Here’s a early look at a story I wrote for Hartford Magazine and New Haven Living about Shandell’s, which specializes in custom lamps and lampshades. I really got a kick out of artist Susan Schneider and her incredible spirit and creativity — her ideas do indeed make you smile. Shandell’s new location in Ivoryton is well worth a visit — you’ll be inspired…
There isn’t much that Susan Schneider hasn’t turned into a lamp or a lamp shade.
“I am a junker!” she proclaims. But it all ends up looking so chic and appealing.
She has made lamp bases from such eclectic items as an old Yellow Cab car jack; vintage, hand-carved wallpaper rollers; a pair of antique cream separators; a 19th-century hay trolley with wheels for a pulley that once carried large bales of hay up into a hayloft; plow parts, which she has nickel-plated, to give them an edgy, industrial look; bases of 19th-century hall racks that held hats, coats and umbrellas and look almost like inverted tortoise shells (above); old decorative heating grates painted brilliant blue; plumbing pipes for an artesian well.
All have been transformed into lamps.
Schneider — who moved her shop called Shandell’s from Millerton, N.Y., and then Pine Plains, N.Y., to the Ivoryton section of Essex and opened there just after Thanksgiving — describes her range as “traditional to funky to very architectural and streamlined. And the rustier the better for me.”
To top it off, Schneider also custom-makes lamp shades, and again her creative impulses reach far and wide.
She has a collection of more than 10,000 scanned images of everything from maps and architectural prints to equestrian prints, racks holding hand-painted papers, and numerous drawers filled with beautiful marbled papers and paste papers, and rolls of period wallpapers.
She also makes decorative paper-covered wastebaskets, tissue boxes and matchboxes.
She has created lamp shades from handmade bark paper, papers embedded with leaves, and a variety of fabrics including remnants of 19th-century saris and paisleys. One petite shade for a sconce is edged with guinea hen feathers, creating a whimsical look of fluffy polka dots.
Schneider, who named her business after the Hebrew name meaning “beautiful” that her Polish grandparents called her, got her start as an antiques dealer in Newburyport, Mass., in 1991.
As the economy sagged and she gradually lost dealers but gained space, she found herself focusing heavily on antique textiles and decorative lighting.
She says she begged a friend and customer who made lamp shades to teach her how, and one day the friend suddenly offered to sell her the whole business for a nominal amount of money.
“I emptied out her barns,” Schneider recalls. “And then I just sat and read all her little notes. I never really had instruction on it. But I was lucky: I had two different decorators who embraced me for very difficult jobs, and that forced me to learn.”
Schneider’s new workshop brims with projects and ideas. It’s papered in pages from old dictionaries she finds at dumps and crammed with rows of rolls of colorful trims, and lamp wires in a rainbow of colors.
She says moving all the fixtures and worktables and cabinets was like moving a hardware store.
Stacks of vases are “waiting for the right moment,” she says. A back storage area looks like a lamp graveyard, but it’s really a lamp hospital or perhaps more accurately should be called a lamp spa:
This isn’t where old lamps go to die, but to live again and be transformed.
If the base of a lamp is chipped, Schneider might copper-leaf it. “I live for copper leaf! I have a fascination with copper leaf and silver leaf and gold leaf,” she says. Sometimes she leafs the inside of pendant lamps or chandelier shades, giving the light an added measure of luminosity.
She might pull the dolphin feet off a lamp base that she doesn’t like and use them on a base that she does.
“Beautiful lighting makes a difference in a room, even if it’s a very basic lamp with a beautiful shade,” Schneider says, pointing to a ginger jar lamp topped with a shade that appears to be plain solid white but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a subtly textured white-on-white. “I want to change interior design one lamp at a time.”
Lately, she says, she’s been making more colorful and floral shades.
“For a while the design industry really wasn’t calling for anything in color or floral. I did a lot of plain, with a little bit of texture, a little bit of stuff. Now I’m finding that people are desperate for a pop of color. I think it’s just happiness. People smile when they see these things. I do make a ton of plain lampshades — I still do, and I always will. But greige can only go for so long, I believe.”
Schneider also stocks a dazzling array of finials — the small ornaments that top a lamp shade — including ammonite fossils sliced in half, miniature Foo dogs, crystallized minerals called pyrite suns that look like sunbursts, chunks of red jade, chunks of natural copper and gleaming cubes of octahedron fluorite. The 19th-century Tibetan finials, which she calls Feng Shui balls or energy balls that were given as gifts for good luck, include red balls topped with a rooster wrought in brass.
“I call them lamp candy,” Schneider says.
The selection of finials, priced at $5 to $195 a pair, also includes a variety of gleaming geodes, agates and malachites.
“Agates, malachites — they’re very hot right now in design,” Schneider says. So, if people can’t afford a malachite table, “they can spend $150 for highly polished malachite lamp finials.”
Schneider lives in a 1940s house in Moodus with her boyfriend and her two dogs — a Jack Russell terrier and a Newfoundland — and spends her time working on a number of projects at once.
“It’s mood-driven,” she explains. But for custom work, she knows she sometimes has to work fast.
“I don’t believe in lamp shade emergencies,” she says. “But people do have them. … If people say, ‘How long will it take?’ I say, ‘When’s the party?’ “
As she has settled into Shandell’s Ivoryton location, Schneider also has started to offer workshops to give people ideas on how to update their lamps, how to “take what you have — take your grandmother’s piece that is so ugly but you love it because it was your grandmother’s — how to update it and make it beautiful.”
The workshops are playfully called “Larry” workshops, a name suggested by her boyfriend (who is not named Larry). Huh? It stands for “Light all rare relics youthfully.”
That playful spirit infuses so much of what Schneider does. Her email address says it all: It’s email@example.com.
Shandell’s at 107 Main St. in Ivoryton is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 860-510-3167. For more visit shandells.com.
Photographs by Nancy Schoeffler