| December-January 2011
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By Olivia Boler
Jennifer Slepin shows off her signature design: a martini lamp, created out of a martini shaker. Photo by Pamela Gerard
Noe Valley craft artist Jennifer Slepin remembers the moment she became fascinated with illumination. It was 2003, and she was painting in her North Carolina home while treating herself to a martini in a beautiful blue baccarat glass. She noticed the way the light shone through the blue glass and said to herself, Wouldn’t it be cool to make a lamp with a glass as a shade? She sketched out her idea of a martini shaker topped by a martini glass–shaped lampshade, took it to a stainless steel manufacturer, and had a batch of about 25 martini lamps made up. She sold almost all of them.
The idea that just about anything could be turned into a lamp got Slepin intrigued. Her older brother Jon, whom she describes as “very, very mechanical,” became a part of her new company, SouLighting (pronounced “soul lighting”). “I started designing and he started creating,” said Slepin, walking around her Sanchez Street house, which is filled with SouLighting creations.
For years, the siblings worked together, but in 2008, Jon passed away. Slepin, who is also a registered nurse, was offered a nursing job in San Francisco and accepted. Although she spent her formative years in the South, Slepin, 53, was born in San Francisco. Her family moved when she was 10, after her mother’s death. Still, she’s always called herself a San Franciscan. “San Francisco is home.”
She’s been married twice but is currently single, and her son Justin lives in New York with his wife. Slepin’s 15-year-old miniature Pinscher, Lily, made the move across the country with her into a house that is a neighbor to Décor Galore at Sanchez and 24th. After settling into her new home, Slepin set up a studio in the garage and continued experimenting with light.
“I started with cloth shades, but that’s a lot of sewing and it’s laborious.” She switched to playing with paper and taught herself a process for creating paper lampshades. “I give most of them away, but friends told me I should try to market them.”
To that end, she opened a store on Etsy.com in the fall (www.etsy.com/people/soulighting), where she sells her lamps and lampshades. The company’s tag line is “Lamps for Your Life.”
“These aren’t just lamps. Each one is different from the other, and it’s clear they’re handmade,” she says. She can take custom orders and is always on the lookout for new and exciting paper and lamp bases. The shades can run anywhere from $50 to $100, depending on how much labor goes into them.
To find her raw materials, Slepin scours flea markets and garage sales. The bases are often old vases or small sculptures—there’s even one made out of an intricate glass seltzer bottle. “There is that element of reusing things,” Slepin says of her lamps. For the shades, Slepin is particularly excited about using topographic maps and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) navigation charts, which she purchases from West Marine, a boating supply store. Slepin can make custom shades out of a particular place on the map. Once she created a shade for a 49ers fan out of a nautical map that featured Candlestick Point. She also uses beautiful Japanese paper and antique celestial charts from the 22nd Street shop Press: Works on Paper.
Holding up the paper to the light to see how it will look when lit is key to Slepin’s creative process. “The secret to a beautiful shade is how the paper illuminates, not just if it’s pretty,” she says.
Slepin often works on her lamps with her garage door open and music playing. She invites people to stop by, say hello, and check out her latest creations. To learn more about her lamps, visit her Etsy site, call 919-744-6095, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shades of all shapes and sizes—some made from nautical charts and topographic maps—populate Jennifer Slepin’s busy home workshop. Photo by Pamela Gerard