Alice collection, Zoe Darlington

Profiles: Zoe Darlington

Zoe DarlingtonHomegirl London pays homage to Zoe Darlington.  The maker of beautiful British handmade lamps using traditional craft techniques.  Zoe studied for 3 years to learn the craft of traditional lampshade making (Soft furnishing and Upholstery) and her Fine Art studies and a previous career in the fashion industry has stood her in good stead to run her lampshade business.  She now produces a lovely collection of lampshades which she personally designs and makes; the sculptural frames are locally welded, the patterns are expertly chalked and then hand cut, the fabrics and trims are then hand-stitched to the frames.  I love her pieces; they combine heirloom vintage with good old British wit.  I caught up with Zoe to find out more about her lampshades …

Q: What’s your background?

A: My creative background is fairly varied.  After studying Fine Art, I went on to have a career in fashion buying for the high street.  My husband and I bought a house that required renovating and I began studying Soft Furnishing and Upholstery for fun with a mind to making a few items for my home.  What started as a hobby turned into 3 years of study and an obsession with lamp making.   I realised that fashion wasn’t for me but that I could put the best bits of it … working with wonderful fabric, colour and print … with my love of interiors … and my love of traditional craftsmanship.

Q: Tell me about your business.

A: I set up the business when I realised I’d stumbled across something I absolutely loved doing and that I did rather well.  After making some pieces for my own home, I was commissioned by friends and then friends of friends to make them pieces.  I decided to take the leap and launch my business in late 2011 and I haven’t looked back.

Fleur Lamps, Zoe Darlington

Fleur Collection

At the risk of repeating everyone who has ever commented on having their own business, it is bloody hard work!  At the beginning, you’re responsible for everything from designing to making to costing to marketing and delivery.  The logistics of actually selling a product rather than just designing it are time-consuming!  But it’s worth it to be doing my own thing, to make all decisions based on my own compass.

Q: What do you love about lamps?

A: I love them physically!  I love their sculptural form, the tension caused in the fabric stretched over the frame and the fact that each piece is made entirely by hand – there is a story behind the work and an English provenance.  I also love the fact that they are relatively small, portable pieces for the home that can transform a room.

Q: Why do you love restoring lamps?

A: It’s hugely satisfying to take a long-forgotten piece and lavish the kind of love it deserves to bring it back to life.  I love the history behind old objects, thinking about who used them before and where they lived.  It seems respectful and somehow important to refurbish something from a time when a throwaway culture didn’t exist.

Winifred Lamp, Zoe Darlington

Winifred Lamp, shade only £445, complete lamp £880

Q: Describe your design style.

A: Traditional craftsmanship is given a witty lift.

Q: What inspires your designs?

A: I’m inspired by accidental spontaneous colour palettes that crop up in everyday life – little vignettes in markets and buildings and even my own kitchen!  And I’m constantly inspired by old objects – from books to crates to leather goods and bicycles.  I’m never happier than when pottering in an old junk shop!  Functional tools and things for everyday life were often constructed by hand and with care, with a mind to them lasting a lifetime.

Q: Tell me about your collections.

A: My latest collections are Tweed and Sirens. ‘Tweed’ is a contemporary collection inspired by battered paperbacks, outdoor pursuits and English tailoring.  Natural materials, a muted palette and simple silhouettes are at its core.

Chester Lamp, Zoe Darlington

Chester (Tweed Collection), shade only £495, complete lamp £970

‘Sirens’ is dramatic and elegant, imbued with a sense of the past and rich with faded vintage glamour.

 Sirens collection, Zoe Darlington

Sirens Collection

Q: Do you have any of your lamps at home?

A: My home is the first place I try out prototypes!  It’s important to take things out of the studio and see how they’re going to work in real life.  I also have a pair of Fitz lamps in my guest bedroom – they are the perfect bedside table lamp!

 Fritz Lamp, Zoe Darlington

Fitz Lamp (left), shade only £85, complete lamp £195

 And a Bartley in my lounge.  I love greens and this lamp always puts me in such a good springtime mood.

Bartley Lamp Shade, Zoe Darlington

Bartley Lamp (left), shade only £415, complete lamp £890

Q: What’s coming up for the rest of 2013?

A: I have a new collaborative collection launching on 11 March 2013 with the Sheila Bownas archive.  The late Sheila Bownas was a fascinating artist who kept her prolific talent hidden from everyone, including her own family.  She designed fabrics for Liberty of London amongst others from the 1950s onwards and I have been lucky enough to work with 3 of the prints to develop an exclusive collection of lamps and cushions … (feature continues)

Alice collection, Zoe Darlington

Zoe Darlington / Sheila Bownas Alice Collection

Ida collection, Zoe Darlington

Zoe Darlington / Sheila Bownas Ida Collection

Stella Drum

Zoe Darlington / Sheila Bownas Stella Collection

I’m also ‘popping up’ in Monmouth Street in Covent Garden from 14 March 2013 for 3 weeks.  I’ll be making lamps whilst in the shop so it’s a great chance to see how pieces are made.  Please do pop in and say hello!

If you want to find out more about Zoe or buy her products then take a look at zoe Darlington.  Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Zoe Darlington, special thanks to Zoe Darlington.