Combining her childhood passion for collecting, her eye for fine art and her talent for creating beautifully made objects, we are delighted to meet Karen Kench of Kettle of Fish Designs.
After long searches for things that truly represented her own style and taste, Karen set about turning her skills to making lampshades, jewellery, homewares and prints carefully incorporating the character of vintage finds. The results are astonishing and unique lampshades, that tell beautiful stories. Read on to find out more about Karen and Kettle of Fish Designs.
How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
I’m currently working on a new range of lampshade diffusers. These are being made to
complement my existing shade designs, but will also fit into any plain lampshade, making them an economical way to quickly change your decor. They soften the harshness of a bare lightbulb really effectively and are already helping a couple of customers who suffer from migraines.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?
My design process usually starts with inspiration from something I see. Often that’s a painting or vintage illustration, sometimes it’s a texture on a wall or it could be a found object. I will run through ideas in my head, thinking how I can change and repurpose the elements of it to become something else, or work as a design on fabric.
How would you describe your style?
Eclectic and different.
What’s your creative background?
I have always been creative in different ways. As a kid I would regularly change the furniture around in my bedroom, I was fascinated by collecting things from the natural world and I loved to make things from clay. I have always collected things and seen beauty and potential in materials and surfaces and this has become an intrinsic part of my work.
I did a degree in Fine Art and that gave me the space to explore new materials and techniques, including large-scale printing and plaster casting. I went on to do painting and decorating for a few years after college, before working in regular office jobs (although even they were in the Creative Industries). I started making jewellery for myself in the evenings, using vintage images and recycled materials, then it crept naturally into homewares and eventually became my full-time job. I think this unusual progression is what makes my work distinctive.
Where do you start when dreaming up an idea for a lampshade?
Sometimes I look at interior spaces and imagine the ideal lampshade for that room, or I talk to the customer about their likes and interests. I might be asked for something specific, like a favourite animal or a particular flower, and I will spend time researching and looking for the perfect imagery. Not all images will work, it has to fit my aesthetic and also be able to adapt to suit the size and shape of the shade or lamp.
When did you start making lampshades?
I made my first lampshade in 2012. At first, I was using shades from charity shops and upcycling them with vintage fabrics, then I bought a few lampshade kits from Dannells and never looked back!
My most popular framed print at the time was of a blackbird and a bee and I adapted this for my very first handmade lampshade. Instead of a bird with just one bee like the framed prints, the shades have a flight of bees around the shade. Every element of the design is positioned and printed individually, making each one unique.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
The rolling is the part I love best. When I run workshops, it’s the moment that people can suddenly see that they’ve succeeded! Somehow, it seems to completely change scale as it becomes a three-dimensional form.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
My cloud lampshades and the hanging bat design are my best selling shades by far. The bat was originally made for a commission before I added it to my range. It appeals to people with an incredibly wide range of styles in home decor - it always amazes me!
What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business?
Most of my shades are bought ‘off the peg’ with some variations in custom requests for
different sizes or colours. My ‘grey clouds’ lampshade led to the ‘blue sky’ version when a customer asked if I had something a bit brighter for a child’s bedroom. I really love being able to respond quickly and tweak designs to enable customers to get exactly what they want. I love doing bespoke shades, but it’s really difficult to get across to people how many fantastic options there are.
We couldn’t help notice your love of a diffuser for a shade. How do you decide which shades deserve a diffuser?
Some designs will work with a patterned diffuser, others won’t. Generally, I prefer a plain shade with a patterned diffuser, as it’s just more distinctive. For my cloud lampshade, I thought it could look a bit ‘heavy’ with clouds all over, so I’ve designed a diffuser that looks plain until you put the light on and the clouds appear.
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
Find ways to make your product distinctive. There are many lampshades out there that are very similar, so have a point of difference that makes yours stand out.
How do you fit in your shade and product making around the other things in your life?
I walk my dog, I love gardening...and work pretty much fills the rest! The beauty of working for yourself means that things can usually be made to fit around any opportunities that arise for leisure time.
When are you at your most productive?
Working from home means it’s easy to keep going morning, noon and night if you’re not
careful. That said, I work whenever I feel motivated and inspired - if I have an idea at the
weekend, I will usually go straight to my workspace and try it out. On the other hand, I
suffer from anxiety and have learnt not to be hard on myself if I’m having an unproductive day.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
Not much - I quite often have porridge in the morning and then go all day without anything to eat or drink. If I do make a hot drink it will often be left to go cold because I just forget about it when I’m focussed on work.
Could you let us take a peek at your workspace? (Please provide an image to support)
My workspace is rammed to the ceiling with stuff. I’m loathed to throw anything away if I think it might possibly "come in" one day. I have boxes full of fabric offcuts from my lampshades that get used to make other things like framed pictures, and the very small pieces become branding labels. The offcuts of fire retardant lining get used for candle shades, or for stiffening fabric for other projects. Very little is thrown away.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I have no plans to grow the business too much, I wouldn’t want to have to outsource
anything because I need to be hands-on, making tweaks and creative changes as I go. I
would like to have a few ongoing collaborations with interior design companies and
stylists....there are tentative plans already in the pipeline, so watch this space.
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
That it comes naturally, I can’t stop it and I have to have an outlet.
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