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Simple transformation: Lampshades inject artistry into home decor

| Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006

Lampshades are to home design what accessories are to fashion.

Just as wearing the right necklace can transform an outfit from average to extraordinary, choosing the right lampshade can give an outmoded lamp a much-needed update, or add that extra element of visual intrigue to an already stunning room.

The right lampshade can bring a lamp that you own up to speed with home-decorating trends or be used to evoke a particular mood.

For a contemporary look, eschew bland, white coolie shades, which are shaped like cone-shaped hats worn by Asian laborers, in favor of stronger colors, unusual shapes and decorative flourishes.

To get in on the popular retro look, give a vintage lamp that you already own a contemporary look by adding a modern shade.

Vivian Hafenbrack, manager of Maple Hill Interiors in Blawnox, illustrates the before-and-after makeover by pairing a vintage ceramic Blackamoor lamp ($125) with a standard coolie shade or a tall drum shade, which is a high, cylinder-shaped shade, for a typically '40s- or '50s-era "before" look. To keep the retro feel of the lamp with a modern twist, she suggests pairing the lamp with a 14-inch shallow drum shade with silk lining in a stripe design ($135) for a more modern interpretation of the trend.

"It takes a real frumpy look and updates it," Hafenbrack says.

Maple Hill Interiors can customize lampshades using a client's fabric, or customers can choose from more than 1,000 samples at the store, Hafenbrack says. Maple Hill Interiors specializes in producing hard-to-find lampshades such as unos -- which fit on bridge lamps in empire, regular hexagon and hexagon shapes -- and chimney lampshades -- which are special shades that fit over the chimney of a converted oil lamp -- in the company's Plum-based factory, Woodstock Workshops. Prices for these custom shades range from $22 to $60, depending on size and shape.

Customers often overlook finials, which are decorative ornaments that screw into the harp and keep the shade on the lamp. Many lamps come with a small nondescript cap instead of the more ornate finials, Hafenbrack says.

"A lot of times, people can't tell whether they like the shade, and then, once I put the finial on, it's like 'Oh, wow,' " she says. "It really pulls it together."

Maple Hill Interiors sells contemporary and antique finials that range in price from $10 for a basic brass knob to $56 for a real stone like jade, quartz agate and soapstone.

Typhoon, a lighting and design store in Regent Square, not only sells ready-made and custom shades, but the store also can repair antique glass shades and convert items such as gas lights and oil lamps into standard lamps, owner Ann Davis says.

To update an existing lamp, Davis suggests a paper shade with black and gray piping in a modified drum shade ($85) for a look that is popular, but not too funky, paired with a classical urn-shaped lamp with a deep nickel finish. If your style tends more toward the classic, pair the same Frederick Cooper urn-style lamp ($275) with a silk pleated shade with fringe for a more traditional look.

"It's kind of a reaction to that stark, industrial look," Davis says. "(It's a) throwback to the 1930s with more ornate trim and ruching."

If you're in the market for a new lampshade, Davis suggests buying a simpler shade, unless you're going for a period-specific look.

Because there is no such thing as a standard shade, Hafenbrack suggests that customers take their lamps when shopping for a shade.

"A phrase that you hear often in the lighting industry is 'Buying a shade without your lamp is like buying a hat without your head,' " she says.

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