Paper Shades for Life

Paper Shades at work in "Refetorrio Felix" by Ilse Crawford (another of my all time favourite designers!)

I can safely say, that the most enduring home decorating feature in my life to date is the humble, paper globe light shade.

In the early 1990’s I remember Mum buying two large round shades for our freshly painted (peach) living room in our seventies style farm house. To this day I can remember the warm soft glow they offered, something that will forever mean a cosy home to me.

When I was 15 my parents moved to a new farm, inheriting a slightly haphazard villa with strange additions but lofty ceilings and character filled french doors. Mum set about painting areas to define the elongated spaces that ran into each other. This time stronger colours like a rusty red leading into a deep blue living room (On reflection its not dissimilar to what I have recently painted my own front room . Okay this is not about how I am morphing into my mother!) with all spaces punctuated and effectively connected with large paper globes, criss-crossed by organic bamboo framing. 

Looking back I can really appreciate how these shades sat so comfortably in both houses, despite the vast difference in their design and age. That even now, their classic, casual and trend free presence allows them to straddle styles, spaces and time!

Below you will see some instances of large paper globes in our home at the moment. 3 rooms have them with another to be added this week and the living room is sporting a large fabric version no doubt inspired by the original Japanese style construction. I use sizes ranging from 32-36 inch diameter.

Featured Image at top of post: the fantastic “Refetorrio Felix” by Ilse Crawford (another of my all time favourite designers!)

A peep into my office with its enormous oversized shade. While not a huge room, it has a very high stud and the scale of shade gives it a sense of playfulness (to me!).
*Studio Home
A peep into my office with its enormous oversized shade (36 inch diameter). While not a huge room, it has a very high stud and the scale of shade gives it a sense of playfulness (to me!).
*Studio Home
Our spare room early on after our move. 
*Studio Home
Our spare room shortly after we moved in. 
*Studio Home
Our living room pre paint and re-configure. 
On our wedding day by Charlotte Sowman.

Our living room, pre-paint and re-configure. 
On our wedding day by Charlotte Sowman.
The living room now-ish with its Paris au mois d'aout fabric shade. 
In NZ they are available from Madder and Rouge. *Studio Home
The living room now-ish with its Paris au mois d’aout fabric shade. 
In NZ they are available from Madder and Rouge.
*Studio Home
My sister and neice in their renovated cottage. Guess this paper shade thing really does run in the family! 
*Studio Home

Paper Shade Pioneers

Despite some early flatting experiences where I bought smaller cheaper versions of globes to try to make my dingy cold bedrooms feel more homely – it wasn’t until my first year of design school that I engaged extra hard with the paper shade concept.

It was my personal discovery of Terence Conran and the revolutionary casual style he made available to rigid English homes with the opening of his store Habitat in 1964. (My love is so strong for him I’ll probably write an essay for you one day!) He delivered a different take on living – introducing products and principles of home life from Europe, Scandinavia and Asia. This included unveiling the concepts of duvets (YES!), flat packed furniture and generous paper shades among other beautiful, functional and friendly items for everyday homes.

Habitat catalogue covers from 1971 and 1972
Habitat catalogue covers from 1971 and 1972
Catalogue image from 1970's Habitat.
Catalogue image from 1970’s Habitat.

He is a champion of the concept that ALL people should have access to good design.
I bought many of his books and can honestly say his casual, uncomplicated style and soul filled philosophies around the concept of “home” are up there as one of the greatest design influences in my own nesting.
With little consideration, his has become the default decorating approach I apply to every space I have nested, regardless of budget or trend.

But my pal Terence cannot be held fully responsible for the mainstream embracing of the paper shade. 
Iconic, post WWII designer; Isamu Noguchi is the person that first propelled this Japanese craft onto the global stage. 
With an American mother and Japanese father he grew up in both countries. In 1951 he met the Mayor of the city of Gifu, a place whose local industry was centered around the production of paper lanterns made from mulberry trees and used in the worship of ones ancestors.
Noguchi was asked to revive their product and thus set about designing an enormous and timeless collection of “Akari Light Sculptures”. Their organic forms have inspired much interpretation over time however, the original Noguchi designs are, to this day, still hand crafted by the family that first manufactured them in the 1950’s. They are now in their third generation of being the sole producer.

The "Akari: Sculpture by Other Means" exhibit of Isamu Noguchi's wide collection of work. 
The “Akari: Sculpture by Other Means” exhibit of Isamu Noguchi’s wide collection of work. 

So there we have it. The subtle paper shade has been been introduced by revolutionary designers, installed into homes by revolutionary retailers and implanted into life long nesting habits by re-ally cool Mums.

But why love the light? 

I am entirely dedicated to the humble paper globe due to:

  • Its beautiful organic lines and full body (I am indeed a little obsessed with all things “circular”).
  • Its casual but sculptural vibe. To me it doesn’t look to try too hard!
  • The fact that you can really scale UP and have a huge one for statement (my preference!) but the materials and form allow it to still sit lightly within a space. ‘Strong by subtle’ you might say…
  • The way it glows and diffuses light evenly without the fierce directional beams cast by more solid shades.
  • It is super diverse and can look fantastic stacked or even grouped! Hang high or hang low in the corner by your sofa. 
  • For the size’s you can source them in, they are a bold but affordable option…..however my big gripe is that they are not easily available in NZ!

NOTE: If you are a homeware retailer, get yourself on that interweb and find a stockist for large (I’m talking the 30-36 inch giants!) bamboo rib, classic neutral beauties. Be prepared to ship them via online sales! Its possible, they are collapsable and there is a thirsty, local audience awaiting you! 

Currently I source mine online here however they are the even wire ribbed variety which isn’t my first preference. And yes I have found the bamboo ones occasionally but they are always far too polite and small in size.

If I could inspire you to dabble in paper shade land the ONE thing I would urge you to do is go as BIG as you can! 
For me, ceiling height allowing, maximum impact and beauty is found when they take up some space and act as a feature as opposed to a strange floating after thought. 
It’s a bit like picking an A4 print to hang over a bed when A1 would be soooo much better! 
(personal preference there my friends….I just get to say it here as its my blog.)

Kowtow's Flagship store in Wellington featuring the Hotaru Buoy Pendant Lamp by exciting designers; Barber and Osgerby. 
Click on through to check out their modern interpretation of the paper shade. 
Kowtow’s Flagship store in Wellington featuring the Hotaru Buoy Pendant Lamp by exciting designers; Barber and Osgerby. 
Click on through to check out their modern interpretation of the paper shade. 

In Situ…

Please enjoy some gorgeous gathered inspiration below featuring the humble paper shade and its worthy use and interpretation by clever creative people. 
Further more, if you are really into it all, you can visit my Paper Shade Appreciation folder on Pinterest. #papershadeaddictsunite

View this post on Instagram

And it’s Friiiiiiiidaaaaaay. What are you all up to? I’m going to have lunch with my friend @taniaurban whose gorgeous house you see here. We haven’t decided if we will go out or sit here but if it’s the latter I may never leave. Thank you all for your kind comments on yesterday’s post, I went out and left the house to do the work as it was hired out as a location house for the day. I’ll let you know when the pictures come out- it was completely refurnished and you may not recognise it. I may not recognise it! Have a great day everyone. . . . #interiorinspiration #interiorstyling #myfriendshouse #shadesofgrey #blackwindow #paviliongrey #farrowandball #howivintage #parquet #theweekendiscoming #itsfriday

A post shared by Kate Watson-Smyth (@mad_about_the_house) on

All imagery shared here remains the property of the designers, photographers and creators who made it. Please click through to explore and enjoy their worlds! 

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6 Discussion to this post

  1. Penny Gallagher says:

    Love this Ju! I completely agree paper shades are timeless and bring design vibe at an affordable price.

  2. Melody says:

    Love this! I had forgotten that these existed, but have memories them in my childhood bedroom and at Grandma’s house in the study.
    I am inspired to consider paper lamp shades for our new house, I love the soft diffused light and timeless style!
    It’s a shame they aren’t more widely available here in NZ.

    • julia says:

      Check out the link in the post I have left to the ones that I am able to buy online here.
      You can find them around but they are generally all too small for my liking!

      Good luck!

      Ju xo

  3. Philippa says:

    Yesssssssss. You have reconfirmed my love for the paper shade absolutely. I have some sitting in their packages in my spare room and now have renew energy to get those things up! Beautiful work as always xx

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