Eleanor Flegg shines the light on lamp shade engineering as she talks to designers of the household staple
Ladies of the Lamp
Sarah O'Dea, former interiors stylist and now lamp shade engineer, has very recently opened Shady and the Lamp on Dublin's Francis Street. The shop is also a studio where she designs, makes, sells, renovates, restores and re-covers lamp shades.
"When I told my sisters that I was going to call my business Shady and the Lamp and everyone started laughing I knew that I was going in the right direction," she says.
"The world of design can be very serious and stuffy, and I wanted to have fun. I also realised that it was getting harder and harder to buy lamp shades that aren't mass-produced. It can be very difficult to find a shade that you really love."
She releases her own collection four times a year with prices starting at €55 and does bespoke restoration and creation work from €200 per mid-sized table lamp shade.
But initially O'Dea found that there was a lot more to lamp shade making than one might think. "When I first sat down at home with a bit of calico and a frame I thought that it was going to be easy," she admits, "but I found that I simply couldn't make a traditional lamp shade on my own. There is a lot of skill involved along with patience and technique.'
Training in the ancient art of lamp shade making (yes it is a professional discipline) is not readily available in Ireland, but O'Dea was prepared to travel to the UK to sit at the feet of Britain's master makers.
Now she has several collections of her own designs as well as the skills to restore old lamp shades. "Of course anyone with an interest can learn," she says, 'but I do think that you need to have a well of determination that you can draw from and lashings of stubbornness. I often compare making a lamp shade to piecing together a jigsaw. You either love or hate making jigsaws!"
As well as a range of one-off lamp projects, she is currently embroiled in some much larger contracts including the creation of an exciting display of fine lampery for Marco Pierre White's.
Sarah finds there is a tremendous interest from people who want to restore long loved lamp shades they already own.
And apparently they are worth holding on to for good reason: 'The older frames come in such wonderful shapes and they just aren't available any more,' she says.
A recent client presented her with frames that dated from the early 20th Century on which the silk had decayed. O'Dea found that, once the fabric had been removed, the frame was in perfect working order.
"Frames from back then were hand made and are usually so well-constructed that they will stand the test of time surprisingly well,' she explains.
O'Dea finds that a lot of frames are also interchangeable and can fit on to many different bases. "You have to be flexible," she says. "A lamp shade can be an absolute feature piece or it can be simply an innocuous source of light."
Other Irish designers take on different shades of variety, including the industrial designer Kate Cronin. She is one half, with her business partner Elizabeth Fingleton, of the design company Klickity whose commitment is to sustainable flatpack designs that are, as far as possible, manufactured in Ireland.
Cronin became interested in lighting when she was working as a packaging designer and set herself the challenge of creating an object made from only one material. Her interest in geometry, combined with a day job that involved folding boxboard, gave rise to a series of lamp shades based on the principles of origami.
The collection which is manufactured in Drogheda, consists of ten pieces that link together to form the spherical shade.
Klickity follows in the footsteps of another packaging designer, Holger Strøm from Denmark, who first designed the IQ light system in 1973 while working at the Kilkenny Design Workshops.
The modular lamp shade, which became a staple in Irish homes of the 1970s, began life as a Christmas decoration. 'I couldn't completely forget the idea,' Strøm explains. As a packaging designer, his first prototypes were made of paper and cardboard although Strøm found that plastic sheeting provided a more pliable alternative for a lighting system made up of interlocking quadrilaterals.
His basic model was the rhombic triacontahedron, a three-dimensional shape with thirty faces. Now, the standard IQlight pack contains 30 modules which can be assembled in a range of shapes and sizes, although much larger lamp shades can be constructed from up to 120 pieces.
Self-assembly is part of the fun, and Strøm insists that the name of the light is taken from the Interlocking Quadrilaterals in the design and not the Intelligence Quotient required to build it.