Crowning touch

Special to The Times

Over the past decade, lighting has become a background player in home décor. Most of today's lamps, cast in simple metal shapes or drab blocks of wood and topped with white shades, are quietly tasteful but make no lasting impression.

A new lampshade can be a quick fix for those generic contemporary lights, adding a shot of color and personality to any room.

Decorators have used this trick for ages. Some slip off to Fantasy Lighting on Melrose Avenue and return with cellophane-clad shades to wow their clients. More enterprising types design custom shades from the venerable Maxine's (4160 Beverly Blvd., L.A., [213] 385-7824), where the proprietress has an eye for shape and proportion equal to that of any couturier. At such specialty stores, the most adventurous opt for bright citrus shades made from burlap, linen and silk that match — or purposely clash — with lamp bases and wall paint.

Now anyone can find shades in every shade at large retailers such as Target, at prices low enough to encourage experimentation. Or you can pick up elegantly turned candlestick torchiers and curvaceous table lamps with couture shades at haute home shops including Zipper and Jonathan Adler.

Want to create more drama? Rediscover the joy of mid-century items, such as black shades lined with gold foil that cast a warm glow on the sculptures below. Or make a bold commitment to color with a 1960s lamp with an illuminated resin base by California artist Freda Koblick: Glowing like a column of jewels, it demands to be crowned with a lime green shade.

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