In many of our Houses you will find intricately pleated lampshades in softly faded silk. They are by Samarkand Design, and each is made from a vintage saree, sourced by founders Carrie Hart and Hilly Grumbar. Carrie explained how their friendship evolved into a business.
'We originally met through work over 25 years ago but swiftly became friends. Hilly had two small sons and lived in London just around the corner in Clapham. When her daughter was born, I was appointed godmother - we've been close friends ever since. Prior to working in advertising I worked in the theatre in the costume department as a buyer and wardrobe mistress at the Old Vic. Today it’s still very much a family business and one of those little boys is our Head of IT, while Hilly's husband is Head of Despatch.
We both worked in TV production and then Hilly went on to work in the charitable sector, looking at ways to provide work for disadvantaged women in India and Africa. Although Samarkand Design is a commercial business, the ethos of working ethically and sustainably underpins everything we do. Our travels - for both work and pleasure - brought us into close touch with the amazing variety of artisanal skills, textiles and artefacts to be found along the way. This was really the inspiration behind Samarkand Design.
'The first project that we worked on was Soho Farmhouse - arriving with our cars packed with shades of all sizes that we installed in the Farm House and several of the cabins and the barn. We then supplied Babington House, Dean Street, The Ned, Soho House Barcelona and [the soon to open] Soho House Mumbai and worked closely with [Soho House Design Director] Sioban on the two Turnell & Gigon showroom sets at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. Mumbai was enormous fun to work on - collaborating with the Soho House designers to blend the colours and designs of India with Soho House's unique style was a brilliant use of our shades. We chose warm earth toned sarees to marry with the schemes that the Soho House designers had planned and used a mixture of textures and colours, including bespoke block prints.'
It Takes Two
'Friendship is a good basis for a partnership but skills and abilities are crucial too. Having both come from TV and film production, we are good organisers but have our separate styles. The fact that we have different strengths makes for a stronger basis at our core. Companionship, travelling, the shorthand that evolves through knowing each other over so many years and the shared sense of humour are all a definite plus.
Our interest in design, colour, textiles, ceramics and travel are very similar and we tend to gravitate towards the same fabrics without even having to discuss it! When selecting sarees from piles of them we amuse and bewilder the dealers with our game of 'snap' selection never even looking at each other or pausing! The sourcing is the 'fun' bit but there are lots of areas of running a business and it continues to be a source of pleasure to discover new skills together.'
'Lampshades are what we are known for. We use vintage silk sarees that we source for the most part in Delhi and Rajasthan. A saree is normally between 5 and 6 metres long with one metre at the end - the 'palu' - normally designed in a complementary or sometimes a contrasting design. One of the distinctive things about our shades is that we design them often using the palu to create a vertical panel.
The lampshades are made using vintage recycled silk sarees, and hand-crafted textiles. They are gathered by hand onto metal frames and then lined and trimmed. Our style is referred to as Empire. At the outset of our partnership we learned to make the shades ourselves but decided that our skill level and deft finger work were never going to be an economic way forward! We above everyone appreciate the work and skill entailed. We have workers based in India and the UK.'
'Sustainability has always been an important aspect of creating our products so we are really careful when choosing the craftsmen that we work with. We work with a brilliant band of craftsmen both here and in India and building those relationships over the last four years has been one of the great joys of building the business. Providing employment for women, ensuring environmentally sustainable techniques (in dying and cotton production) and fair working conditions are all things we take seriously.'
Mix and Match
'One of the great things about our lampshades is that you can create almost any 'look' you want. Amongst the sarees we choose you can find everything from delicate and restful paisleys to bold and dramatic batik, some of which feel completely contemporary. The fine silk allows maximum opacity. We think of our shades as individual pieces - each with its own character and you can change the whole look and feel of a space with one of them.
'There are no hard and fast rules but the lamp base, room size, ceiling height together with decorative style all influence the size of lampshade. Floor lamps naturally tend to the big statement shades (50 or 60cms). Corner and bedside tables are limited on space so a 'candlestick' base works very well. It has a small base and is tall so the shade sits well above the surface and can carry a 25cm or 30cm equally well. A pair of table lamp bases with statement shades (40, 45 or 50cms) can absolutely transform a room and draw the different colours and objects together.
The versatility of these shades lies with the amazing variety of pattern and colour we find in the sarees. They can work in all sorts of environments - a splash of colour in a cool minimalist apartment; a dramatic statement in a traditional country house, adding texture and warmth to a room. When choosing a shade for an existing space you shouldn't get too 'hung-up' on the idea that they should 'match' everything. You would be amazed how well they work in a room with other pattern and colours. As long as you can pick up on a tone you will find they will blend very successfully.'