Shopping: Our Lady of The Lamps
We all know someone who grows lettuce for a living and people who spin their own wool, blow glass or bake bread the old-time, labor-intensive way, fashioning a career by keeping craft and tradition alive. When you first walk into Susan Schneider’s lamp shop in Millerton, you wouldn’t immediately put her into this category. But if you peer over the counter into her workshop, you will see something you may have never seen before—stacks of “naked” lamp shades. “I make every shade myself,” says Schneider, who approaches making lampshades like a milliner, consulting with clients about shape, proportion and trims. “You can’t have a plain shade. It’s like having a plain hat.”
So how did a nice Jewish girl from Teaneck, New Jersey, end up as the Lamp Lady of one of the “ten coolest towns in America” (as Millerton was dubbed by Budget Travel.) “I was an antiques dealer and I got into lighting and I could never find shades I liked, so I decided to make them myself,” she says. This was before the Internet, and she could not find any books or instruction manuals for how to make a lamp shade. “So I took them apart to see how they were made, and I taught myself how to make lampshades.” She discovered that her high-school geometry came in handy. “You need π for an arc, but I don’t often make arcs anymore,” she says, explaining that a friend uncovered a cache of 8,000 lampshade patterns in a storage locker in Utah, which Schneider snatched up. “What luck!,” says Schneider. “It cost me more to ship them than to buy them.”
While lampshades are her specialty, Shandell’s (the name comes from her Hebrew name, which means “pretty”) is a full-service shop and she can transform almost any object or antique (vintage wallpaper rolls, balustrades, vases, iron strap hinges) into lamp or sconces. She will rewire existing lamps, too. “I use cloth cords,” she says, noting that she considers them a subtle status symbol. “I rarely use plastic. In the 19th century, cords were exposed because they were a sign that you could have electricity.”
Mid-century gourd lamps, $750 for the pair without shades; a selection of antique Mexican pottery, $225 and up, is ready to be turned into lamps.
Schneider uses handmade papers, vintage wallpaper, silk, fabric and wood for her shades. You can recognize a Shandell’s shade by the contrasting trim or seams. Indeed, you usually need to be working with a decorator to find someone to design and make custom lampshades, which is why Schneider is such a treasure. (A shade for an average size table lamp begins at about $150.) But not everything in her store is custom made: She keeps a large supply of small shades for sconces and chandeliers ($40), and she’s lately started using vintage sporting prints for tissue box covers ($48), which she hand trims in copper tape. “I’ve sold hundreds of them,” says Schneider, who makes them all herself in the back of the store. “That’s why I am not open every day. I need time in the studio. People are always blown away that I make everything myself.”
Shandell’s carries a wide array of new and vintage finials, which begin at $5.
Vintage wood and brass wallpaper rollers, $500 and up, make unique lamp bases.
34 Main Street, Millerton, NY; 518-789-6603
Thursday - Saturday 11 AM - 5 PM or by appointment.