A Talking Point: why the statement lampshade is having a moment
From marbled paper to pleated bronze, this humble fixture is embracing new textures, forms and notions
- Alice Simkins
Anyone who’s winced in horror at the glare of bare bulbs on moving-in day will need no convincing that every home needs a lampshade or two. Fundamentally, these simple textile forms are designed to soften the harshness of electric light, bringing warmth and intimacy into interior spaces. But that’s not the only reason that you might think about picking one up. The lampshade, after all, is that rare kind of practical object that, in the right hands, is also a lot of fun. Chosen well, a lampshade will not only improve a room’s ambience but also help to perk up its aesthetic, drawing out colour, providing a point of contrast and adding a touch of personality to your scheme. What’s more, designers seem to be finding a particular pleasure in the lampshade at the moment, meaning that, for those in the market for a lampshade that’s both functional and characterful, there are ever more fantastic varieties to choose from.
Lampshades have a long history of whimsy and wonder. Our modern incarnations have their origins in the late-19th century, when dazzlingly bright electric light made its way into domestic settings. The Victorians, ever a house-proud bunch, responded to this innovation with a panoply of elaborately decorated shades – structured like couture gowns and dripping with lace fringing – that, more than simply protecting the eyes, were a signifier of their owner’s personality, wealth and taste. Since then, the lampshade has taken on many intriguing forms, from the famous, jewel-hued glass pieces first exhibited by Tiffany & Co. in 1893 to the space-aged shapes of the 1950s, to the bold (often too bold) geometric designs of the 1970s.
“By day, they’re pretty objects… by night, a comforting atmosphere.”
– Rosi de Ruig
But still, in 2021, the lampshade is finding new forms. London-based designer Rosi de Ruig creates hers with various exotic patterned papers, from marbled varieties by Jemma Lewis to sustainable woven papers made from offcuts from the Indian garment industry. Bursting with colour and mesmerising patterns, they are a prime example of how our taste for lampshades is shifting towards the maximal. “There does seem to be a current trend for fun, playful interiors and a general encouragement for a lighter, brighter touch,” says Rosi. Within this context, she sees lampshades as something of a double threat. “By day, they’re pretty objects to offer some cheerful distraction, and by night a comforting atmosphere which overhead spots simply can’t provide,” she says.
“The designs are very much driven by the shape of the lampshade”
– Polly Fern
In other creative hands, the lampshade functions as more of a three-dimensional canvas, which can be used to display more ambitious artworks. The artist and interior designer Luke Edward Hall has been known to paint them by hand, embellishing simple parchment examples with his off-the-cuff, classically inspired doodles. Meanwhile, illustrator and ceramicist Polly Fern has created a range of lampshades printed with her own painterly depictions of proud whippets, hollyhocks, tulips and foxgloves. “The designs are very much driven by the shape of the lampshade,” says Polly. “Creating ceramics means I’m often designing for 3D shapes and vessels. Many of the pieces feature little ‘windows’ that travel around the shade, with each featuring an illustration.”
“I started making patterned lampshades, using antique silks because I thought plain cream ones looked so boring.”
– Robert Kime
Interior designer Robert Kime is something of a veteran when it comes to statement lampshades – for decades he’s been crafting his own collection of vibrantly patterned examples from sumptuous fabrics, both antique and of his own design. Today, he offers a range of riotously colourful varieties that are notable not just for their deft use of print but also their beautifully pleated textures, which offer a softer, and more lavish feel than your standard paper or fabric shade. “I started making patterned lampshades, using antique silks because I thought plain cream ones looked so boring,” says Robert. “I like what the patterned ones do in a room – adding colour and design and connecting the other elements.” Though the empire shape is the base for the majority of his finely crafted designs, he’s also introduced a hexagonal form, which he offers in a creamy, semi-translucent papyrus. “We discovered the papyrus ones in Egypt and brought back the idea,” he says. “Their texture is unique whether the light is off or on and that is a practicality to think about too, for any shade.”
“The beauty is that they are non-committal”
– Matilda Goad
Another purveyor of interesting forms and textures is Matilda Goad, who launched her eponymous label in 2016 off the back of her signature product: a raffia lampshade with scalloped edges framed by cotton trim. This design, which became a cult buy on release, offers a playful new take on the empire silhouette while retaining its simple elegance. Her newest design, meanwhile, is a little more bold: an almost brutalist shape rendered in a sheet of concertinaed brass. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given such experiments, Matilda considers lampshades as “an opportunity to throw something into a room scheme that’s a little bit off, something a bit bolder or braver than you would use for, say, the walls or a large sofa.” At the same time, she says, they come with a certain in-built versatility. “The beauty is that they are non-committal,” she says. “I often find myself moving them around my home to give a new lease of life to a room”.
These words point to another key point about lampshades: finding the right one is more of an art than a science. But they’re also an easy way to make a small change to the look of your home without switching things up completely. In short, they’re perfect for commitment-phobes. That means there’s a pleasing element of “oh, why not,” when it comes to sourcing them. Of course, it’s possible to go overboard, but the nice thing about a lampshade is, if it becomes too much, you can swap it out. Just be sure, in your lampshade adventures, to remember these wise words, also from Matilda: “Lampshades are the accessories of a room, often one of the final decisions, but one that can speak loudly.”
Images, top to bottom: a pair of “Joy of Print” checkerboard lampshades with high gloss lacquer lamp bases, by Rosi de Ruig; a raffia scallop lampshade with cream trim by Matilda Goad; a “Joy of Print” greek blue strip lampshade by Rosi de Ruig; assorted lampshades by Polly Fern; lampshades arranged at Robert Kime’s store in Ebury Street, London; a Robert Kime “Talish” fabric lampshade; a brass concertina lampshade by Matilda Goad.
“In search of the perfect lampshade,” Luke Edward Hall, The Financial Times
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