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Interior designers see the light: Lamps are nice decorative accents

SHARE Interior designers see the light: Lamps are nice decorative accents

Lamps seldom shine in room decor, save, perhaps, a crystal chandelier. In fact, it wasn't so long ago that lamps were banished from tables and floor in favor of recessed ceiling and wall lighting.

Bebe Winkler of New York was one decorator who stripped lamps from fashionable living quarters. No more."I walk into rooms that I decorated in the '70s and '80s and I ask, `Where are the lamps?' The rooms usually do not need new carpet, new sofas or new chairs," she says. "What they need are lamps and shades. They finish a room in a way that a recessed lighting fixture will never do."

So lamps in Early American brass, French porcelain, English bronze and ginger jars from China are all in good company with furniture of their ilk.

Better yet, play against type by choosing a lamp that contrasts with the furniture rather than conforming to it. A popular example is a Tiffany lamp with an ornate leaded glass shade in a minimalist modern room.

"An unusual lamp adds greatly to a room's interest," New York decorator Stanley Hura says. "That's why there are so many traditional rooms with modern Tizio lamps in them."

The black metal Tizio table lamp, with its adjustable swing arm and halogen bulb, has become a modern classic since it was designed by Richard Sapper in 1978. It is distributed nationally by Artemide Inc. of Farmingdale, N.Y., with a list price of $390.

Classics, Hura points out, usually look fine with other classics of any era.

Hura practices the art of eclectic lighting in his own apartment. In the living room are a Tizio and a pair of English Regency style lamps in bronze with black silk shades. Other lamps in the apartment include crystal sconces in the dining area and modern lamps of galvanized metal with aluminum mesh shades elsewhere.

While almost any combination of furniture and lamps is acceptable, there's one caveat: Use no more than two unusual lamps in a room. The rest of the lighting should be unobtrusive, according to Denise L. Caringer, editor of "The New Better Homes & Gardens Decorating Book" (Meredith $35).

Today's lamps are evaluated for efficiency as much as for aesthetics. Working features to look for include adjustable height, swing arms that adjust the direction of the light, and a three-way switch or dimmer to change the level of light.

"You want to avoid having one glaring fixture in a room," Caringer says. "A variety of lamps in different sizes is much more effective."

Consider such options as small lamps for shelves, halogen floor lamps in the corners, table lamps for side tables, and picture lights over framed art. Caringer also likes strip lights that can be used to light up a bookshelf or outline a window.

"Many come with self-adhesive backing and cost under $20 at a home center," she says, "making it possible to add small touches of light inexpensively."

Now that Winkler sees the error of her ways, she acknowledges that a central pendant ceiling fixture, such as a chandelier, is an excellent decorative tool and a good source of general illumination.

If the wiring is still in place, the center ceiling fixture can be replaced. If not, try a tall halogen floor lamp which, with a 350-watt bulb, can light up a room, Hura says.

Hura and Caringer like unmatched lamps at either side of a sofa or bed or on a long table or sideboard. Winkler prefers the symmetry of matching lamps. She says her clients still appreciate the familiar shapes of Oriental ginger jars, marble urns, crystal columns and candlesticks.