Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Guiding light

Dean Goldstone illuminates a lost art

DAZZLING DELICACY. Dean Goldstone's signature fairy shade atop a cherub lamp base. Credit: PETER BEVAN

Crafting and antiques have been lifelong passions for couture lampshade designer and restoration guru Dean Goldstone. Growing up in Surrey, BC he credits his fascination for finery with keeping him out of trouble.

“I grew up in the roughest part of town,” tells Goldstone. “All my friends from when I was a kid are either in jail or dead. So the big joke is how did I learn so much about antiques and fine art and everything? Because I hung around with the little old people. I’d do their yard work, get the pop and cookies and then go look at their antiques.”

Although he reports an early fascination with antique toys and all manner of mechanical objects, Goldstone says it was a series of wounded lampshades that got him started down the restoration path.

“When I was just a little kid I went around asking, ‘Why don’t you fix these?’ It was because nobody knew how, it was so expensive and the skill was lost too. So I just got them and started picking them apart and seeing how they were made and then once I’d got them apart I attempted, a few times horribly, to get it back together…. By the time I was 15 I could make the most complex lampshades you could ever see.”

When asked about his education in design Goldstone laughs. “I’m a mad scientist — uneducated. I don’t know if I’ve even got my Grade 10 or my Grade 11.”

Identified by teachers as extremely dyslexic Goldstone has learned everything he knows by trial and error, aided by an aptitude for reverse engineering and a tenacious nature.

When he decided to translate his lampshade hobby into a career that tenacity came in handy. “It’s been 14 years of very hard work; 14 years of, I wouldn’t say failures but nonsuccesses,” he says.

“I tried to turn it into a career in Vancouver but the people would come in and laugh and say, ‘Well, you’re asking New York prices. You’re in Vancouver.’ Well, yes, that’s where I live. Can I help that I make New York quality stuff? So after seven years of trying it there I moved here.”

In 2001 he departed for Toronto with $200 in his pocket and his huge Victorian lamp collection in tow. “That’s what everybody does, isn’t it?” he says with a laugh.

But breaking into the Toronto market proved to be just as challenging. He spent the next few years working fixing electricals and building and restoring furniture, all the while continuing to put his spare time into his elaborate and expensive lampshades.

“I went around to the antique stores and would take in a piece of work I had done to show them,” he says. “Then they’d give me something to restore, to test me out on. They’d all be standing there nervous ’cause [the antique lampshades] were such valuable things but then they saw how delicate these big mitts of mine are. Nothing went wrong even when I did the most difficult things, things that everybody was afraid to touch.”

Finally he decided to strike out on his own again, opening a storefront at King and Ontario. But because of issues with the building the shop is infrequently staffed, serving instead as his “diorama.”

“It’s an advertisement,” he says. “A three-dimensional billboard that sucks electricity all day long. Mind you I use Christmas lights — 25 and 50 watt light bulbs — so my store uses less electricity than a photocopy machine.”

Where the magic truly happens is in Goldstone’s 1,500-square-foot George St workshop in what a century ago was a shoe factory. In addition to various works in process the studio features Goldstone’s grand piano — he’s an accomplished pianist in addition to being an expert craftsman — and various dilapidated lamps that he hopes to someday return to their former glory.

Part of Goldstone’s passion is restoring and recreating lampshades that are true to their origins, from employing old-school techniques to hunting down period fabrics.

“We do this 100 percent historically correct,” he says, referring to the team of seamstresses he calls in to help with the silk underlinings when he has too much work to handle on his own. “Actually a lot of times we do it better quality than the original ones because it’s nice to get the authentic trim, fringe and frame and if I’m going to go to all the labour I’m going to make it the highest quality example of that period out of the lampshade.”

Goldstone’s current projects include redesigning the showroom for Aristocrat Lighting (Aristocrat.ca) and arranging mass manufacture of a selection of his designs.

“My claim to fame are fairy shades,” he says with a laugh. “Yeah, I know, perfect thing for a gay guy to make, fairy lamps.”

The tiny delicate beaded shades are modelled after an injured pair — circa 1870 and originally intended for candlelight — that a friend brought home from a trip to Paris. Already available online on eBay they’ll soon be available — along with a range of Goldstone’s designs — through Aristocrat.

Whether it’s the diminutive fairy shades or the opulent silk and lace French parlour oil lamp on display in his current exhibit at Aldridge Art Gallery — valued at $6,900 — Goldstone’s passion for his work is palpable.

“It doesn’t matter how many beautiful things you make,” he says, “the next one is always, ‘Oh my God, look at this! It’s sick! I made that!’”

Although his hands are full for the moment Goldstone hopes to return to passing on his craft once his various projects are well underway.

“I like teaching people how to do this ’cause it’s a dead art,” he says. “What’s your responsibility when you’ve studied a dead art? Teach it to as many people as you can.”