Mid-Century Modern Lighting: Sputnik and Starbursts

When man set his sights on the final frontier during the mid-twentieth century, home décor soon followed suit. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 further fueled our fascination with all things celestial, which manifested itself in design from textiles to furniture and accessories. Two lighting styles from that era, the sputnik and starburst, are among my favorites. They work in many settings, adding a whimsical, and at times glamorous, touch.

Sputnik vs. Starburst. Which is which?

Sputnik and Starbursts
Image: 1stdibs

I’ve seen the terms used interchangeably or even jointly, as in a “sputnik starburst chandelier.” My personal design dictionary measures the number of arms as well as their material and design. A classic sputnik may be sparsely arranged and simply styled versus the tightly packed starburst with its ornate elements. Perhaps, I make the distinction unnecessarily but it can be helpful in describing variations.

What works where?

Chandeliers
Image: (Left) Heather Garrett Design, (Right) Elle Decoration via This is Glamorous

I often tell people to choose whatever speaks to them. If you love it, it works! But there are some general rules to consider when hanging chandeliers. First and foremost: scale. As with all lighting, the size (both width and height) should be appropriate for the space. Secondly, sputnik chandeliers tend to read more contemporary while starbursts work well in traditional or transitional settings. Of course, you can find many examples to the contrary. It’s all about personal style!

Examples please.

I have a proclivity towards glamour, so naturally, my favorite uses of the sputnik would showcase that aesthetic. Here are three examples of my favorite applications.

1. Shaun Jackson used an oversized starburst to complement her living room’s tall windows and ceilings.

Chandeliers
Image: Elle Décor

2. Lauren Santo Domingo used a classic sputnik in the dining room of her Paris duplex.

Sputnik and Starbursts
Image: Vogue

3. This Melbourne apartment by David Hicks features a crystal sputnik.

Sputnik and Starbursts
Image: David Hicks

This is merely the tip of the iceberg when comes to mid-century celestial lighting. Which variation do you prefer?

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About The Author

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Desiré Greene
Desiré is a designer, blogger, and lover of all things glamorous. Though primarily a self-taught decorator, Desiré studied at The Art Institute, where she honed a distinct aesthetic largely influenced by the Modern Glamour movement, the theme of her popular design blog, Sukio. Not only is she considered a "closet fashionista," discreetly stashing handbags and shoes whenever possible, but, as an MIT graduate, she’s also an undercover nerd. Fashion, nerdom, and several years as a Washingtonian have combined to shape her unique perspective on interior design.