Danielle Trofe’s lampshades exist beautifully on their own, but can often be found in organized clusters, hanging from the ceilings of ultra-cool Brooklyn hotels or blending with the white brick walls of minimalist cafes. Their unassuming style and shape is quick to draw a sophisticated eye, but what really sets them apart? They’re made from mushroom roots.
Trofe is one of very few in the lighting industry creating biodegradable products. She grows the shades in her studio using a combination of hemp substrate and mycelium, the vegetative body of fungi that germinates to fruit a mushroom. She has appropriately named the series of textured domes “MushLume”, and the product happens to be a leader in the growing movement towards biofabrication.
As one of the largest mycorrhizal networks on earth, mycelia grows beneath the forest floor, binding with the soil to keep it clean and acting as a generous nutrient liaison between all plants and trees in the ecosystem. When you see a mushroom growing out of a tree, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Trofe during a conference at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She learned about mycelium as a material product through Ecovative, a company in Upstate New York using mycelium for packaging. She ordered a sample, considered how it could be integrated with interiors, and arrived on lampshades.
In her studio, she mimics the organism’s natural environment. The mycelium binds to the hemp substrate, then digests it. Using a shaper not too different from a funnel, she allows the combination to grow for 4-10 days, filling the form of the lampshade. “The manufacturing process itself is wrapped up in nature’s process of growth,” says Trofe. The product requires no additional energy, and very little water. The domes are then baked, to prevent the growth of mushrooms. For a finish, she either leaves them as they are or hand paints them with a non-toxic, all-natural milk paint.
“All the organisms that have come before us are a living library of the secrets and strategies for what it takes to evolve and survive on this planet,” says Trofe. She is fascinated by biomimicry, which is the practice of using living organisms for design to create a symbiotic relationship between the product and the earth. This practice values nature not for what can be extracted, but what can be learned.
Fortunately, she’s not the only artist in the Wescover community to be working with mycelium. Adam Davies, Adam Humphrey and Daniel Davies of Welsh studio Tŷ Syml are using the material for both lampshades and wall panels. A central goal for Tŷ Syml is the involvement of local students, with the hope that Wales can be a leader in sustainability.
Trofe believes that power lies in education as a solution for the climate crisis — creating products and infrastructure that add nutrients back to the soil rather than polluting it, and teaching designers how. She hopes that the aesthetic of the MushLume lamps will add life to the spaces they inhabit, and urges us all to remember that we are a part of nature, not apart from it.