By Barbara Falconer Newhall
On Solano Avenue in the far north reaches of Berkeley, California, a modest storefront softly glows, luring me in every time I try to pass it by. It’s Sue Johnson’s custom lamp and shade store.
For forty years now Sue Johnson and her — mostly female — colleagues have been building lamps and creating lampshades whose ingenuity is matched only by their jaw-dropping beauty.
Monarch butterflies, frogs and lily pads,Victorian extravagances, sensual, curving shapes, architectural lines — no theme lies outside the interests and skills of Sue and her co-workers. It seems they can turn most anything into a lamp — a china vase, a piece of sculpture, a hand-carved coatimundi — and team it up with a hand-made lampshade of parchment or mica.
You can shop online or simply stop in and buy a lamp or shade right off the store’s shelves — or ceilings. Typical prices are $1,695 for a mica ceiling shade by Sue Johnson with a glass cap by
Lindsay Art Glass, and $277.50 for a mica lamp shade with African animals by Lynn Duncan. Chances are, if you go the store, the offerings will be quite different on the day you visit.
Bargain hunters might want to take in Sue Johnson’s annual fall sale, which extends through Sunday (November 11, 2012).
The store is open seven days a week, and Sue and her colleagues can often be found at work in the back shop wiring and repairing lamps. The rest of the crew is likely to be at home, making lampshades in their personal studios, one eye on the kids.
I took pictures of Sue and her colleague, Lynn Duncan, when I was there the other day, and I thought, wow, they sure look good for a couple of women who have been working in a wood and metal shop for the past forty years.
But, of course, who wouldn’t look terrific in the glow of a couple hundred face-friendly lampshades?
Sue Johnson, custom lamps & shades, 1745 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94707. 510-527-2623. www.Sue JohnsonLamps.com.