An icon at the novelty end of the domestic lighting spectrum is undoubtedly the lava lamp. Originally branded as more of an executive toy than anything else, the lava lamp quickly became synonymous with the ideas of counter culture and the Hippy movement. Today the appeal is as strong as ever, and Mathmos, a company born out of the original manufacturer of lava lamps, still enjoys great success producing the lamps from it’s premises in Dorset in the UK.
Invented by British accountant Edward Craven-Walker in the 1960s, the lava lamp, or ‘Astro Lamp’ as his earliest models were christened, were apparently inspired by his experience of watching a bizarre homemade egg timer bubble away on a stove, producing strange shaped bubbles in the process.
Craven Walker perfected his design utilising two liquids, one wax based and one water based that are insoluble with one another, hence why the waxy globules in a lava lamp stay separate to the watery substrate. As the heat from the base of the lamp gets to work on the waxy component, it melts it and therefore rises to the top of the lamp where it cools and in its denser solid state falls back down again, resulting in the familiar psychedelic dance that the lamp is so famous for. Complete with the moody light source the lava lamp as we know it was born.
By way of tackling the US market, Craven-Walker sold the manufacturing rights to a Chicago based company ‘Lava Lite’ in the mid 60s, and with this combined force, millions of lamps would be sold by the end of the decade.
Changing tastes would mark the decline in popularity of lava lamps through the 80s, but nostalgia being the force that it is would change all that in the 90s, and today the product is as popular as ever, still handcrafted to the highest quality in the same factory that Craven-Walker set up over 5 decades ago.
Definitely not a light source to work by, but more of a mood light to create a certain free thinking atmosphere. Whether you’re a late night online gamer, or a purveyor of all things retro chic, there will be a space on your desk or table for a lava lamp