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We've all had moments of inspiration when the proverbial light bulb has gone off in our head. But recently, when the creative impulse hits local designer and art dealer Fifi Laughlin, it leads to a far more interesting type of light: radiant glass lamps with gemstone-colored stems and tailored silk shades.

Dealing with both fine and functional art is not new to Laughlin. Her father is artist Tony Benjamin and in 1987, her family partnered with artist and designer Mario Villa to open the Mario Villa Gallery in Chicago, which featured the work of Villa and other notable locals including Allison Stewart, Mitchell Gaudet, Angele Parlange, Maurice Alvarado and Winifred Ross. "I love fine art, but the gallery specialized in functional art," says Laughlin, who ran the space for nine years, working closely with Villa to design custom pieces for clients. Since then, Laughlin also has worked as an interior decorator.

Today she deals in fine arts, representing such artists as George Marks of Baton Rouge and her father, and she has begun to create functional art of her own. "I've pulled together all those different experiences of art and furniture," she says of her foray into lamp design. "Interesting lamps are hard to find. You can find antique pieces like architectural ornaments and porcelain jars, but new pieces are difficult to find."

Designed with technical input from glass artist Mitchell Gaudet of Studio Inferno and made by a team of Studio Inferno artisans, Laughlin's lamps come in a variety of styles and sizes. Each base is sand-cast in order to have the "crusty" unearthed look of an ancient artifact. The feet and finials are hand-worked or hand-blown. The stems, available in translucent tones of cranberry, red, sapphire, chartreuse, amber, tortoise shell amber, pewter metallic, and clear, are hand-blown, making each a one-of-a-kind work.

"There's a lot of variation in the color," says Laughlin. "They're very handmade, which is part of what makes them special."

Future designs still on the drawing board include a floor lamp, a chandelier, a table, and a chair that combines glass and metal components. "I've gone from selling other people's art and designs to having other people sell mine," says Laughlin. "Since college, I was on the business side. But now I'm more on the creative side."

Fifi Laughlin's lamps are available to the public through the artist at 596-2323, or at Ann Connelly Fine Art in Baton Rouge. Retailers and interior designers can obtain her lamps through the George Cameron Nash showrooms in Dallas and Houston. Prices start at $800.

Caption: Designer Fifi Laughlin provides enlightened views for New orleans homes with her graceful lamps with colorful stems and tailored silk shades.


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