February 2017

From restaurants and bars to bathrooms and kitchens, appropriate lighting makes a space and this is aided further with the addition of a good lamp shade. 

We spoke to one of our makers, A Shade Above, a bespoke lampshade company based in the south of England. We caught up to find our why the humble shade is such an integral part to any interior scheme. They're not just any old accessories; they're a shade above the rest.

A Shade Above started as a cottage industry in the mid-1980s by Pat Blake. Tell us how it has expanded over the years

A Shade Above has grown mostly through word of mouth. Our quality and service has meant that people stay on board and when they move to different companies they take us with them. Specifying shades can be quite a task as there are so many different fittings and details to discuss. We can help designers through the process and ensure the shades are not only beautiful but that the whole process is smooth and fit for purpose. Martin Blake came on board in the early nineties and helped to widen the client base. When the company made the 600 strong shades for the Royal Opera House their reputation was ensured as a high-end quality shade maker for high profile projects. In supplying bespoke shades for stately homes, hotels, London Residences, Saudi Palaces, A Shade Above developed in expertise and knowledge and the company grew year on year. In 2008 when I came on board, high profile projects were the norm and my role was to consolidate the company and move it from a business which relied on the two partners to a strong 16-person team.

How have fashions changed the design of your lamp shades?

As a company we started with more traditional hand-stitched styles of shades in neutral colours – cream or natural colours were the mainstay. Over the years, we have used more of a variety of colours, fabrics and prints and experimented with the effect and interplay of the light and fabric together. For example, in the noughties, there was a trend for sheer chiffon silk shades which emphasised the ‘glint’ of the bulb.  Nowadays there is such a variation in style – probably because we are so bespoke and so accomplished we make and help design the widest variety of options!    People can vary not only the fabric but the type and size of pleating, the shape and size of the shade, the edging of the shade can create contrast or simplicity, the interior colours can create another effect ‘containing’, ‘enhancing’ or ‘diffusing’ the light as appropriate….

So, whilst a ‘lampshade’ is always a ‘lampshade’, as a company we are always developing new ways and techniques to make things work so more is possible within the bespoke scenario.

How did you first get involved in crafting lampshades?

Pat Blake saw the niche in lampshades and enjoyed making them. The immediate reward a new shade can give was satisfying and she saw the creative potential in them. This passion also proved to be a business opportunity as local designers were increasingly interested in the opportunities and the business grew naturally and by word of mouth.

How does the right lampshade/light fitting make an interior?

It goes without saying that lighting in a space makes or breaks a space. Lampshades play a strong role by giving both a focus and a softness to the area – you can play with the lighting ‘effect’ in the space using the endless combination of fabrics and the way the textile and light quality can enhance a lamp.

Does A Shade Above offer classes? If not, how can one get involved in crafting lampshades?

We don’t offer classes however we encourage clients to come and visit us whenever they can. They usually find it inspiring and informative. In fact, whilst CAD drawings and 3D visuals are extremely useful and have helped clients to plan their shades, physically trying out different shapes and sizes on lamps, holding up fabrics against a light or seeing frames in person is invaluable! Our workshop tells quite a few stories of the jobs we have done!

What’s your favourite kind of project to work on?

We love being involved in a project from the outset. For example, we worked on a stately home with MBDS last year and went on site with shapes, sizes and fabrics to work with the designers to spec up the shades. The same project had a number of huge dramatic pendant fittings which we worked on. This was really rewarding because of the impact they eventually had in the space and getting over technical challenges along the way.

What does the future hold for A Shade Above?

A Shade Above’s reputation as a high end bespoke maker is only growing and our team is expanding both in size and skill set. We are taking on more and more clients both in the UK and abroad. The scope of what we doing is growing in that we do more lampshade installation work which involves more technical metalwork and lamp fittings. However, we will always remain focused on lampshades and keep our position as the experts in lampshade making.

More and more designers see the impact of specially designed and beautifully made shades. They are the finishing touch to a space.

Imagery © A Shade Above & James McDonald