Warm, yellow light bathes a hemisphere of delicately molded plaster flowers, spindly tendrils and leaves. Shadows deepen the foliate reliefs, a luminous dome suspended above the ground. All the elements of an ornate plasterwork ceiling are compressed into a compact sphere.
Marcel Wanders’ Skygarden hanging lamp relies upon the unquestioned unity of stylistic opposites: completely disregarding aesthetic boundaries between austere modernism and lush ornament. It transposes the ceiling from unreachably distant to intimate, reflecting the playful tone of Wanders’ oeuvre. Beginning with his 1996 design for the Knotted chair, which combines traditional textile knotting techniques with contemporary resin-based stiffening technologies, Wanders has specialized in bonding established design methods and motifs with unexpected modern elements. Following the success of the Knotted chair, Wanders continued to expand the scope of familiar objects, free-painting the glaze of traditionally molded porcelain plates in one minute, and modelling polyamide vases based on airborne nasal mucus. His work is deeply rooted in the ironic juxtaposition of materials and techniques.
Wanders’ design for Skygarden is based on an antique ceiling in his apartment that “always looked good even without my having a green thumb or taking care of it very well. It didn’t need water or sun but would live only on the warm rays of electrical light under it.”  When he moved, Wanders didn’t want to lose the intricate ceiling. Utilizing a miniaturized perspective that tricks the eye into perceiving immense depth, Wanders replicated the ceiling’s plaster reliefs in the dome-shaped lamp—a smaller package. In a way, he democratized the decorative ceiling, a unique architectural element traditionally reserved for the wealthiest of aristocrats.
From the outside, Skygarden appears to be an austere, smooth-surfaced domed lamp. But looking up from directly below, it’s an immersive experience. The lamp is designed to engage the imagination and prompt surprise, ingrained with a sense of fun. With Skygarden, Wanders encourages viewers to revisit their surroundings—to appreciate the hidden beauty of design nuances that don’t appear at first glance.
 Marcel Wanders, Marcel Wanders: Behind the Ceiling (Berlin: Gestalten, 2009), 208.
Chelsea Butkowski is a summer 2014 Peter Krueger intern in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department. She studies art history and communication at SUNY Geneseo.