, but it’s not the same.

There were two things, really, behind this latest extension. First, we figured out through experimentation that there was a real opportunity to do something with this form. Rather than creating a small atmospheric area of intimacy, we wanted to create something that is more gregarious and can really fill the room. And the second thing was that part of the success of Bellhop has also been the fact that it’s an entry-level product. People can have some Flos for Christmas, rather than needing to own stocks to buy a lamp. So we decided to make these new lights on the basis that the products be simple enough to still be affordable.

What was your target price point and how did that shape the design process?

We tried for a $1,000 retail price, including tax, to be the ceiling. In the end, some of them will be less and some of them will be a bit more. But I’ve loved that process. When you work with some manufacturers, you’ll say “Here’s a sketch” and they’ll say “We love it, let’s make it” but then no one buys it because it costs a million bucks. Instead, everyone just goes, “God, isn’t design beautiful?” It might look really good on Instagram. But the reality is, what is it? Is it really a design? It’s a statement of form.

Maybe that’s more of an object for a gallery, and that has a place — we make those as well. But with this collection, we wanted to create something that had fantastic light output, and that is not a challenging archetype. It’s very familiar. It’s borrowed from the portable Bellhop, but we also brought in hanging lamps from the past to study and draw from. They are designs that people can place anywhere — in any home.

How did that mission — designing for timelessness — inform your considerations about the lifespan of these products?

We wanted to use components that, should they ever break, will be easy to fix. We’re getting out of that generation of objects that have a fixed LED array and when that goes, you chuck the thing out. Instead, we’ve designed these lights to have light bulbs. After 30,000 hours, you just buy a new bulb.

Our first project with Flos — the Tab — was originally a halogen lamp. Lighting at that point, you could use a bulb from the ‘60s or whenever. And then around 2010, the whole world switched to LED. At first, that was the era of gross blue light bulbs everywhere — you suddenly wanted to die in an Italian restaurant that you’d spent years loving all because of the glow of the light. We fixed that, but we got to a point where lights were no longer a home product — they were a technology product with obsolescence. It’s such a contradiction to save a few watts, but then need to discard something that used kilowatts of energy in its production process.

We’re overcoming that by acknowledging it. Plus, a light bulb is cheaper than an integrated LED array, so that brings the price point down, too. And even though these are using light bulbs, the light quality is really good. The pendant has a hole in the bottom, not only so that you can easily change the bulb, but principally, so that you get a perfect glow for a dining room or kitchen. 

Two men in a baroque room with moody lighting. The man on the left (Jay Osgerby) changes the lightbulb in a glass suspension lamp while the man on the right (Ed Barber) looks on.

Jay Osgerby (left) and Ed Barber inspect Bellhop Glass. Luca Caizzi.

A Flos Bellhop Glass table top lamp by Barber Osgerby sits on a mirrored table. The aluminum base of the lamp is white and the top glass shade is frosted white.

Photo by Nicolò Panzeri.

Looking Ahead

What have been your takeaways from the rest of this year’s Milan Design Week?

“This Bellhop Glass stuff is not world-changing design — it really isn’t. It’s just reliably nice stuff that you can enjoy for 20 years and then sell it, make some money back, and it will still be fine for the next person. Or give it to your kids.”
Jay Osgerby

It feels like a lot of designers have done less — like everyone’s just taking a breath. I know there’s a push among some people for a more biennale-type thing, and I’d be over the moon about that. Right now, manufacturers are in a position of needing novelties every year but it’s too much stuff, and we’re in a world where we ought to be reappraising classics. This Bellhop Glass stuff is not world-changing design — it really isn’t. It’s just reliably nice stuff that you can enjoy for 20 years and then sell, make some money back, and it will still be fine for the next person. Or give it to your kids.

Really, let’s just make stuff that people can carry with them, or trade, or call dibs on. I think to that accessibility point, the low or mid-tier market people are producing really nice design stuff — it just doesn’t last. And it wears the shit out of me that people are buying into this thinking it’s design and then it lets them down after two years. It’s depressing. I’d much rather people bought second hand stuff, and then saved up for that one thing that they fall in love with. It’s like fashion — don’t buy cheap fashion. Go to the vintage market and if you absolutely love something from Comme Des Garçons, save up for it and ask everybody you know to buy it for you for Christmas.

With all that in mind, how do you find the drive to still introduce something new?

Well, people have to pay their mortgages and put breakfast on the table for their kids in the morning. A manufacturer comes to you, and they’ve got a really sweet little shop outside Milan, and they’ve got eight guys working there and it’s not going well. And you think, “Design is their salvation.” That’s our responsibility, isn’t it? I always feel that duty to the manufacturer. It’s different if you’re working for a brand that’s just shipping stuff out, but a lot of the people we work for are makers. And I don’t want them to lose their jobs, so I want to do good work. But the contradiction is that more stuff is made. I don’t know — I think about it all the time.

After I finish at the fair this afternoon, we’re going to explore the metalworking region of Italy to meet these people that I’m talking about — the guys in blue overalls who are machining stuff — to see what’s possible. I think it’s vital that Italy keeps that because we’ve lost so much of it in the U.K. and shifted almost completely to a service industry. It’s a great shame that we don’t have the same level of manufacturing that Italy — or Germany, or France —has. Britain sold it off in the ’80s and ’90s. Whereas Italy has consistently cultivated this image as the craftsman of Europe — and it’s authentic.

How do you see this decade in design evolving — do you sense another big inflection point coming?

We’re in a world where technology is removing the need for so many physical things. It’s a funny time to be creating. I don’t know if kids even want to do design anymore. In the past 20 years, a lot of people who might have gone into design have surely gone into tech — app design or gaming, so that’s interesting.

In a few years, super-A.I. is going to be this higher power that puts us at the intersection of technology and theology. Beyond that, the future of technology is biology. As it gets smaller and smaller, it’s going to become much more akin to cellular structures. And whether it’s physically hardware or something that we think of as more like tissue, it will become something — something optional — where if you want to know everything, you can. 

I am interested in understanding what’s happening in that world. It’s a basic survival mechanism. Growing up without money, I’ve always had to hedge my bets. It’s why Ed and I run three firms [in addition to Barber Osgerby, the pair also lead the architecture and interiors firm Universal Design Studio, plus MAP, a consulting agency that advises clients on the relationship between technology and objects] — to be resilient to downturns in the economy. And because the diversity keeps you alive. Otherwise, I’d go nuts.

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