I’ve always had a soft spot for stuff designed for World’s Fairs. Not all the space-age technology of the future so much as the little things: zippers, Cherry Coke, that “There’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance” tune.
And the whole notion of international pavilions is just so endearing—the idea of a nation sending the best it’s got to represent itself to other cultures, like a food and design olympics!
So, obviously, I’m in love with the fact that the now-iconic “Liljan” candleholder was designed by Swedish artist Ivar Ålenius-Björk for the Scandinavian Pavilion of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Ålenius-Björk was primarily known as a portrait sculptor—his statues and busts can still be seen all over Sweden—but he also designed candlesticks for the manufacturer Ystad-Metall.
As the year might suggest, the candleholder is a classic of Art Deco design. Not for nothing was the fair’s motto “the world of tomorrow.” But it’s a stylized beauty that has withstood the test of time as the best pieces do, blending with other good designs, holding its own, and appealing as much as a design object as an icon of a specific era.
The truth is, I didn’t know any of the history when I acquired mine: I just thought it was beautiful. My grandfather, who had a magpie-like lust for anything brassy and shiny, picked up the pair at a yard sale and asked me if I’d like to have them.
Years later, I display them on my table every day and light candles in them most evenings. The name is Swedish for “lily,” and the design imitates the leaves of a flower. When you add a candle (I especially like a pale green one) the effect is that of a stem. It’s graceful and minimal, decorative and discreet, all at once.
A recent reissue, made by the Swedish company Skultuna, is identical to the original, save in one respect: It comes with a little removable bud vase. I was so inspired by this that I went out and found a beaker of the right dimensions—perfect for an economical single stem. In the world of tomorrow, it’s a bit of classic beauty.