This $13 Find Is My Secret to a Better Looking Dining Room or Living Room

published Jul 16, 2020
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Akari-esque light fixture in an open dining area
Credit: Weston Wells

You’ve likely seen Isamu Noguchi’s giant Akari paper globe sculptures in magazines and on Instagram: One graced the cover of House Beautiful recently in designer Leanne Ford’s living room, another hangs over the dining table in designer David Netto’s Amagansett beach house, and designer Mason St. Peter recently posted a shot of one hanging in his new home. There’s a good reason these paper globes are so popular. They cast a soft, flattering light, and the large-scale models act as a natural The Noguchi Museum, Noguchi visited the town of Gifu, Japan, which is famous for its lanterns made from bark paper and bamboo, and was inspired to create his Akari sculptures. 

But the design doesn’t have to take a chunk out of your wallet. In fact, I love a $10 paper globe almost as much the “real” deal. Unlike many facsimiles of designers’ work, you can’t rightly call a paper globe lantern a knock off of an Akari sculpture, since Noguchi himself was inspired by those very same traditional lanterns. Noguchi just took the idea of paper stretched over a frame and elevated it to art.

When I got my first apartment in New York City back in 1999, my wise roommate, who’d already been in the city a few years, knew just where we should head for window blinds, dishes, and more: Pearl River Mart. Opened in 1971, this Chinese department store is a New York institution (its main location closed in 2015, but they reopened later in Tribeca). The global marketplace is just a click away now, filled with the same curiosities online as in the brick and mortar wonderland. (If you want to read more about Pearl River Mart in its heyday, there’s a great essay by the owners’ daughter on Open City, written at the time of its closing.)   

It was at the mart that I found my all-time favorite cheap find: Those enormous paper globes. Even today, Pearl River will ship you a 24-inch cross-frame paper globe or a 26-inch wire frame globe for $12.50 each (while the Noguchi Akari 55F is $350 for 22-inch). If you’ve got a heinous rental ceiling fixture, you can likely remove the shade and rig up one of these globes to cover your bulb. If you want to add light somewhere where there is currently none, you can buy a cord-and-socket kit and swag this lamp in an empty corner using a hook. IKEA also sells their own version, but Pearl River Mart stocks more sizes, including the larger statement-making designs.

Once you’ve got your paper globe installed, you’ll understand why I think this is the most transformative less than $20 you can spend on your home. For the ultimate ambience, make sure the bulb within is not a harsh fluorescent; an incandescent or an LED with a warmth of 2,500K to 2,700K is ideal. The soft, warm glow of light diffused through paper will change the room’s vibe, and the large, sculptural globe will feel almost like a sculpture.