KATE SBUTTONI’s ginger jar lamps provide a much-needed flash of bright colours in expat homes right across Asia. They are fast becoming an iconic keepsake for the region’s professional nomads. So how did she come up with such a clever idea? A light-bulb moment led Kate to create a bright twist on the classic ginger jar.
A few years ago, on a last-minute trip up to China with some girlfriends, British expat Kate came across a pile of ginger jars that would change her life forever. A decade earlier, she had purchased a double happiness ginger jar on Hollywood Road. Like many of us, she’d coveted that piece of blue and white ceramic, but this pile of jars would open a brave new world.
“We saw these jars and my friend suggested we have one made up into a lamp. I thought, why stop there,” says Kate. “I was looking to tap into my creativity and channel my energy into something. And so, The Ginger Jar Lamp Co. was born.”
Like most small business stories, that anecdote captures a moment in time that was poignant and genius. What followed was years of very difficult work securing all the pieces of the puzzle required to make that dream a reality.
“It was a labour of love to get it off the ground initially,” says Kate. Part of that struggle was a lengthy process to achieve Hong Kong (and European) safety standards for the ginger jar bases. Another was finding the right suppliers for the fabrics. The last step involved identifying the craftsmen who could create the lamp shades.
After much searching, Kate discovered a supplier in Jaipur, India, who creates a striking woodblock cotton, another in Uzbekistan who provides the stunning silk ikat, and a third in China for the silk dupion and indigo cotton. She now delivers these to the family-run business in China. Here, artisans transform that material into her famous lamp shades.
“It’s a true family business with an artisan approach. It’s not what I expected from manufacturing in China, but it was refreshing to see a tour of the factory,” discloses Kate. “They are very accommodating and caring. I was surprised by their commitment to me as a small business.”
Ginger jars have become an iconic homeware choice for expats in Asia. They’re a beautiful, classic and functional additional to many homes. Kate’s clever spin on this classic is versatile. She’s added a pop of intense colour, which she encourages decorators to consider.
“Blue and white is such a classic design staple. No matter your interior scheme, it’s a beautiful style. Today, the move towards the maximalist colour aesthetic is only gaining momentum. People are becoming bolder – even my husband is going bold!”
She urges us all to be brave: “Your time in Hong Kong is a great time to try something different. It might spark something new. If your interior scheme is very neutral, all the more reason to have a little pop of colour. Something like a teal lamp shade can lift a room without being too ‘in your face’.”
She continues: “A lamp is functional and serves a purpose, so you can get away with being bolder. A pop of colour in the corner of a room will not completely unbalance an overall calming look.”
Mixing & Matching to create a unique ginger jar lamp
We love experimenting with different combinations of ginger jar bases and bright lamp shades using the “Mix & Match” tool on Kate’s website. This fun application allows designers and design enthusiasts to see the visual pairing of every base and shade available in the range. Kate says, “It always surprises me what combinations people come up with – and it can be very refreshing. Recently, a lady chose a coral bottom and a teal sari top. Try the tool on the website; use it to play around and experiment.”
Visit www.gingerjarlampco.com/pages/mixandmatch to try it for yourself.
Like this? See more in our Homes section.
Subscribe to Expat Living now so you never miss an issue!