A lifelong passion for wildlife leads to a career as a lampshade designer.

Lighting Magazine: enLightenment reports on Lynn Melanson

Lynn Melanson grew up in Canada with a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the arts. Although her formal training was in rehabilitation and providing community support for people with disabilities, it was her childhood environment that served as the impetus for an unexpected career path.

“I was surrounded by nature and wildlife as a child, especially since we had a cottage outside of Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario,” Melanson explains.  “I believe how I was raised has had a large impact. My parents exposed us to music, ballet, concerts, plays, piano lessons, theater, and dance.”

The inspiration for designing lampshades, however, happened by chance. “I was attending a work-related social gathering and noticed a Victorian-style shade in decorative paper with white fringe on the bottom,” she recalls. “It was very plain and boring. I thought to myself, ‘I am going to explore this medium and take it to a whole new level’ – and I did!”

What started as a hobby in 1995 slowly morphed into a steady business Melanson named Shades of Nature.   “I am a self-taught artist,” she confesses. “I’m very big on experimentation. I love to look at an object and imagine a new design or think about how I would improve it.”

Case in point: after approximately two years of pushing the limits of what could be created using standard lampshade frames, Melanson took it a step further by training with a welding instructor in a studio for four months to learn how to make her own frames. “That gave me the freedom to expand and modernize my designs and just go wild,” she says.  “I can add metal leaves, wide curves, and organic shapes to the metal – all of which make my designs very unique to what is out there in the lighting sector.”

One of the aspects that appealed most to her was the idea of lampshades being functional art. “Rice paper was the perfect medium for this career,” she explains. “I started with simple designs and then realized that I could incorporate natural plants and wildlife silhouettes into the paper. Now I use more than 500 different papers from all over the world. I also purchase papers that will work for my portable lighting.”

Creating portable accent lighting in paper was another endeavor that intrigued her. “I started researching which animal motifs would work on natural paper and be appropriate for a line of portable table lamps,” she comments. Soon she developed a rodeo theme starring cowboys, cowgirls, and horses. The list of animals has grown to include elk, caribou, geese, hummingbirds, gecko, frogs, and dragonflies, among others. The shades are treated inside with a fire-resistant, non-toxic coating that also makes the paper more durable. Melanson has an arrangement with an electrical firm in her area to handle the wiring.

“As I studied interior design, I could see that lighting is such an important component to a home. This medium enables me to create so many different styles,” Melanson enthuses. “I can add little wisps of grass to make it look like a windy day or a bird is flying out of the grass and reaching for the sky. I selectively search for animal images that would work with the decorative paper and look very natural. We all connect with nature at some level and I created this business for people to connect with nature in their home,” she notes.

The creative process hasn’t been without a learning curve. “I developed my skills and talent through trial and error,” Melanson recounts. “I consider myself to be training every day with an open mind. When a person has a strong passion for something and an eye for design, I think the experiments and explorations are endless.”

Perhaps one of her most wildly imaginative designs is the Lady Potpourri corset lamp. “I was in a gallery in Sandpoint, Idaho and was looking at this mesh wire corset with a dried fake plant placed inside the body,” Melanson reveals. “I bought it and it sat in my studio for a year. I experimented with my paper and collaged it one day. The back of the corset had an opening for a CSA/UL switch cord to light it up. A few months passed and, while evaluating it, I thought it needed potpourri and dried rosebuds on the top of the corset. I figured not only would it look gorgeous, but it would smell divine. Voila!  Now the Lady comes in three sizes and many colors.”

The word about Shades of Nature’s custom designs has spread among interior designers and consumers across Canada and the United States.  “My bestseller is the Pyramid ceiling clip-on shade,” Melanson reveals. “The shade clips very simply onto a ceiling bulb. Everyone has at least one bare bulb at home, right?  My customers love the fact that they can buy a unique ceiling shade with leaves, flowers, bird images, grass, or sometimes just neutral paper alone,” she comments.

Shades of Nature’s clients aren’t limited to the North American continent. “I just sent eight Pyramid shades to Dubai. The customer wanted shades in fall colors that would coordinate with her marble floors and white walls. After e-mailing her my ideas, the order was approved and the shipment sent to Dubai.”

Sometimes the shade designs are generated by customers.  “A mother just sent me three images of her daughter’s wedding,” Melanson shares. “She loved my cowgirl image on a lamp she saw on my Web site (www.shadesofnature.ca) and asked me to create a lamp. I have to admit, I had never thought about doing wedding lamps before.”

Melanson collaborates regularly on projects with architects, interior designers, restaurant operators, and homeowners. “I have completed five restaurants, several yoga studios, spas, and residential homes,” she recounts.  “A client can send me images of their home to come up with a design for them or I can be hired to consult with the customer by going to their home. The Internet – and particularly Facebook – has enabled me to sell my work worldwide.  I have also worked closely with wood and metal artists to create unique table and floor lamp for their clients. I enjoy the challenge of collaborating with other designers and coming up with new designs.”

Several months ago, Melanson added another facet of her business: collecting vintage lamp bases and creating new lampshades for them.  “I noticed that many homeowners had these unique bases around, but no shades.  I feel good about recycling these lamp bases and doing my part to help the planet,” she says.  “What I realized when I started collecting these bases was how durable they are. The quality is amazing and the styling is so gorgeous. Customers can e-mail me a picture of a vintage base they have and I can create the shade.” It was Melanson’s daughter who came up with the name for the new division: reLit Lamps.

Shades of Nature’s designs are sold through five galleries in Canada so far, however, many orders come in from customers who have discovered the Web site and from word-of-mouth referrals among trade professionals.  I’ve also worked with other lamp designers who are using forged metal and wood. I design a shade for their lamps; it’s a win/win.”

“My shades represent a sense of calmness for people,” Melanson sums up. “In a busy world, our home is our sanctuary.  Lighting should be soft to the eye and make us feel relaxed in our environment. It’s been 15 years since I started up Shades of Nature, and I am still designing, adding new ideas, collaborating with  designers, and staying open to all possibilities.”