Duckbill Light Fixtures Offer a Fresh Take on Mid-Century Design

The iconic lighting design, which originated in France in 1953, makes a statement in any room. Here are five ways to score the look for less.

modern black and white living room with shelf wall
Photo: Brie Williams

With its iconic spider-like swinging arms, a duckbill light fixture can instantly add style to your room—and you probably won't see the same lighting at your neighbor's house. "This iconic mid-century piece doesn't feel as played out as some other mid-century looks," says Alessandra Wood, a design historian and vice president of style at online interior design service Modsy.

The distinctive design comes in a variety of forms, including wall sconces, floor lamps, and ceiling-mount fixtures, all featuring thin, angular arms and metal shades with a beak-like shape. The style is incredibly versatile and can work in nearly any room in your home. Although these sculptural lamps are sold at retailers throughout the country today, the duckbill light originated in France decades ago.

The distinguishing duckbill shape is credited to Serge Mouille, a Parisian designer who worked as a silversmith before pivoting to lighting design. In 1953, he designed a three-arm lamp with moveable arms and adjustable black shades, whose smooth curves were inspired by the female form, says Wood. A year later, Mouille applied a similar design to a two-arm wall sconce before repeating the lampshade style across a range of fixtures. His sculptural approach to lighting design emphasized the visual appearance of the fixture as well as its tactile characteristics. "He had a motto that lamps were meant to be touched," adds California-based interior designer Michelle Lisac.

small white bedroom wall length green headboard
David Tsay

The adjustable, multi-functional design grew in popularity due to a suburban housing boom in the U.S. during the 1950s and '60s, when smaller houses compelled designers to look critically at how every inch of space could be used inside the home, Wood says. The style helped save space in cramped interiors while adding a boost of sophisticated style.

Living room with wooden coffee table and white furniture
David Land

Although an original Serge Mouille design will set you back about $7,000, there are plenty of contemporary reproductions available at a more reasonable price. We've rounded up five picks to help you score the duckbill lighting trend for less.

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Black and Brass Duckbill Wall Sconce

black duckbill wall sconce
Courtesy of West Elm

This streamlined sconce puts a modern twist on the iconic mid-century design. A brass finish on the swinging arm adds warmth to a classic matte-black shade. With a tiltable shade, it's perfect for shedding light above a bedside table or reading chair. A plug-in design makes this fixture easy to install wherever you need it.

Buy It: Curvilinear Mid-Century Sconce, $229, West Elm

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Three-Light Ceiling Fixture

duckbill-3-light-ceiling-fixture_bed bath and beyond
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

This three-light fixture brings Mouille's original design into the present day. The black duckbill shades adjust in all directions so you can light an entire room. At 47 inches wide, this steel statement piece works well in living rooms or large bedrooms.

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Duckbill Floor Lamp

black duckbill floor lamp
Courtesy of Houzz

This floor lamp offers the same mid-century modern style in a standing fixture. Featuring a three-legged base and sleek, angled frame, it stands just over 5 feet tall. The black duckbill shade tilts to direct light, making it an ideal reading lamp.

Buy It: Orvar One-Arm Floor Lamp Standing Lamp, Black, $484, Houzz

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