For this upcycling project, I planned to use a large sheet of scrap paper, scrap wood, and components from an unused lamp to make a functioning mid-century modern lamp with origami elements in the form of a lampshade/light diffuser. I was drawn to the mid-century movement as I thought that the aesthetic would go nicely with the geometrical shapes and patterning of origami. Mid-century modern is characterized by its use of clean lines, organic forms, simple shapes, and intentional usage of color [1]. The use of wood or natural materials is especially prominent, the below image showcases the woodwork I hoped to emulate in my upcycling project:

Bramin Teak Sideboard with Teak Finn Juhl Armchair Mid Century Rosewood Desk


In the above two images note the clean lines and angles of the furniture alongside the use of prominent wood grains. Furniture of this aesthetic prides itself on the materials that are used, with clean and varnished wood being a staple. Mid-century modern furniture also uses textures with high contrast, see the first of the above images and the patterned cushion texture versus the smooth chair wood. One final staple of the aesthetic is the notable use of pegs that the wooden furniture stands on, Which can also be seen in the two above images.

I also want to emulate the style of the Japanese paper Noguchi lamps. Using typical paper lantern-making techniques these lamps have a warm atmosphere and draw the eyes to differing parts of the structures. While some of these lamps use more organic shapes, as seen in the below image by Vice Magazine some of Isamu Noguchi’s more compelling works come in the form of his more geometric lamps.

The 21 Best Noguchi and Japanese-Style Rice Paper Lamps


The below image perfectly highlights the mixture of origami and light I was aiming for in my design. I find the diffusion of light extremely pleasing and the geometric shapes I feel work extremely well with the design elements of mid-century modern. When this kind of design is done well you end with a seeming column of textured light. Though these lamps are closer to a modern aesthetic if natural wood and the typical peg feet were added I believe this design would become a prime example of the mid-century modern aesthetic.


For the overall design of this project, I planned to glue two individual pieces of scrap wood together to make them large enough for a baseplate and then use a CNC machine to mill the wooden block down into an octagonal shape with an indent. I also planned to use a 3d printed internal plate to attach the paper lampshade with magnets to the wooden base, which in the end will be hidden by the wooden frame. I planned for the lampshade to be a Yoshimura Polyhedral which is a cylindrical tesselating origami shape. This folding pattern is also called a Schwarz lantern, which is one of the major reasons for me choosing this folding pattern as the shade for this lamp. One strength of this design is its ability to expand and contract like an accordian: giving me the flexibility to change to size of the shade to best fit the design. An example of this pattern is shown in the following images:


Based off of the previously described aesthetic and these individual elements, the image below is a rough sketch of what I hoped the end project would look like!

For the base of the lamp I changed my originally planned design and made a few ad hock decisions to make my life easier during the design process. I did all of the woodworking for this project in the Integrated Technology Learning Lab woodshop with help from classmate and ITLL employee: Riley Menke. Like I planned I glues two pieces of scrap glue together and then used a planer to flatted out the two blocks to create a larger smoother piece of wood.

After planing down the wood, I cut the wooden block into an octagon and the used a routing tool to round out the corners to look more professional. A photo of this step is shown below.

Following this, I then drilled holes into the plate and sanded it down to be unblemished and ready to be coated in linseed oil. The final wooden block is shown in the following image:

I scratched the idea of using wooden pegs for a more contemporary design of using stainless steel rods to add much needed texture variety and contrast into the design. I sliced steel rods down with a grinding wheel and then used an angle grinder to clean up the rods to not have sharp edges. The next photo is of the rods before I ground down the ends.

The shade itself took a significant amount of time to construct, the following are images of the initial measurements and of the first few folds of the project.

I started with a white sheet of 16” by 21” paper, which I folded according to a standard Yoshimura folding pattern. The hardest part of this pattern was turning the accordion-like, flat structure into a cylindrical component. The folds felt like they were fighting me the entire time, and I almost burst out a corner multiple times. Once I finished the pattern, I glued the two ends together using wood glue and attached a paper topper to the lampshade, also with wood glue. when I glued the final paper component together I tried to make the topper fold in a way that is reminiscent of a lotus flower. The following is an image of the final polyhedral with the light bulb turned on inside:

The next challenge in the project was 3D-printing adapters for both the lampshade and the light bulb out of PLA. I used SolidWorks to actually design the parts and the ITLL 3D printers to make both parts. I ditched the magnet idea I mentioned previously for a much simpler interference fit design. As you can see in the next image, this interference fit worked fantastic. The white part is the lampshade adapter, while the black part is the adapter for the light bulb and the stainless steel feet. I designed adjustable feet length to allow for easy cable routing out of the wooden base of the design.

Combining all of the above parts I was able to complete my project. I went a bit overboard taking glamour shots of my project, my favorites are the following three:

I am incredibly satisfied with how this project turned out. The color diffusion is exactly what I was hoping for; I think I really emulated the styling of the Noguchi lamps that inspired me to make this project. I love how each of the folds catches the light in interesting ways and how the color is dispersed throughout the piece. In terms of texture, I like how the paper, wood, and steel all have far different feels, bringing depth to the design without overwhelming the project with an excessive range of visual looks.

I believe that I achieved the mid-century modern aesthetic that I was looking for. One of the most interesting parts of this design is how the paper accordion catches vibrations around it, and even sitting down at the table I have it on causes it to wiggle back and forth in a really satisfying way, the folds flexing and bending as it slowly comes to a halt. It looks almost comical how much it moves. Functionally, this design lights up my room and makes me happy, which at the end of the day I think that’s all I really care about when I make art. I absolutely will be keeping this lamp around until it inevitably gets lost in a move or spontaneously combusts.

I think improving the design so that it can be suspended from a hanging lamp fixture would be an interesting challenge. Redesigning the lamp to use a darker wood like purple heart or cherry would be visually engaging. I will say that the yellowish wood I picked out of the scrap pile closely matches the wood styling of most vintage mid-century modern furniture I’ve seen in my life so that coincidentally might have worked out in my favor. I might look into making other lamps like this one that use different origami polyhedrals; I think that would be a fun way to spend some time over the summer. One final change I would make if I had the chance would be to use metal wiring to suspend the lampshade so that it could be implemented in a broader range of pieces. The paper required a pretty intense amount of care when I was constructing this project, and if there were a way to make the shade less fragile, I think it would be beneficial.

[1] Tardiff, Sara. “8 Midcentury Modern Decor & Style Ideas.” Architectural Digest, July 6, 2020.

[2] “What Do We Mean by Mid Century Modern (MCM)?” TheFurnitureRooms, August 2, 2022.

[3] “Where to Find the Best Noguchi Lamps-the ‘it’ Lamp of 2023.” The 21 Best Noguchi and Japanese-Style Rice Paper Lamps, October 30, 2023.

[4] “Isamu Noguchi Lantern Experimentation.” Instagram. Accessed January 31, 2024.

[5] Lamb, Evelyn. “Counterexamples in Origami.” Scientific American Blog Network, November 30, 2013.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • The final product came out really nice. I can’t imagine trying to create that cylindrical shape with all of those folds, that must have taken a lot of patience. I wonder if using a different type of paper would make that process easier. I was thinking maybe wax paper but that might not be as durable as regular paper. I know you can get specialty origami paper but I don’t know enough about it to offer that as a suggestion. I know Kyle mentioned fire precautions, I wonder if there’s a bulb that gives off less heat as a conventional lamp bulb. Might be something you could look into.

  • WOW! This is really well put together and it looks new! Those folds need to be meticulously done to come out consistent and good looking. It is very detailed and intricate and I am still trying to wrap my head around it. One thing I would be interested to know more about is the fire precautions you had to take when designing this.

    • Trent Bjorkman
      February 25, 2024 1:29 pm

      Hey Kyle, I left the light on while I was around for a few hours and kept watch over the lamp to make sure the paper didn’t get too hot. At the end I was able to touch the bulb without it feeling more than warm, so I’m pretty sure the lamp won’t have any problems.


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