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How to Remake a Thrift-store Lamp

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By Cindy Dampier

RISMEDIA, Oct. 30, 2008-(MCT)-So you’re in the market for a makeover-a room makeover, that is-but you’re not prepared to plunk down serious cash for new furniture, or even pop open a can of paint. You want maximum impact, minimal effort. A new lamp might be just what you need. Lamps, the decorating equivalent of jewelry, can take your basic-white-T-shirt of a room to a new level. To get a truly personal style hit (and save a bundle), try adopting an old lamp from a thrift store (the decorating equivalent of a no-kill shelter). Refurbishing a vintage lamp is a quick, basic project that can cast your room in a whole new light in no time. Here’s how to do it:

Find it.

Our slightly crusty lamp cost us just 2 dollars. Try looking at garage sales, flea markets or thrift shops-our favorite source for lovely lamps with that certain ’70s swing-to find your own. Look for form, not function. Choose a lamp with a shape you love, and plan on new electrical parts and a new shade.

Fix it.

1. Take the lamp apart. Unscrew all the existing lamp parts, saving them in a safe place. Once this was done, we measured the bottom of our lamp and ordered a new lamp base (from mylampparts.com) to fit.

Tip: Take a “before” photo of your lamp for reference. This can be a huge help when you’re putting the parts back together. If you’re really nervous about all those little parts, lay them out in order as you take them off, then snap another quick reference picture.

2. Assemble the parts you’ll need. In addition to the base, we got a lamp kit from our local hardware store that included all the necessary electrical “guts” in one little package. We also bought a new adjustable harp and ordered a new brass finial (that little doodad that goes on top of the shade) that complemented our new brass base.

3. Reassemble the lamp. We used wire-cutting pliers to cut away the old cord and socket, then replaced them with new ones from our kit, following the kit instructions. Our new base took the place of the old wooden one. The same old nuts and bolts held old and new parts together.

Tip: Since this DIY involves electricity, err on the side of caution. “Be very careful,” says Steve Jacobson, owner of Jacobson Electric, Wheeling, Ill. “Make sure you use all the parts included, and don’t pinch or bend the wire.” And don’t go for partial repair. “If a lamp cord is old or frayed,” says Jacobson, “you should replace it, because that’s a hazardous situation. Sometimes people think that replacing the socket fixes the problem, but that’s not a good idea. And the cost of the parts-or even the cost of having a lamp professionally rewired-is minimal, so it’s a very good investment.” At Jacobson, the average cost of a rewire is $15, so don’t shrink from calling in the pros if you’re flummoxed by the electrical parts.

4. Clean it. We used fine grade steel wool (ours was grade 0000 steel wool; rub gently to avoid scratching your lamp) and metal polish (our choice: Nevr-Dull Magic Wadding, found at hardware stores) to polish our lamp’s metal parts to a shine that very nearly matched our new base and finial. We cleaned the lamp body with glass cleaner to remove the thrift-store grime.

Tip: Buying non-lacquered metal parts means that they’ll naturally tarnish over time-which will help them blend in with vintage lamp parts.

5. Dress it with a shade. Our new base gave the lamp the sleek, more modern look we had envisioned. We complemented that with a narrow, cylindrical shade in silvery silk. Our favorite sources for shade shopping: Target for basic bargain options, Restoration Hardware for a reasonably priced line of solid colors in classic shapes, or lighting stores for a wider range of choices.

Tip: “The most important thing is to come in with your lamp,” says Maryann Redner of A Shade Better in Westmont, Ill. Try on shades until the proportion looks right, and pay special attention to the height of the harp, which has a big impact. “You want to cover the hardware, but show off all of the base,” says Redner. “Sometimes people think they need a bigger shade, but all you need is to go down an inch in the harp.”

© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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