Book List of the Week

Subtle Illumination: Inga Sempé’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter June 17, 2013

Inga Sempé

Product/industrial and lighting designer Inga Sempé: Inga Sempé (Paris)

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French product designer Inga Sempé—known for her pleated paper and pendant lamps, ruched sofas, and other distinctive twists on everyday objects—credits her parents in ways both large and small when it comes to what she reads and how she looks at books. “Almost 95 percent of the books I have read were given to me by my mother,” she admits in the introduction to her list for Designers & Books.

Among Sempé’s book choices, which include volumes on cartoons and popular taste, murder mysteries, autobiographies, and a classic novel, is the quirky childhood favorite, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, which has an especially close connection to the designer’s mother, the French children’s book illustrator Mette Ivers. Sempé comments,  “My mother did the illustrations for the French version of this book when I was already a grownup, but the book is so subtle and original, that I have read it several times.”

About another book on her list, New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren’s 1980 collection titled Caution: Small Ensembles, Sempé says, “I had a really strict education in cartoonists from my parents. This is one of the only books by a cartoonist I own, which I read quite often as it is so funny—and I don’t laugh easily.” (Her father is French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, celebrated for his wry takes on everyday life). And she cites Georges Simenon’s “Inspector Maigret” series of murder mysteries, which she notes are “written in a very simple but wonderful way,” for evoking “a Paris that I haven’t really known, the France of my parents.”

Pendant lamp “w103s1,” designed by Inga Sempé for Wästberg, Sweden, 2012. Photo: © 2012 Wästberg

Two titles on her book list, as Sempé sees them, speak directly to the lives of designers, though in very different ways. (“I never buy or read ‘design’ books,” she states.)  She read Gillot Dorfles’s 1970 analysis Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste as a design student, finding it “really helpful,” and says, “I have always been surprised by the strange cycle of good and bad taste. It is never definitive. One thing can be regarded as ugly after having been considered a masterpiece.” In film director Roman Polanski’s 1984 autobiography, Roman by Polanski (“I am becoming more interested in reading autobiographies—to hear the voice of a person talking about his or her life.”), Sempé says she “found especially interesting all the problems he had to work through to produce his movies. This reminds me of the difficulties designers also face in bringing a product into existence. Just like movie directors, we depend on many different people in the design fields, whose aims are not the same as ours.”

“Ruché” sofa designed by Inga Sempé for Ligne Roset, France, 2010. Photo: courtesy of Inga Sempé

Inga Sempé’s lighting and other designs are the subject of the book Inga Sempé: Illuminated by Wästberg. The book, produced by the Swedish lighting company Wästberg, accompanied an exhibition held in 2012 in Stockholm, where Sempé was Guest of Honour at the Furniture and Light Fair.


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Related post on lighting design: The Right Intensity of Light: The Book Lists of Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz

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