One flea market lamp, three DIY shades


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Finding a whimsical vintage lamp at a flea market can be great, but what if it doesn’t have a shade? You might top off your find with something off-the-rack. (Yawn.) You could have one made. (But how much does that cost?) Or you could go the DIY route and craft a shade that honors the style of the lamp and is truly one-of-a-kind.

This is the route I took after convincing my friend Jan to buy a $20 vintage lamp -- a stylized tree trunk with a red bird perched on it -- at the Long Beach Flea Market. Jan let me take it home as an experiment: As the design editor for the Home section here at The Times, I wanted to craft three shades and let readers vote on their favorite. I limited myself to the same inexpensive shades (IKEA, $10 each) and spent no more than $10 on materials for each. I had some materials on hand -- acrylic paint, white glue and a craft knife -- but those aren’t expensive.


Because the lamp looked like a tree trunk I thought it only natural that the shade reference a tree’s canopy, but not in a literal way. Keep reading to see the three results and how I achieved them:

Seeing Sunspots

The look of dappled sunlight through leafy foliage inspired this shade. I wanted a translucent look, so I bought tissue paper in soft yellows and cut leaf-like shapes out of it. I thinned basic white glue with water, then placed a leaf on the shade and smoothed it into place with a soft, wide brush dipped in the diluted glue. I added more leaves, overlapping some, into an irregular arrangement. For contrast, and to create a surprise when lighted, I used the same process to add pale blue-green shapes to the inside of the shade. These new shapes wouldn’t be readily visible when the light is off but come shining through at night when it’s on. Cost: about $5.

Blooming Branches

For this version I used the colors in the lamp base -- the gray of the tree trunk and the bird’s bright red -- to create an abstract depiction of flowering spring branches. First, I painted the shade with gray acrylic paint and allowed it to dry thoroughly. At the craft store I bought a roll of narrow red ribbon with bright white stitching, which really popped against the gray shade. I found tiny round seashells with mottled gray insides to create flower petals. Back home I experimented, positioning the ribbon on the shade’s surface using straight pins. Where the ribbon branches changed direction, I folded the ribbon. Pleased with the ribbon’s placement, I fired up the hot glue gun and, a section at a time, glued the ribbon into position. Using more hot glue, I tacked three larger shells at the end of each branch, open side up, gluing smaller shells inside those. The geometric branches and their shell blossoms are now ready for their spring debut. Cost: About $8, for a roll of ribbon and a small bag of shells. Peek-a-boo Foliage

I was intrigued by the way the ‘Blooming Branches’ shade became opaque once painted. It made me wonder if I could introduce a design by cutting into the shade. But what about when it wasn’t lighted? It would still need some texture or dimension to stand out. After experimenting with stiff paper, I had my solution: I would cut out leaf shapes, pop them out from behind, and fold them to create a spine. I didn’t want to ruin the apple green paint with pencil guidelines, so I took a deep breath and, using my craft knife, cut a shape into the shade. Because of the shade’s thin plastic backing, the shapes were easy to cut, and folded well. Emboldened, I then freehand cut more leaves/shapes into the shade, creating a kind of leafy arabesque design. Placing the shade on the lamp base and lighting it looked great except for one thing: I could see the bulb through the cut shapes from some angles. I took one thin sheet of pale yellow tissue paper left over from the ‘Sunspot’ shade and glued it behind the cut area. Perfect! Cost: Nothing! I already had the acrylic paint and craft knife.

Which shade do you think honors and complements Jan’s flea market lamp the best? Comment here or vote at my personal blog:

-- Reuben Munoz

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