by Katherine Connor
photographs by Catherine Nguyen
Ask Raleigh’s Louise Gaskill the secret to her artistry in lighting design, and you won’t get far. “Oh, I don’t know how I do it, I just sort of taught myself and I learn as I go,” she says humbly, with a smile. It’s hard to believe that such a masterful creator – her handmade, one-of-a-kind fixtures are sought after by interior designers and clients all over the country – could deny her skill, but that’s another of Gaskill’s gifts: making it all seem simple.
To call her a lighting designer is to tell half the story. She’s also an alchemist, creating of-the-moment lamps, sconces, and chandeliers out of antique glass, seashells, found fragments, and metal fixtures. When she talks about her designs, her silver-blue eyes radiate.
“I cannot say enough good things about Louise,” says prominent Chicago interior designer Julia Buckingham. “We have the same design aesthetic, which I describe as vintage antique with a modern vibe. She’s highly creative with her vision and yet she makes it seem so simple, so effortless.”
Originally from New Bern, Gaskill graduated from Meredith with a history degree and launched a career in software sales in Raleigh. She fell into lamp design after creating a few pieces for herself, then kept it up as a hobby.
She says her love of history has always fueled her work. “Perhaps that’s something that ties all of this together: the history and the stories of the glass and the different pieces of lamps. I love the story behind old pieces,” she says. There were no artists in her family, no crafts passed down through the generations. Instead she taught herself to design new fixtures by deconstructing lamps she wanted to work with, then reconstructing them and learning as she went.
At one point, Gaskill considered creating larger pieces of furniture, but sage advice from her husband,
Robert Sheldon, convinced her to stick with lighting: “Don’t ever buy anything that you can’t pick up yourself,” he said. Though her pieces remained manageable, her workshop quickly overtook the garage and storage shed where her husband once tinkered with cars. After 14 years, she still picks up every piece herself. And in the process, Gaskill has become a revered artist within a niche industry – a niche industry with big competitors.
“That really is probably the hardest part of this whole enterprise, that I’m all by myself in this field, and I’m competing against large corporate companies with big budgets and mass forms of production. My pieces are works of art and can take up to one to two weeks to complete, but this is an heirloom and something that will stay in your family for generations to come.”
The fun part
It all starts with the hunt, and that’s “the fun part.” Gaskill says there’s nothing better than finding a great piece of antique glass – some come from other lamps, fixtures, or vases. Glass dictates the piece: Every lamp, chandelier, or sconce has some piece of glass in it. It’s her inspiration and her signature touch.
Her workshop is filled with it: cobalt blue cylinders, bulbous German bases, Italian teardrops. And there’s more: a pile of gold kitchen sifters found at an antique fair will eventually make their way into the base of a lamp. A wall is filled with various pendants and knickknacks that will make a piece uniquely hers.
Gaskill starts with the frame, or the base of a piece, adds a lamp pipe down the center, and then starts stacking things together, seeing what works and taking it apart again until it “fits.” This is where her joy comes: in the unexpected merging of components.
In addition to antique glass, Louise uses different metallic parts: coasters from a chair, irons from a fireplace, old chandelier bases. She buys her pieces from all over – eBay, auctions, antique malls. Sometimes clients give her a piece that they would like refurbished. Raleigh interior decorator Susan Tollefsen had a client with an old family chandelier that was pretty but tired. With Louise’s finesse, it became a new, more interesting chandelier, but lost none of its history.
Gaskill has never marketed herself and relies solely on word-of-mouth advertising. She sells only to designers and to a few retail shops in Raleigh, including La Maison in North Hills. Her client roster covers the entire country – from Chicago to Florida, Charleston to Raleigh – and she plans to showcase her 70 new lighting designs to decorators at the High Point Market October 17-22.
“Louise designs unique fixtures that can combine lots of different time periods together between the traditional, transitional, and modern,” says Tula Summerford of Raleigh’s Design by Tula. “Her pieces work for any style house.”
Where to Find Louise Gaskill’s Work:
By appointment only:
2023 Progress Court, Raleigh
Susan Tollefsen Interiors
2025 Progress Court, Raleigh
4209 Lassiter Mill Rd., Suite 132 Raleigh
Design by Tula