Press: Passions That Pay

From Stratton Magazine, Fall 2004 by Koshka Pabst

Finding a way to make your living and your passion one and the same is truly a dream come true. Brew Mascarello, Judi McCormick and Judy Lake are three Vermonters who have done just that.

“If you see something you really love, but it and it will work,” is Judy Lake’s advice. In her case what she loves is antique textiles, and she is surrounded by hundreds of bolts and snippets in all kinds of colors as she works designing lampshades in an old clapboard house in the center of Pawlet. She describes her shades as being “Classic with a little funkiness. I always try to add a touch of whimsy.”

Before she and her husband moved to Pawlet in 1985, Lake worked in retail, but “I always thought it would be fun to have my own business,” she says. An art major in college, Lake studied textiles and decorative arts. She put the skill together with a desire to stay home with her young son, and came up with: lampshades.

She made an initial dozen lampshades at the kitchen table and took them to a craft show in Manchester along with four boxes of cherry tomatoes from her garden and a half dozen loaves of homemade bread. “The bread and the tomatoes sold, but the lampshades came home with me,” she recalls. “It was a humble start.”

Still, creating lampshades was what she wanted to do. Her first attempts were of the “cut and pierce” variety, “very detailed and very fussy,” she says. A close friend urged her to keep trying new things and introduced the idea of using fabrics, an idea Lake seized upon, and immediately began scouring flea markets and antique shows for quality, authentic vintage materials. “Fabric people are obsessive about their sources and finding the really great stuff. It’s fun going to antique shops and shows. It’s fun being able to have fun doing your job.”

Lake also loves to buy old lamps because “they have so much character.” She usually finds old, pressed glass lamps and restores them, trying to keep as many of the old parts as possible. The lamp bases are perfect compliments to her shades, which range in style, shape, color and trim. She often accessorizes them with beads and fringes. Often customers will bring in fabrics they want her to use or match, a task she especially enjoys — looking at a fabric and figuring out what shape and style works and how it will fit with the feel of the room. Her goal is always to go beyond “good enough,” stretch her imagination and push her boundaries of creativity. “It’s really important as artists that we grow with our craft. What I do is a craft, but how I do it is art,” she says.

Lake is most satisfied when past customers come back and say that each time they turn on their lamp they think of her. “It’s nice to know people are happy with my little creations.” She remembers each lampshade she has made, and every type of fabric and where it came from.

As her business began to grow, Lake knew it was time “to get her stuff off the kitchen table. It’s more comfortable for people to come to a public space and they take you more seriously.” When the space she currently occupies became vacant, she moved in and set up shop. Although her expansion was successful, she never wants to grow too big. “Do I want to keep it small? Yes. I want it always to be fun. Where else could I be a CEO and put up my “gone skiing sign?”