Susan Schneider Perfects The Art Of The Lampshade (And More)
By Lisa Green
“I’m changing the world one lampshade at a time” declares Susan Schneider. The proprietor of Shandell’s Lampshades (and other goods, which we’ll get into in a moment), has recently relocated from Millerton to an antique house on Main Street in Sheffield, Mass.
“You can’t have a plain shade. It’s like having a plain hat,” says Schneider. That’s a fitting metaphor for Schneider, who approaches lampshades like a milliner might, consulting with clients about shape, proportion and trims. She’s got a supply of vintage wallpaper and shibori-dyed fabrics on hand (more accurately, spilling out of cupboards and drawers) for her clients to create their one-of-a-kind shade. Because she says, and it’s true, most lampshades are pretty uninspiring. But not when Schneider’s got her hands on them — and she does make each one by hand.
Over the years, Schneider’s artistic impulses have expanded, and visitors to her exuberant new shop and studio will find a delightful assortment of decorative and gifty things. Along with the lampshades, Schneider makes night-lights, tissue boxes, decoupaged glass trays, and lamp finials that look like — and are displayed as — pieces of the finest jewelry (she calls them lamp candy). She also has become passionate about hand painting and marbling paper, and shibori, a technique of indigo dyeing using the art of tying and folding fabrics to create one-of-a-kind patterns. (She plans to offer classes on the shibori process later in the year, when weather permits the dyeing to be done outside.)
“I don’t throw anything away,” says the self-described “mad collector,” and that’s quite clear. The shop is divided into separate ateliers, with armoires, cabinets and workbenches overflowing with objects waiting to be turned into lamps, like the stunning vintage wood and brass wallpaper rollers. Other surfaces hold curious items that have made the transition. My favorites were the 19th-century carriage wheel hubs [below]. It takes a while to figure out what some of the bases originally were, but Schneider is happy to give you a little history lesson.
So how did a nice Jewish girl from Teaneck, New Jersey end up as a lamp lady in the Berkshires? Schneider has been visiting the area all her life, but prior to actually settling here a few months ago, she had lived in the Hudson Valley and Millerton, NY. Back in the ‘90s, she was an antiques dealer who got into lighting and could never find shades she liked, so she decided to make them herself. This was before the internet, and she couldn’t find any books or instruction manuals for how to make a lampshade.
“I’ve always been fascinated with how things are made. So I took some lampshades apart to see how they were constructed, and I taught myself how to make them,” she says. “I’m totally self taught.” The same goes for the marbled paper, matchboxes trimmed in copper tape and the shibori cloth she’s created out of a variety of natural fabrics. She makes each piece in her studio in back, where she’s kept company by her two rescue dogs, Matilda the Jack Russell and and Abby the Newf.
Schneider with hand-painted papers; decorative matchboxes; finials.
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. Last year, Victoria magazine highlighted her as one of “seven exceptional women who have transformed their passions into profitable ventures,” and her work has been featured in House Beautiful, Country Living and the New York Times, among other publications.
Customers often come to her with their own heirlooms and other objects they’d like to have wired, and there’s almost nothing, Schneider says, that can’t be turned into a lamp (except, maybe, for that sculpture someone once brought in).
Just don’t go in there looking for a plain white lampshade.
15 Main Street, Sheffield, MA
Open Thursday – Saturday, 12–5 p.m., by chance and by appointment.