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New twinkle on holiday lights

Artist Anthony Schmitt shows how to give traditional string lights a new look.

December 05, 2009|By David A. Keeps

Anthony Schmitt looks at shopping carts and sees something more than an everyday symbol of consumer culture. For the last 14 years, the artist and designer has used carts to build a 33-foot-tall holiday tree at the Frank O. Gehry-designed Edgemar center on Main Street in Santa Monica. Year after year, Schmitt has hung lights on the amazing assemblage. As a result, he is regularly experimenting with new products and coming up with clever ways to give new sparkle to an old tradition. This year we asked him for unusual ways readers could use string lights. Here's our take on his brightest ideas:

6Holiday lei:Holiday lei: Artificial flowers with flexible stems can be twisted around light strings to make a garland in which wires almost disappear. For a tropical look, Schmitt recommends an LED string in a recently introduced purple shade ($9.95 at Light Bulbs Unlimited stores in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks). The color complements these artificial orchid stems ($3.99 each at Michaels). Hint: Wrap the light cords so that the bulbs are clustered around the flower petals.

7Peppermint stick: Icicle lights usually come with a white cord. Boring? Try wrapping the wires with red electrical tape to create a candy-cane cord.

8Out of this world: They look like spaceships or perhaps miniature galaxies, but they're made with a common household object: stainless-steel pot scrubbers cut into quarters and slipped over each clear bulb like a cozy. You can use similar products in brass and copper and mix them with colored bulbs.

9Second string: Don't toss burnt-out bulbs or ones with chipped-away color. "I just tie them onto a piece of jute," Schmitt says. Mix colors and sizes for an authentically recycled look.

10Bulb bouquet: Schmitt says you don't have to do much with a new box of bulbs. "You can stack them like blocks or into the shape of a tree, and it looks quite modern," he says. A similar idea: A string of bulbs bound with wire or tape form a bouquet. Place it in any container with two open ends or a flowerpot with a drainage hole big enough to push through the plug. Hint: The bigger the bulbs, the better the bouquet looks.

11Tree of light: "If you hate cords, hide them," says Schmitt, who has used materials such as orange plastic construction fencing to create a modernist panel of light. Here, a simpler concept: Cut a poster board so that it forms a cone. With the poster board laid flat, use a utility knife to cut X-shaped slits in a random pattern. The slits should be cut somewhat smaller than the diameter of the bulbs, so the lights don't slip out. The bigger the bulb, the easier it is. (We used low-watt LEDs.) Use duct tape to secure the wires to the board. Carefully curl the board into a cone and secure the seam with more tape. Cut a small notch at the base for the cord, so the cone can sit flat. Place it on a shelf or against a wall, so the taped seam won't be visible.

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