Real Living: Let there be lights

A shared passion for Eastern fabrics and a love of vibrant and quirky objects led Lauren Child and Andrew St Clair to start their lampshade company, Chandeliers for the People. Both have other careers - she's a designer, he's an actor - but the business, run from St Clair's flat, is going places. Alexander Lewis reports
IF YOU ARE a one of the growing army of freelance professionals - an actor, say, or an illustrator - it is almost inevitable that that there will be professional quiet periods. It was during one such time that Lauren Child, an author and designer and Andrew St Clair, an actor, decided that they were fed up with hanging around waiting for the telephone to ring. Lauren was moving around a great deal, as house-sitting became a good way of saving on rent, but she longed to have some bright, fun things of her own, to liven up the ultra-tasteful bedrooms she stayed in. A conversation with Andrew got round to lampshades - yes, they thought, a fancy, brightly coloured and glittering lampshade could transform a place with little expense and effort.

Within hours they were off touring London markets for ideas - they're both flea market addicts - and the Indian shops of south west London. It was in one of these shops that they discovered beautiful silks and glittering fabrics. These they stretched over wire frames and illuminated from behind, and their lampshade business, which they named Chandeliers for the People, was born.

At the moment, they sell to their friends and acquaintances at special lampshade parties. They don't plan to get into huge production quantities because it would detract from their other work and also because they can rarely repeat the same shade - they buy small off-cuts of fabric and usually only make a maximum of eight shades from each piece of material. Their headquarters is Andrew's Notting Hill flat, which he has decorated during those periods spent waiting for that phone call from Hollywood. Although appearing in plays directed by Jonathan Miller and a film by Merchant Ivory in between, he restored and beautified unpromising pieces of furniture and small, dark spaces.

"So many of the things in this flat were covered in a thick, orange gloss paint. The metal banisters: the stove and the bathroom mirror," Andrew recalls. "They were selling the stove as an ornament, not as a functional heater, but once I stripped it, fixed it to a flue and fed it with smokeless fuel, it regained its original purpose. It cheers up the landing and heats up my bedroom, too." Andrew also painstakingly designed and stuck up a mosaic sculpture from fragments of tiles and glass behind. "Some intense artist said that it truly reflected my neighbourhood, the square tiles around represented all the buildings and the serpentine streak through the middle the crazy things that go on around here. I had to smirk inwardly, because I never set out for it to mean anything."

Mosaics also feature in the bathroom. "These are not the original tiles I had planned, they were multi-coloured but they were stuck with the wrong adhesive and all came off. I couldn't face doing the complicated pattern again, so I just put up blue tiles. Blue is a colour you have to be careful with however," he warns. "Painting the walls and ceiling blue made the room too cold, so I sponged very watered-down matt white paint and rubbed most of it off, just leaving little bits here and there. This breaks up the solid blue." Little metal crosses and stars adorn the bathroom walls, bought in a New York ironmonger and stuck just with blue tack.

Andrew feels painted walls should have some design on them as well as pictures. In the hall and landing he has painted on the green walls (which are, he says, "the shade they use in asylums to keep people calm,") a design in silver adapted from the banister cross bars. "I had originally wanted to put up wallpaper, but then thought the space was too narrow."

Andrew and Lauren try to have breakfast summits to discuss lampshade business. The meeting doesn't always go smoothly - Andrew is currently doing a spell of theatre work, so is a bit bleary-eyed, while Lauren has a day job painting at Damien Hirst's studio. And in this flat, which is the antithesis to minimalism, there are so many wonderful distractions. Lauren often finds herself starting to play with the Posh Spice doll, or Andrew with a clockwork Virgin Mary. Andrew is a keen traveller and the flat is stuffed with devotional artefacts from the Christian and Moslem worlds, found in downtown New York or in Cairo.

They really get down to business at weekends. Saturdays begin with a morning market on the outskirts of London, from which they return around lunchtime. After resting for a few minutes on a mauve sofa, in front of very groovy lime green adjustable shelves, surprisingly empty, considering every other surface is covered with magazines, old postcards and treasures, they get down to planning an design.

The sitting room was the last room to be painted and decorated, mainly because the room needed the most work: new windows and old shutters and a new sound-proofed floor, the boards of which are laid in chevron patterns. For the first two years, Andrew sat in the kitchen and watched a television that sat on a wooden Greek column. But Andrew is a perfectionist and for him everything is in the detail: floorboards in straight lines were as boring as would have been a white-tiled bathroom. Why he started making patterned and spangly lampshades is now clear.

For details of lampshade stockists, call Chandeliers for the People on 0171 792 1516