Candid Owl's mission is to provide customers with unique, standout lampshades and lamps and they definitely don’t disappoint! With her love of lampshade making, bold bright colours and striking patterns, Candid Owl’s founder Candice, has proudly taken her business from the kitchen table to new commercial premises. Making beautiful statement shades, for her website, bespoke commissions and exhibitions, we find out how Candid Owl came about and how Candice created such a successful venture, in this month’s Meet the Maker.
How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
Hello, I’m really well thank you - a little busy but that’s just how I like it!
We’ve just finished up an exhibition order for 45 lampshades, so I’m concentrating now on our retail sales from the website and Etsy. Myself and my full-time lampshade maker Poppy, have 22 shades to prep and make up so it should be a nice and steady day. One is a 70cm diameter lampshade in Burnt Orange Velvet which I’m looking forward to making. We also have two very large Hessian lampshades, both with Champagne lining, that are a challenge to make but look fantastic once finished.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration for your lampshade designs?
My design process always starts with the fabric. I have accounts with fabric manufacturers who always notify their customers when there is a new collection being launched. This enables me to look through their fabric books/catalogues and select any that I like straight away. Once I have the fabric design in mind, the rest just follows naturally in regards to shape, height, lining etc. For example, a solid velvet fabric looks lovely with a brushed metallic lining, particularly a bold colour such as navy blue or cerise pink. However, a light coloured linen fabric always works best with a white lining, preferably in a tall cylindrical shape so you have the full effect of the light shining through.
How would you describe your style?
I love bold and bright colours with a striking pattern, the larger the pattern the better. This seems to have worked well with our new 50cm and 70cm tall conical lampshades as you can really appreciate the full pattern. Sometimes a Drum or French Drum just doesn’t do the full design justice. I also absolutely love Dannells Brushed Metallic linings; they add a touch of luxury to what could be quite a plain lampshade, whilst also creating a lovely warm glow when lit.
My aim is to, where possible, make the lampshade a focal point of the customer's décor. This isn’t always possible as many customers like their lampshades to blend in with their current neutral décor. And that’s absolutely not a problem, I’m always happy to do this! But if I’m completely honest, I love to select the boldest fabrics and if they also have a metallic lining then that’s the perfect combination.
It’s clear you have an eye for detail. Do you follow trends or do you just go with your instinct on what will work for a lampshade?
I’m not a huge follower of current trends and would have to say I’m guilty of incorporating my own taste and style into many of our collections. This is something my husband and I have had many lively discussions about over the years as he has always been a firm believer in creating a large selection of plain and neutral lampshades. In the early days, I would only create a shade completely to my own taste. However, I’ve learnt (with a little help) that in order to be a successful business and to appeal to the maximum number of customers, you have to cater to all of their tastes and styles.
When and why did you start making lampshades?
In 2015, which seems like a very long time ago now! I originally started by making a shade for myself, for a hand-painted floor lamp, and for my daughters’ nursery. These were made from kits that I purchased from you guys and although the finished shades weren’t saleable, they were definitely nice enough for my home. I was then bitten by the lampshade making bug (which I know happens to all of us lampshade makers) and started selling my lampshades first via eBay, then Amazon Handmade and Etsy and finally via our own website which we launched in 2017.
My daughter was born in 2016 and making lampshades from home was the perfect job for me; it enabled me to work part-time whilst also being at home full-time to care for Thea. Since then, we have moved Candid Owl out of the house and now rent a business unit at Blackminster in Worcestershire. It was undoubtedly the best move we ever made. It has enabled us to employ a team, to have the space needed to make larger shades and commercial orders and it’s been fantastic to have a small retail space that we open on an appointment basis for our customers to experience our products first-hand.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
That’s quite a tough question to answer. I still thoroughly enjoy making lampshades, even though it’s now been 7 years since I made my first one; there’s always that buzz of excitement when a new fabric delivery arrives and I decide which shape, size, lining etc to try. So I would say the design element of the process is now my favourite part. However, I do enjoy challenging myself and currently, square lampshades are my favourite style. The corners can be a little tricky to navigate and the seam needs extra attention to detail but that’s all part of the learning curve and all it takes is a little practice.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
It would have to be a velvet drum lampshade with a patterned lining; the lemur and floral wallpaper lining have been very popular and they are also one of my favourites. Using wallpaper on the inside, using the double-sided PVC, can be difficult to pattern match but they create such a lovely design on the outside of the shade when lit.
What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business?
Since we moved into business premises in 2020, I would say it is around an 80/20 split for online sales versus commissions. Previously to this, I was predominantly a home-based, e-commerce business with standard orders coming through from the website and marketplaces. However, the showroom has really increased the number of commissions I now undertake, as a direct result of customers visiting the showroom. They have the opportunity to look through fabric books and take samples away with them for colour matching. It has also helped customers to visualise how the metallic linings look and the light effect that they create. It’s not unusual for a customer to bring along their lamp from home as well – I’ve seen some very unusual lamp fittings in the last 2 years!
We noticed you’ve recently undertaken a commercial brief for 18 matching square lampshades. Do you often take on commercial commission and how did the project come about?
I think that was one of our largest commissions to date – it was for an exhibition in London and gave me some great practice at making squares. Since then, we have just finished making a further 45 square lampshades for the same company, for a larger exhibition they are showcasing in Germany. My husband Mark, who now also works for Candid Owl full-time, was asked to quote for the project by a family member. They own an electrical business which has specialised in fitting out large exhibition stands for many years.
It was a fantastic opportunity and one which I don’t think we would have been able to accommodate if we hadn’t moved into the business premises. The project came along at just the right time and we have also been able to complete some smaller projects for bars and restaurants.
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
I think my biggest tip would be to work on getting your creations seen. There are some really talented lampshade makers now, both here in the UK and abroad, making beautiful high-quality lampshades. Whilst the look and quality of the shade are extremely important, what is possibly even more important is getting visibility for your creation. This can be via marketplaces such as Etsy and Amazon, social media such as Facebook and Instagram, or a stand-alone website. It can all be a bit daunting at first but the hard work of making, photographing, listing and posting via social media all pays off in the end and creates a successful business. I still haven’t really figured out TikTok yet so if anyone has any tips they would be gratefully received!
You make such a wide range of shades, from fringed to tall conical to double-sided shades. What type of shade would we find in your own home?
You would find a complete mismatch of styles, I have a habit of just making something and taking it home with me, usually with no idea where I’m going to put it but just knowing that I love it. I do currently have a large 2 tiered lampshade hanging in my hallway, made from tropical fabric with turquoise fringing. It’s really bold and I love how it draws the eye.
How do you manage all of the elements of running a successful lampshade making business?
By trying to be as organised as absolutely possible. Before I started Candid Owl, I worked in HR for many years and I think this has helped me to prioritise my workload. It does sometimes feel like I’m spinning hundreds of plates in the air at the same time, but I love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
In the last 2 years, it’s been possible to create a team at Candid Owl, rather than simply being myself as a one-man-band. This has really helped - I can now share the production of the lampshades, delegate tasks and manage my workload around spending time with our daughter.
Can you tell us a bit about your team?
I mentioned my husband Mark briefly; he joined CO full-time in April last year and hit the ground running. It’s a bit of a change from his previous role as a vehicle auditor for Jaguar but it seems to suit him! He’s been super busy these last 12 months bringing my IT into the 21st century; he’s currently working on building our own internal app which will handle things such as inventory, pricing and bespoke quotes. He also handles the majority of our customer service and if I’m not available, will happily meet our customers in the showroom.
We also have Poppy, who is our full-time lampshade maker. She has been such an asset to the business and I’ve been so lucky to have her join us in 2020. Poppy has a real passion for fabric and textiles and runs her own business on Etsy – she is currently specialising in Rug Tufting and makes lovely creations with wool. Poppy spends the majority of her time making lampshades alongside myself but will also get involved in the design process and sending out those all-important fabric samples to customers.
This is our team as it stands at the moment – we did have a larger team during the height of the pandemic as our sales really increased during the lockdowns. However, our volume of sales has now settled to a fairly steady level and I can see this being our team structure for this year.
When are you at your most productive?
I’m probably most productive on a Sunday – I usually work for at least part of the day to set up everything for the coming week. Cutting PVC panels, ironing fabric and prepping lampshades ready to be rolled. It’s also a nice quiet time for me to concentrate and put some real thought into plans for the week.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
It has to be tea - Poppy and I are very big tea drinkers. Does music count as sustenance as well? We always have music playing in the unit, I find it really helps with the creative process. We’re fortunate to have a split level unit though as Mark is a big Heavy Metal fan and can listen downstairs whilst Poppy and I choose something a little bit lighter upstairs.
Could you let us take a peek at your workspace? (Please provide an image to support)
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
The last two years have been a very unusual period for business and this has certainly been the case for Candid Owl. Our sales have fluctuated from month to month which has made it challenging to plan for the future. However, I’m feeling very positive and have seen some strong growth through our website in terms of sales, retail and commercial projects. I am currently studying marketing and have another 8 months left on the course to complete – it has been difficult to find the time to devote to it but I can already see the benefits of some of the things which I have implemented.
In 10 years' time? I would like to have a full team in place for the production side of things, to enable myself and Mark to concentrate on the overall running of Candid Owl.
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
To always have the courage to try something new; it may not work out, but wouldn’t it be amazing if it does!
Explore Candid Owl's considered and unique range of beautiful lampshades in full at candidowl.com and give them a friendly follow on the socials too!
Instagram - @candidowl
Facebook - @candidowl
#meetthemaker #candidowl #candidowllampshades #luxurylampshades #conicallampshades #exhibitionshades #velvetlampshades #squarelampshades #wallpaperlinedlampshades #silhouttelampshade #localbusiness #creativebusiness #professionalshademaker #lampshademakers #lampshademaking #sellinglampshades #startupshademaker #creativebusinessadvice #smallbusiness #smallbusinessuk #lampshadeinspiration #bespokeshades #uniqueshades #lampshades #lampshademaker #bespokedesign #oneofakindshade #handmadeshades