The roots of a trendy midcentury modern home accessory can be traced to the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union: the Sputnik chandelier.
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised the world by launching the first artificial satellite into space. It was a polished metal sphere, 23 inches in diameter, with four radio antennas protruding from it to broadcast radio pulses. The United States was caught so off guard by Sputnik that it created NASA to close the gap in space technology.
And so began America’s fascination with Space Age furnishings. Soon there were chairs that looked like the moon, televisions that looked like flying saucers, plastic molded tables that looked like they’d been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise and, of course, the Sputnik chandeliers.
Rod Parks, owner of Retro Inferno Modern Furnishings in the Crossroads Arts District, is no stranger to Sputnik chandeliers or, for that matter, the satellite from which it originated.
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He has what he thinks is an authentic Sputnik hovering beneath the skylight in the cedar-clad ceiling of his Bruce Goff-designed home in Kansas City. The Soviets, he says, made several replicas of the original back in the ’50s, and the previous owners of his home purchased one.
He has also had Sputnik chandeliers in his home and has bought and sold them through Retro Inferno.
“They used to show up quite often here in the shop; there were times where I had four or five at a time,” he says. “I get one here and there, but not as often.”
One of Parks’ favorite features of original Sputnik chandeliers were little clear plastic starburst covers that slipped onto the ends of the lightbulbs. Today, Westinghouse makes an incandescent lightbulb shaped just like those covers.
“I thought they were the bomb. And I wouldn’t have them without those bulbs. That’s what makes them cool to me. Also, the bigger the fixture and the more rods, the better.”
Sometime during the ’70s and ’80s, Sputnik chandeliers fell out of favor.
Parks recalls “there was a time you’d go to an estate sale and there’d be one hanging in the foyer and the seller would say, ‘Really? You want that thing?’ ”
But they came back in favor several years ago with the popularity of midcentury modern furnishings and now can be spotted hanging in homes with styles ranging from modern and contemporary to Hollywood Regency and eclectic. They look fantastic paired with everything from Chesterfield sofas upholstered with jewel tone fabrics to sleek leather sofas with crisp modern lines.
Original Sputnik chandeliers will cost you a pretty penny. Vintage website 1stdibs.com has several listed for several thousand dollars. New ones can also cost as much, but their popularity means they come in a wide range of prices.