Old lamps have a certain "je-ne-sais-quoi". Lamp lovers know what I mean. I remember my first thrift shop visits. I couldn't get enough of the beautiful vintage lamps that seemed to whisper "Take Me Home With You". Obviously, to some (read "more") I just couldn't say "No" so I ended up taking them back home with me and I had so much fun upcycling them into beautiful new lamps. You can see some of those projects with step-by-step tutorials in my eBook, here.
While cleaning up the metal surface and rewiring damaged electrical parts takes some time, when it comes to fixing a certain type of lampshade, I just can't see myself taking it on. The vintage, Victorian curved wire frame is beautiful but it's a pain to fix the wire frame when it's bent and then doing the upholstery by hand.
I know many of you are currently going through that, struggling to upcycle wire frame lamps passed from generation to generation. While I do have a tutorial on fixing rectangular panel lampshades, I thought it would be better to get hands-on advice on working with round, old wire lampshades from an expert. That's why, in our second interview of “Meet the Maker”, I'm talking with a talented Rotterdam-based lamp artist about upcycling thrift shop wire frame lampshades into modern, nostalgic, fully functional lighting fixtures.
Before we start: Wire frame lampshades come in a variety of shapes and will usually have lush detailing, expensive fabrics and embellishments that range from frills to full on chandelier crystals. Willemiek will show us today that you can go in a different direction with your choice of fabric and still get a beautiful result.
Left to right:
1. Gold 1920s vintage floor lamp holds a Chinese Peony shade in vibrant green and blue tones and overlaid with wonderful vintage fuchsia peony Chinese appliques via Night Shades.
2. Art Nouveau Peacock Victorian Bridge Lamp and Shade via Night Shades.
3. Scallop, Bell-Shaped Fabric Lampshades Chandelier seen by Alex Rickard Photography at Premier Lighting.
Q: Hello Willemiek. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started with making large bell fabric lampshades.
I am a fashion designer from Holland, graduated from the HKU school of arts in Utrecht Holland and got my masters at IFM in Paris. I am 45 years old, happily married with David (visual artist Mr. June), have two kids Pim (11) and Neel (8) and we live in Rotterdam, Holland.
I have worked for 12 years as a designer at Marlies Dekkers a high-end lingerie brand. A year and a half ago I started Studio Willemiek. I was pregnant of Pim and it frustrated me I couldn’t find any nice lamps for the baby room. I found some lampshades at the flea market, it triggered me…. and that was the beginning of my fascination I guess.
Willemiek at work. Photography by Caroline Coehorst.
Q: What is it that you find fascinating about bell lampshades and how would you recommend people to integrate such statement lighting with their home decor.
I really love the classic shapes of the old lampshades, they remind me of feminine shapes and fashion elements like corsets or dresses. These bell lampshades have something very nostalgic about them and give me this very intimate feeling, like a boudoir.
To my opinion, you can mix modern design easy with classic shapes or items. It's one of the things that make it more personal and less predictable.
Studio Willemiek Table Lamp. Photography by Margi Geerlinks.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your process? Do you have a specific type of fabric you like to work with?
All my lampshade frames are found in flea markets or thrift shops in Holland or Belgium. My sister in law seems to find them everywhere! Because I use second-hand shades, they are all different! That is what’s interesting because it is an interaction with the form of the lampshade and the textile I want to use.
I like to do more to these second-hands frames than just upholstery. I'm using unexpected fabrics. For instance, I would use everyday types of fabrics like tablecloths, shopping bags or even bungalow tents. What I like most is making lampshades from worn designer clothes. It almost feels like taxidermy. You can’t wear it anymore but you can enjoy it every day. It’s very personal.
In making the lamp shapes I have what you'd call a fashion designer process. I start by making patterns and sewing the fabric, just like I would do with a dress. And I always make a lining. That is the only time I use the sewing machine. It's all done by hand, no glue… and it takes hours and hours of hand sewing.
In the process. Photography via Studio Willemiek.
Q: Bell fabric lampshades with frills tend to be overlooked in favor of modern and minimalist design. What’s the biggest challenge in making and selling bell lampshades? Do you find people are still fascinated with them?
I do get many positive reactions but it is a niche market. I haven’t found the right customers yet, so I don’t sell that much yet. However, I believe in the nostalgic classic shape of bell lampshades, that is why I fell in love with them.
Studio Willemiek Bell Shaped Pendant Lampshade. Photography by Margi Geerlinks.
Q: Artists tend to have at least one item they love too much to sell or give it away. Do you have a favorite lampshade?
I think my favorite is the one I made from my parents' bungalow tent which reminds me of all our Dutch summer holidays. It is in a shop right now but in secret, I hope that one is coming back to me.
Studio Willemiek Tent Lampshade.
Studio Willemiek Tent Lampshade.
Studio Willemiek Tent Lampshade.
Q: Gallery or scalloped bell lampshades are reminiscent of Victorian times. With lighting design becoming more simple and minimalist, where do you see vintage lighting design going toward?
I love modern lighting design. We are proud owners of Dear Ingo of MOOOI. But I am convinced classic Victorian lampshades do mix perfectly with modern lighting. I think it's very human to have some historical references in your home.
Studio Willemiek Table Lamp. Photography by Geert Van Hertum.
Studio Willemiek Pendant Frill Lamp.
Q: We hear this question a lot: what can I do to fix a wire lampshade? Do you have any advice for lamp fans struggling with damaged bell lampshades, bent wires or worn-out fabric?
I did upcycle a fifty’s Gispen lampshade once. The fabric was soo yellow, and it had little holes. I couldn’t find an alternative perfect fabric, so I put the existing one in the washing machine with chlorine. I took a risk of shrinking and damaging the fabric badly, but to my surprise, the fabric was clean and crisp. So I put the fabric back on the shade and managed to hide the little holes and now it is shining as new. Bottom line, taking risks is my advice I think.
Q: Do you have a favorite fellow crafter or artist that inspires you?
My inspiration comes mostly from fashion designers like Martin Margiela or Walter van Beirendonck or Victor and Rolf. Love Yayoi Kusama and I like Anna Hayman Designs because of her beautiful lampshades with beautiful color combinations and she designs her own fabrics.
Lampshade Detail from Anna Hayman Designs
I hope this interview shed some light on how to give an old wire frame lampshade a beautiful make over. Feel free to ask your questions in the comment section below or on Instagram. To see more of Willemiek's beautiful lampshades check out her Instagram here.
In our Meet the Maker interview series we talk with crafters, artists and designers about their unique lighting fixtures to find out where they get their inspiration and how they work their magic. In case you missed our previous "Meet the Maker" interview: we talked with Jan Dickers about her love for the ocean and how she gives new life to driftwood by turning it into beautiful bases for her lamps. Read it here.
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