Friday, April 22, 2011

Fallingwater Lamp

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Fallingwater. The Kaufmann family, owners of a prosperous 1930s era Pittsburg, PA department store, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build a vacation home on their property Southeast of the city. To learn more about this National Historic Landmark visit the Fallingwater web site.

Wright was well known to design not just the building, but the complete living environment for his clients, including furnishings. One of the accessories at Fallingwater which caught my attention was a bedside lamp, used in both the main house and guest house.

Over the 10 or so years since my visit to Fallingwater I have become an ardent fan of the architecture and design of Wright. By chance I discovered an article on the Popular Woodworking Magazine website entitled Fallingwater Table Lamp and I decided then and there to build one.

After comparing the Popular Woodworking version to original photos of the lamp were some differences, so I came up with my own plans, attempting to stick as close as possible to the original photos.

Fallingwater Bedside Lamp Plans
(To download plans, right click and select Save Link As...)

The shade sides are walnut – I used a single wide piece of walnut and mitered it at the center of the flame pattern in the walnut so it wraps around the shade. The shade base is poplar painted black and I used small biscuits to attach the shade sides to the shade base. The lamp base is of the same poplar painted black.

Here are the differences between the Popular Woodworking (PW) plan and what I built:

The walnut shade on the PW plan is 2 pieces mitered giving a 2 sided “L” shape. The original had 4 pieces mitered so there are 2 more shorter “wing” pieces on the shade with the shade having 4 sides. Here is a view from the top:

The PW plan has the lamp shade base attached inside the shade sides so it is not visible from the front. The shade base is square. On the original the shade side sat on top of the shade base with the base extending about 3/16” beyond the shade sides. The original base is not square and has a more complicated shape:

The profile of the lamp base on the PW plan is thicker and more “blocky” looking where the original has a thinner profile:

One last modification I made was to add a heat shield/reflector. Neither the original nor the PW version had a heat shield.

I made the heat shield out of aluminum flashing from the home center. I used some small wood screws and washers to space the reflector out about 1/4” from the shade.

I cut the aluminum with a utility knife and straightedge.

I marked and taped where I wanted to make the bends. I clamped thin pieces of wood to both sides of the aluminum, placed the aluminum on the edge of the work bench and bent it.

The bend wasn’t real crisp so I took a piece of wood and “creased” the bend which did the trick.

Here’s an end view of the shield.

I made a template to mark where I wanted to put the screws.
I put a 1/4” spacer behind the shade and marked the points to drill with an awl.

Here’s a picture with the spacer sticking out the end.

I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw through the shade so I did a mock up with a piece of wood the same thickness of the shade.

Here’s the shield screwed in place. I had to remove the light socket and base to install the shield.

An end view showing the air space.

A picture with the lamp on. It reflects much more light now. Before the wood shade got pretty warm where the bulb was, now it stays cool.

The finished lamp:


  1. You lost all credibility when you used the words "home center".

  2. Incandescents are so last century. Why not go with CFL or LEDs and ditch the need to have a heat shield and a power generator to run the lights?

  3. daltxguy,

    There's a major difference in the illumination quality when using the alternative light sources. And as recent reports indicate, CFLs have major environmental problems both in use and upon disposal...

  4. I do agree with the use of CFLs instead of incandescents - this is the only non-CFL lamp in my house.

    I used an incandescent bulb because that is what the original lamp used. It is so amazing to me that this lamp was designed in the 1930's - it looks a new design.

    I have designed several lamps myself; they use CFLs. Be sure to watch for them in upcoming posts.

    What can I say about the home center - guilty as charged - I am often there looking for new uses of materials.



  5. Great job Randy! I was at Falling Water last month and took the behind the scenes tour. I had my eye on that lamp in each room I saw it.
    I liked them but thought they were just a bit dim as well. I like your modification! Well done.

  6. Hi. Is there an alternative link to your plans, Randy? The link above no longer works. Thanks.

  7. I, too, would love a good link to the plans. Happy to pay you for your work.

  8. Would you please tell me what type of incandescent lamp and the recommended wattage to use in the Falling Waters Desk Lamp with the horizontal shade. Would a 60 watt style t10 fill the bill?