‘You can’t google how to make a lampshade’

How do you learn to make lampshades? ‘Unbelievable stubbornness,’ says Sarah O’Dea

Sarah O’Dea at her shop Shady and The Lamp on Francis Street, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sarah O’Dea at her shop Shady and The Lamp on Francis Street, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

“I never intended on becoming a lampshade maker. We were trying to find a pink lampshade; very standard, very straightforward and I couldn’t find it. It didn’t matter where I went at the time, it was just impossible.”

The lighting conundrum was a fortuitous one for Sarah O’Dea, who took matters into her own hands and made the pink lampshade after a short entry level course in England. Hooked on the craft, she went on to train under two of the UK’s master lampshade makers, Ian McQueen and Moji Salehi, for about a month.

While she continued to work as an interior stylist upon her return to Dublin, she turned a spare bedroom into a studio and began to hone her skills day by day.

Sarah O’Dea outside her shop. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Sarah O’Dea outside her shop. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

“There were no resources for me. You can’t google how to make a lampshade,” she says. “So while the courses improved my technique, everything else you have to self-teach. It’s a case of repetition, repetition, repetition. There were so many times I was in the middle of making something and you really just wanted to be able to ask, ‘How do I do this?’ Because that person wasn’t there, it was trial and error. It was a full year before I was able to do a hand-stitched lampshade perfectly.”

Today, O’Dea is a full-time lampshade maker working out of her premises, Shady and the Lamp, on Francis Street in Dublin.

She makes both modern and traditional lampshades and is Ireland’s only handmade lampshade maker - and one of only about 11 such makers in all of Europe.

Rockefeller commission

Since opening in 2013 her business has gone from strength to strength, with an early vote of confidence coming in the form of a commission from New York’s Rockefeller Center.

“It was amazing. I still don’t know how it happened or why. We thought it might have been an Irish connection. It was a very small commission but it was in our second year so it was really amazing to have the States get in touch.”

Since then, O’Dea, who has one part-time employee, has worked with Lough Rynn Castle, a large number of the country’s manor houses, along with restaurants such as Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse and Grill, and Pacino’s.

Example’s of O’Dea’s work. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Example’s of O’Dea’s work. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Along with a growing number of commercial commissions worldwide, she also makes bespoke pieces for clients across Europe, including Ireland, the UK and Germany, as well as the US, and with repeat business at 82 per cent, it’s clear she has a lot of happy customers.

The modern, “drum” lampshade takes her about a fifth of the time of the same-sized handmade piece; the latter can take whole days or more.

The craft is so precise that making even the smallest mistake at any stage of the process means the whole lampshade has to be remade.

“There’s quite a lot of maths and physics involved, and I’m terrible at maths. I specifically remember saying to my teacher at school I will never use pi, and now I use it about 13 times a day, multiplying up and down with it. That number is everything. If you make a mistake at any stage, be it drafting, lining or stitching on the trim, the whole thing will have an error, so you have to go back to the beginning again.”

Expansive mindset

O’Dea has expansion in her sights, with plans to hire more staff next year as Shady and the Lamp gains a greater foothold on the global market. She is keen to promote Irish design where possible.

She’s working with Magee to include their limited-edition tweeds in her upcoming autumn-winter collection and is also collaborating with Irish woodworker Tommy Carew on lamp bases.

Sarah O’Dea at work. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Sarah O’Dea at work. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Shady and the Lamp celebrates its fifth birthday this month. O’Dea has come a long way from honing her craft in a bedroom.

“It was unbelievable stubbornness on my part; I don’t know what really propelled me. I just love working with my hands so much, and once I became proficient I realised that the sky really is the limit when it comes to designing fabric lighting effectively.

“Everybody has lights in their home. It’s an endless world.”

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