Interview: Zoe Darlington

Sometimes it's easy to feel a bit out of the loop with the design world when you live outside of London, but I'm constantly delighted by the wealth of creative talent there is here in the Midlands, where I live. This, of course, won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows the region well. So today on Design Hunter I'm really happy to feature an interview with Zoe Darlington, a Birmingham based designer maker who creates beautiful (and quintessentially British) lampshades inspired by old heirlooms.

Which three words best describe your style?

Beautiful, witty, heirlooms.

How did it all begin?

I found an unusual mid century armchair I wanted to recondition and upholster myself so I took a short course in soft furnishing and upholstery to learn. This lead to three years of study where I specialised in lampshade making! I loved working on smaller pieces and mastering the intricate details of making something in a way unchanged for generations. Lamps for my own home led to lamps for friends, which led to independent commissions and eventually the launch of my website last year.

Who or what inspires you?

Beautiful old forgotten things in junk shops, faded glamour in people and objects, the wit of unexpected animals in photoshoots, English stitched leather brogues, Saville Row tailoring, pre war cloth-bound books, Victorian wenches, my wood turner's ancient tools, my dog and my husband.

Talk us through a typical day...

I walk to my studio in Digbeth attempting to train Mr Bones (our excellent dog) as I go, and pick up coffee from our lovely local cafe Yumm. I usually work on new designs or bespoke commissions in the morning - I'm always really keen to get started, especially if I've just obtained some amazing fabric or trim I can't wait to use. The lion's share of the day is dedicated to the actual making of the lamps which require lots of attention and time as they are all made using traditional methods: patterns are chalked, fabric cut, frames wrapped in narrow cotton tape and fabrics and trims hand stitched to the frame. If it's a nice day, I'll sit out on my studio balcony and sew whilst the mutt watches the world go by. Late afternoon may involve reconditioning bases: sanding, painting or waxing wood and rewiring authentic fittings. A couple of hours in the evening go to emails, paperwork, responding to requests etc.

What's your favourite part of the design /making process?

I'm very hands on and practical in my design process. I prefer to physically construct ideas rather than drawing designs alone and I love it when you feel like you've hit upon an idea that you know is the beginning of a striking piece that could live in someone's home for generations. In the making, I love the initial stitching of the skin taut onto the frame. It's so important to me that my pieces are made with integrity and all of those tiny hand stitches are what makes my lamps last a lifetime.

What's next?

I'm currently working on a flurry of bespoke commissions for a couple of interior designers' private clients who want something special and unique to them. I love doing private commissions and working directly with my clients - it's so rewarding when you get that email saying "thank you, I love it".

Next, is a new range of drum shades which look so great with fringe. My first range was bought up entirely by Pedlars and I'm really looking forward to working on more. I've also been working on some beautifully extravagant 1920s inspired pieces. Large structural shapes, luxurious fringe and beautifully detailed. I can't wait to get them finished and up on my website!