Let’s face it… good quality lamps are expensive. So if you already have good quality lamps, it’s best to keep them, even if they need a color update. I recently did just that for my new friend Diane and wanted to share with you the best way to refresh a lamp base.
I’ve made attempts at painting lamp bases before and while some turned out fine, most were a total failure. In the past, I figured I could just use a can of spray paint to give a lamp base a new color. They were not makeovers I raved or posted about, because they were… well… not my best work.
After many trials and errors, what I now know is that you have to think of a lamp base as a piece of furniture if you plan to refinish it.
Let me explain…
If I were to use a can of spray paint on a dresser or sideboard, how do you think it would turn out? [I’m guessing you’re making the same icky face I am right now.]
That’s because while spray paint has a lot of valuable uses, painting furniture is not one of them!
Spray paint leaves furniture in a single solid layer state and often that state is either too matte or too glossy.
What I’ve learned over the years and the reason why I often charge more than some painters, is because I layer paints to create one-of-a-kind, three-dimensional finishes.
I realized that the same process should be used on lamp bases.
The quality of Diane’s lamp bases is exceptional. I cannot tell you how many lamps I’ve purchased in the past that have had the wiring come completely loose because the metal socket has unscrewed from the base over time. And once that happens, I can never seem to return them to like-new again. The metal socket wobbles and the shade always looks uneven as a result.
Diane’s lamps though, are plaster lamps that resemble stone. They’re super heavy and the sockets are securely in place.
Here’s how the lamps looked before I started working on them.
The original finish had some layers of browns and yellows and would be beautiful in a home with warm color tones. But Diane’s new home is cool grays and blues so these needed to be a bit whiter and brighter.
I transformed Diane’s lamps with the same painting technique I’ve used on furniture…
How to Paint a Lamp Base
Using a brush, tap on a few coats of primer. You can find this primer on Amazon HERE. Brushing in long strokes cause brush marks, which you want to avoid. In this case, I tapped on four coats of primer, being careful to apply very thin coats and work with very little paint on the tip of the brush.
Usually, this primer works great, but after the four coats, I could see that the yellow tones were still in the small crevices all of the lamp. I just couldn’t get even a tiny painter’s brush in there and it still looked like I attempted to prime the lamps but they were still spotted with the original yellowish base.
So I went to Lowes and purchased the same Zinsser primer in a spray can. I took the lamps outside and lightly sprayed on the primer until all of the tiny holes filled with the white primer. This is one of the few times you’ll see me a spray.
From there, and this may seem counterproductive, but I very, very lightly wiped on a very thin, uneven layer of a sand color paint with a rag, being very careful to only apply the paint to the top surface and not let it seep into the holes. As soon as I wiped the paint on, I was wiping it off in the same motion. I just wanted a very light stain over the primer. The sand color paint layer was thin and did not cover the entire base, so it dried almost unevenly.
From there, using a white cotton rag, I tapped on more of the white primer. The final result, is a lamp base that looks bright white, but if you look closely has a few shades of the very light sand color. [Did I mention Diane lives in a quaint New England town by the ocean?]
This is a very similar process to THIS blue-gray sideboard I refinished a few years ago. It’s one of my favorites and the technique of wiping the paint on with a rag worked really well.
The lamp bases now have depth and dimension while still looking bright and refreshing.
For the photos, I set one of my own lampshades on the base. It’s a white shade with gold accents. While the lamp shade size may need to be a bit larger, I think the color works really well.
Do you have good quality lamp that’s looking a little tired? It may be time for a lamp base refresh.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to products I use myself.