Lava lamps are one of the most recognisable and classic artefacts from the 1960s that have barely seen a dip in popularity, owing to their captivating whimsy and ageless charm. Edward Craven Walker, a British inventor, created these intriguing lamps made of a translucent, liquid-filled tank that holds blobs of wax, which when illuminated, undulate and transform to create a mesmerising dance of bouncing colours and shapes. These vintage fixtures give off a gentle, ambient illumination that gives any space a nostalgic, whimsical feel.
Founded by the inventor of the lava lamps, Mathmos is recognised as a trailblazer, appreciated globally for its creativity, dependability, and classic style, and the guardian of the original lava lamp concept. Since its founding in 1963, the England-based brand has maintained a stellar reputation for creating captivating lava lamps that combine modern sophistication with vintage charm.
In celebration of the lamp's 60th anniversary, Mathmos has created custom, limited-edition Astro lava lamps in collaboration with multi-disciplinary designers including French designer Camille Walala, Belgian designer and contemporary artist Job Smeets, Dutch designer and artist Sabine Marcelis, British photographer, publisher, and film director Rankin, as well as worldwide music icons, Duran Duran. Each collaborator from the domains of music, fashion, and design contributed a unique perspective to the brand's iconic 1963 Astro lamps. STIR takes a look at the creative interpretations below:
Designer of interiors, objects, structures, sculptures, and fashion, Walala is well known for her bold, large-scale, and explosively colourful interventions in public settings. For the lava lamp, she went with best-selling colourways: violet and red, and matt black for the base and cap. The Walala emblem sits atop the cap, while bold, carved lines flow into the black aluminium, creating a monochrome pattern that complements the product's traditional design. Commenting on her collaboration with Mathmos, the French product designer relays, “Working with Mathmos to bring this unique design to life has been such fun, and the movement of colour through the lava made this a really unique challenge for us. I love the colours of our final Astro lamp, and the way they interact with the framed black base and cap—a joyful take on an iconic piece of design history.”
The personalised Astro lamp by Job Smeets features a gold, anodised finish, with his brand Studio Job and signature 'perished' pattern engraved on the cap. The top and bottom of the bottle are coated in gold, which gradually fades to reveal the red lava in the centre. The translucent plug and switch are attached to a red-cloth lead. The etched design was inspired by fossils found in volcanic lava and the finely detailed depictions of long-extinct animals are found on the engraved skeletons. “The lava lamp is connected to my youth in the 70s—for me, it’s such an iconic design. The lamp is like a little theatre in itself, so I tried to make it as dramatic as possible within the constraints of this shape, like a dance macabre. Normally, you see a retro vintage feel, now, with the skeletons and red lava it becomes gothic and classical,” elaborates Smeets.
For the lamp design, Sabine Marcelis reveals her trademark sleek and simple design style and language. Her choice of one soft matte shade with white gives the product a contemporary feel. The container is frosted to soften and blur the yellow lava moving within while the metal base and cap are painted a matte white colour. The lighting designer elaborates on her approach: “I've always been fascinated by lava lamps and their magical dance. With this version, I wanted to strip the housing of as much identity as possible by turning it into a blank white canvas—no logo, no gloss finish to reflect its surroundings. I wanted to enhance that idea of mystery by frosting the bottle so that the lava liquid becomes veiled behind a haze. The movement is made more subtle and the light is diffused as a pleasant atmospheric light.”
The Astro lava lamp designed by the English new wave pop band enjoys a sleek silver metallic silhouette when turned off, and is transformed when switched on, as the ever-changing pink lava sparkles through the metallised glass. One of Duran Duran's early logos is etched into the base, and the autographs of all four band members are carved into the cap of the product design. "There is something magical about the lava lamp, hence it has endured through many generations of modern design to become widely acknowledged as a genuine classic. During the late nineties, we were making a Duran Duran album in our London studio, where several lava lamps enhanced the ambience. For this particular project, we were focusing our lyrical themes on pop culture and were actually inspired to write a song entitled Lava Lamp!” shares Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran's co-founder and keyboardist.
Rankin opted to customise a vinyl Astro lamp, which has a translucent switch and socket, with lines carved into the metal base and a cap that resembles vinyl records. The lead has a musical motif and the lava is a combination of aquamarine and blue. The British photographer's name and the words, "Let There Be Light," are etched on the cap. “Mathmos lava lamps are a piece of design history, and it’s been great to reinterpret my work with them from the 00s into this fresh design to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Mathmos and the Astro lava lamp. I’ve used my favourite colours and really enjoyed the whole process of designing and then shooting the lamp,” the photographer shares.
Interpreted anew by creatives belonging to an array of disciplines, each limited edition of the Astro lava lamp boasts a distinct design, revitalising a vintage and much-beloved design icon of artistic expression and cultural resonance. From Walala's vivid explosion of colour to Smeets' gothic interpretation, Marcelis' minimalist elegance, Duran Duran's musical and nostalgic take, and Rankin's fusion of music and design, these custom lighting designs embody creativity, artistry, and the endless possibilities. These special edition lamps by Mathmos pay homage to a legacy that continues to inspire, delight, and transcend generations, firmly establishing the Astro lamp as an enduring icon of design ingenuity and timeless fascination.