The lights perhaps most associated with the Space Age, however, are the starbursts known as Sputnik chandeliers. Gino Sarfatti, founder of Italian light manufacturer Arteluce, foreshadowed the look of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 artificial satellite with fixtures that had bulb-tipped rods radiating from a sphere. After the satellite’s launch in 1957, the floodgates opened to all sorts of Sputnik-influenced creations.
Enter Tadeusz Leski and Hans Harald Rath, who collaborated on surely the only Sputnik chandeliers to get a standing ovation — from 3,800 rapt patrons of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City’s Lincoln Center, no less, when the building opened its doors in 1966.
Leski was right-hand man to Met lead architect Wallace Harrison. One day, according to daughter Kyna Leski of 3SIXØ Architecture, he was rushing to finish an interior sketch in time for a meeting when a fat drop of white paint went splat on the paper and, in a fit of inspiration and desperation, he connected the dots until it resembled an exploding firework of a chandelier.
Rath was the fourth generation of his family to helm Austrian glassware manufacturer Lobmeyr. He brought Tadeusz’s spontaneous concept to expert completion with about 350 chandeliers, sconces and other fixtures bedecked with thousands of Swarovski crystals. The largest in the cluster at the center of the auditorium has 260 bulbs, is 18 feet wide and weighs 1½ tons. In an arc around it, 12 smaller starbursts float up to the gilded ceiling in a breathtaking signal that the performance is about to begin.
Interior designer Melina Copass saw a TV program about the Met just as she was seeking a Sputnik chandelier for Northern California clients who wanted one to replace the Arts and Crafts-style light fixture in their dining room. She was so enthralled by the opera house’s chandeliers that she commissioned this similar one from Venfield. “This version is smaller and slightly more elliptical,” she says. “The ends are blunted, so they are not quite as sharp. The clients were worried about people bumping their heads on it, so we measured their tallest friend to make sure there was clearance.”