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Dreaming in Light: Bungalow Belt

Chicago-based lighting company determined to blaze a new path in design


Dreaming in Light: Bungalow Belt

The Vintage Linen lamp by Bungalow Belt.

Photo courtesy of Bungalow Belt
With roots on a small communal farm in northern China, a relatively new company breaks onto the lighting scene with a look that melds the designer’s past with her present and creates a distinctive design statement as a result. Bungalow Belt is the brainchild of Wanying Wilkins who, together with her husband Tom and brother Hui, was determined to bring something new to the market.

In the Beginning

Growing up on different sides of the world, she on the farm in China and he in a small, rural community in southern Nebraska, it wasn’t until Wanying came to Chicago for work purposes that they were brought together and a common love for design and for each other led them down the aisle and eventually onto their own company. Perhaps most telling of where they were headed, when the couple married they gave each other table lamps as gifts.

From her own time in the home furnishings industry, Wanying said she grew tired of seeing what she felt were the same designs everywhere she went. She wanted to create something new and different, designs that spoke both to her cultural heritage and to the the things that influenced her everyday life: the architecture of her neighborhood and the natural world around it.

Design Inspiration

Vintage design influences just about everything in this designer’s life. Wanying lives in an historic Chicago neighborhood -- the Bungalow Belt, the inspiration for the company name -- with her husband Tom with whom she drives around town in their 1929 Chevrolet Coach named Louie. A love for that period of design and architecture has led to specific lighting designs, as have living creatures like butterflies that occupy their property as well.

For a little bit of the history that influences Wanying’s everyday life: Chicago’s Bungalow Belt is in fact a “belt” of bungalows that sprung up around the city’s urban core in the 1920s. It was this city’s answer to the American desire to leave the tenements and tight living quarters of city life behind and move onto a little home and plot of land they could call their own.

Finished Products

Wanying and Tom refer to their company as their personal passion. It’s one they carry out from their home and finish off without leaving the bounds of family as well. Bungalow Belt’s products, though designed here, are manufactured in China but that need not conjure images of impersonal business relationships. Rather, Wanying’s assurance in the factory itself runs very deep -- it just happens to be run by her brother Hui.

The finished products are made from wood or MDF and feature architectural lines, often with a mid-Century modern feel but with design motifs that manage to truly render them as something new in the marketplace.

Even when the design element in play is whimsical, such as the single stylized flower bloom on the Kansas Roadtrip lamp or the playful ladybugs found on the piece named A Child’s Garden, the lines of the lamps themselves are sleek enough that the overall design of each product still reads as a modern piece of interior architecture. Similarly, the curvy lines of Hookah, whose base appropriately mimics the smoking device for which it's named, are soft and sexy and paired with bold color for a look that will pop in a room without overpowering it.

For a small company that’s handling most of the work without leaving the family, there’s quite a lot to offer here already and they’ve only been in business for a few years. Take a look at their design catalog online and keep an eye out for what comes next from Chicago’s Bungalow Belt.

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