Hannah Nunn is a designer/maker who owns a gorgeous lighting shop in the arty town of Hebden Bridge, in Yorkshire, England. Hannah built up her business from scratch whilst being a very young mum. Now her children have grown up and her business is flourishing, both offline and online.
The shop doubles up as her studio, where she crafts beautiful hand-made lamps from paper. I am delighted that Hannah will be joining us at the Do What You Love retreat in May, to share her extensive knowledge of design, manufacturing, production and retail from a small business perspective, in one of the retreat’s creative enterprise sessions.
1. You have established a strong reputation in the UK for your beautiful handmade lights. Do you remember the first one you ever made? What inspired you to make it?
I do remember it well yes. It was made out of cheap lining paper from the decorating shop and had little squares cut out of it with coloured gel squares behind it from my friend who worked in theatre. Then it was laminated with a glossy laminating pouch, held together with paper fasteners and the inside the bulb sat on top of a milk bottle! Quite makeshift and not really that pretty but it held such massive potential. I took it home and stood it proudly on the piano and it quietly whispered encouraging things to me all weekend (it’s going to work…keep playing…buy a laminator…source some nice paper….look how it glows).
I was inspired to experiment with lamp making after having made paper cut greeting cards for years. They made great silhouettes and I was always holding them up to the light. It was my studio mate Hilary who suggested I made lamps. As soon as she said it my future flashed before me! I knew how I wanted them to look but I had no idea how to make them. It took a good year of experimentation (and some funding from the Arts Council) to bring them into being.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the process involved in making one of your lamps (if it’s not a trade secret!)
Well nowadays it’s a little more sophisticated than I described above but basically the same! I cut my designs from paper – some by hand and some are cut and engraved with a laser cutter. Then I laminate the paper and roll into a tube or whatever shape and fasten together with strong plastic clips. I have had special tripods made for the bulb to sit securely inside and not create any unnecessary shadows.
3. Many of your lamps feature images from nature. Where do you go to seek fresh inspiration for your designs?
We are very lucky living here in Hebden Bridge because it is surrounded by nature. Whichever way you go out of your front door there is a lovely walk to be found. You do have to be prepared to climb a hill first as it’s a very steep sided valley but it’s worth it! There is lots of woodland with great footpaths and far reaching views. I like going out with my camera.
We also have a beautiful florist’s called The Willow Garden which is a consistent source of inspiration. It’s hard to go in there with coming out with a handful of blooms and an urge to get back to the studio!
And I love this library of botanical studies and biological drawings. It’s an endless source of inspiration.
4. You own a gorgeous shop in Hebden Bridge, a very arty town in the Yorkshire countryside. How did the dream for such a creative business come about, and what were the most important steps you took to make it happen?
I had had a little dream about having a shop of my own with a studio attached. You see, when I took my lamps to trade shows I always noticed other makers who were working with light and making beautiful glowing work. We all sold our work to craft galleries up and down the country but as far as I knew there wasn’t a gallery which specialised in lighting. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I kept a little sketchbook of ideas (I found it the other day and it’s so lovely to look back on and see how it turned into something real) and kept an eye on shops that were coming up for rent. Fortuitously a shop that was just round the corner from my house became available and suddenly my little dream was becoming a reality. I was lucky because I knew the owner and he gave me a good rent and was really supportive. I did it on a shoestring. I borrowed a bit of money from my Dad and worked really hard to set everything up. I was terrified I have to say and the night before I opened I remember saying ‘I have never even worked in a shop and I have no idea what I am doing’! My friend said ‘just do it in your own way’. That was very good advice that I still draw on!
5. Did you have any setbacks along the way? How did you deal with them?
There have been some setbacks along the way usually in the manufacturing side of things! Like last year, the company that I used to buy my plastic lamp fasteners from changed the type plastic that they used to make them. These poppers had been working completely fine for eight years and suddenly they just wouldn’t hold my lamps together anymore and the poppers were popping off all over the place. They said they would sort it out but weeks turned into months and my ‘good’ poppers were dwindling. I had to take old lamps apart to salvage the parts just to get orders out. In the end I had to get my own popper manufactured. It was very costly but absolutely necessary.
…now my fairy light paper has been discontinued …there’s always something to work out. It’s just part of it!
6. What made you take the decision to also stock other artists’ work?
It was other artist’s work that inspired the idea in the first place. That’s really what it was about. There was (and still is) so much fantastic crafted lighting out there. It is my pleasure to bring it all together.
7. What do you love most about having your own studio and shop?
This week I had a new idea for some designs and I have been very excited and at times thoroughly absorbed in the creative process. I love that feeling and I love that this is my job! I also love working in a beautiful glowing environment surrounded by things that have been made by amazingly talented artists and makers.
8. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of selling from a physical location versus selling online?
I considered once just having Radiance online but it just didn’t feel satisfying. I would miss showing things to people and seeing their reactions face to face. It’s lovely to get direct feedback from people even if that’s just people walking around the shop saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’. I have made some good friends from having the shop too. There’s always a sense of possibility. You never know who’s going to walk in through the door.
The disadvantages are that you HAVE to be there always. This is quite good for discipline I guess, it keeps me in the workshop but sometimes it can feel tying.
9. What is the single most important thing you have done (or piece of advice you have been given) that has helped grow your creative business?
Julia Cameron who wrote ‘The Artists Way’ says that you have to ‘show up at the page’. These things, our creative dreams are not going to do themselves. They won’t just happen on their own. You have to go there – to your studio, or your computer, or your empty shop that needs fitting, to the scary blank white page, and that is where you give things the chance to happen.
10. What is your next big dream for your business?
I guess the big dream is to keep being able to do this for many happy years to come. I haven’t any major plans at the moment, just lots of little things. I have lots of ideas for new designs which I am excited about. I’ve just taken on full time staff at Radiance to free me up a little and give me more development time. We are planning a new Radiance website for later on in the year and I’m in the throes of researching and writing book on Contemporary Craft Lighting. It’s busy but it’s all good!
[All images courtesy of Hannah Nunn.]
Read more inspiring interviews with people doing what they love here.