Clipboard researched by Dallas M. Jackson and Janice L. Jones / Los Angeles Times, Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Thomas Edison’s brainchild has gone downright funky.

His simple light bulb doesn’t merely shine anymore. It has been twisted, tubed, gassed, colored and sculptured. It has gone madcap wild in a vibrant, dazzling, exciting marriage of light and art. And the folks at Light Bulbs Unlimited can lasso those nervous bits of light into a personalized objet d’art.

“There is nothing more exciting for the person who has everything than to receive a gift with their name on it,” said Melvyn Kahn, who owns the store with partner Colin Becker. “You should see the look on their face when they see their name in (neon) lights.”

The thrill of having one’s name in lights is surprisingly reasonable: about $200 for a simple design, with roughly half of that cost going for the transformer.


“We sit down with the clients and our designers and color charts and have a lot of fun,” Kahn said.

But customized neon is not the only thing the store does. Stepping into Light Bulbs Unlimited is like being surrounded by a group of 2-year-olds on white sugar. There is energy and movement everywhere. Some blink, some pulsate, some vibrate, some just glow, but all of it is mesmerizing, especially the black light room.

Red laser beams skittishly dance back and forth across painted black walls. Strips of phosphorescent chartreuses, yellows and bubble-gum pinks twist and contort into clocks, posters and logos. It is all brought to life by a fuzzy purple-haze light in one corner. As eerie as it all looks, it really is harmless.

“Black lights are ultraviolet A-rays, which are harmless; it is the B-rays that can be harmful,” Kahn said. The store will sell ultraviolet lights with B-rays for people with skin conditions, though only if they have a doctor’s prescription.

But B-rays are not the only offbeat bulb in the store. Neon sculptures of comical green Gumbys, stately pink flamingos, cool blue movie cameras and jazz-hot red treble clefs are featured along with stacks and bins of fluorescent, halogen, sodium, mercury and tungsten bulbs.

The shop stocks more than 5,000 bulbs to illuminate everything from microwave ovens to tennis courts. What started as a regular lighting store has evolved into a booming business that solves lighting dilemmas. “Customers go to a regular store to purchase light fixtures, but they come to us for specialized lighting or to achieve a particular effect,” Kahn said.

If one has a socket, Light Bulbs Unlimited can shed new light on any object. Little tricks such as using halogen spotlights in track lighting make an ordinary effect extraordinary; lighting alcoves with discriminating strips of neon highlight instead of just light, and simply backlighting that eight-foot ficus with a pink bulb makes the difference between “oh” and “wow.”

It is probably that subtle bit of creativity that makes Light Bulbs Unlimited such a glowing success. Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Address: 1844 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, and 1712 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. Telephone: (714) 646-5227 (Costa Mesa) or (714) 532-1410 (Orange).