Harvey Hansen stumbled upon the lampshade-making business by accident. While out selling handmade wares in Seattle during the Great Depression, he saw a woman making a light cover in her home. Soon the confident craftsman was traveling down the West Coast offering lampshades to inns along the way; if they bit, he’d make the shades in his hotel room that night and move along to the next in the morning.
Eventually his son Harold started an offshoot of that original venture. By now, Harvey’s great-granddaughter Tiffany Gwin says, Harold’s Lighting has done business with just about every hotel in Seattle. Some of those lampshades are still handmade on a big table in a back room of that same Wallingford shop Harold opened 64 years ago. When she asks customers how they heard about the business, “most people’s answer is, ‘Oh, I’ve just always known you’re here,’” Gwin says. “Pardon the pun, but we’re a fixture here in Wallingford.”
With that kind of history it’d be easy for a business like Harold’s to become an artifact of a bygone era rather than a thriving modern operation. Especially if so many of us are content to believe lampshades spring forth from search engines. At Harold’s they’re still put together by an actual person.
“With Amazon taking over the world, it’s really hard for businesses like ours to compete with that,” Gwin says. So, as her parents, Kim and Cheryl Hansen, near retirement, she’s in the process of steering the business toward the sectors it can compete in. Custom bulk shades, like those in hotels, are big in more ways than one. But Gwin’s particularly passionate about revitalizing antique lamps for resale—giving them new shades, new wiring, new life. She’s got a knack for making the old new again.