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A Little Light Refreshment

Where Lamps Get Ready for Their Close-Ups

February 09, 2003|EMILY YOUNG

You'd never guess while browsing the decidedly unglamorous storefront of Carl's Custom Lamps & Shades that owner Carl M. Freedman's clientele includes A-list stars, interior designer Barbara Barry and home furnishings maven Suzanne Rheinstein of Hollyhock. But don't let the nondescript Beverly Boulevard showroom fool you. Carl's happens to be where many Hollywood pros-in-the-know shop when they need lights for the camera and action.

"A lot of production designers and set decorators scout the prop houses, photograph what they want and then come here," says Freedman, 68, an effervescent New York transplant who's been a genie in the local lamp trade for 45 years. "Often it's cheaper to have me duplicate something than to pay exorbitant rental fees each day."

Since the '70s, Freedman and his small staff have handcrafted hundreds of lamps, torchiers, sconces and chandeliers for television and film, including the fringe-and-lace floor lamps for the 1975 sitcom "Hot L Baltimore," the gray ceramic bedside lamps for the 1986 comedy "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (two sample shades are still displayed in the store window) and the period-perfect gaslights for the 1992 biopic "Chaplin." These days, the shop's handiwork can be seen in, among other projects, ABC's "Life With Bonnie" (a lot of square parchment shades) and the upcoming Tom Cruise adventure flick "The Last Samurai" (copies of antique Japanese lanterns).

Usually lamps just fade into the background of a production, but they once threatened to upstage Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford, Freedman says. The shop created a pair of elegant Chinese ginger-jar lamps for the bedroom in "What Lies Beneath," then got a call for plainer-looking substitutes. "Can you believe it?" he says with a laugh. "The lamps were too distracting!"

So far, there's no job that Carl's hasn't been able to handle. "Almost anything can be made into a lamp," Freedman says, noting that while vases, candelabras and urns are the most common bases, the shop has electrified an airplane propeller and several 7-foot-tall stuffed animals. Shades, on the other hand, are fabricated from parchment, leather or fabrics, which can range from vintage tea towels to exotic silks. Pleats, smocking and ruffles all cost extra.

Even lighting the fantasy world of Whoville in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was a cinch once craftspeople were shown a few sketches. "Everything was odd, weird shapes, in hot pink, orange and turquoise, and trimmed in marabou," he says. "When we went to our frame maker, he said, 'Have you lost your minds?!' Those were by far the most unusual lamps we ever did."

With calling cards like that, the shop has never had to advertise. "It's not for snob appeal," Freedman insists. "I'm just happy with the business we have. Besides, I'd much rather make a friend than make a sale any day."- EMILY YOUNG

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Carl's Custom Lamps & Shades, 8334 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 651-5825

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