Painting Thrift Store Lamps


I remember when I first discovered you could spray paint ceramic and metal lamp bases – it was around 2000 and I had two little kids, a city bungalow to fix up, and no money. It was awesome to be able to afford nice lamps based on design and size and not just if I had enough money. Over the years I’ve bought a lot of our lamps at thrift stores and they’re still my number-one spot to look for new lamps.

Finding single lamps is usually not a problem, but finding pairs is another issue. I have been looking for a few months for medium-sized urn-style ceramic lamps for our bedroom and was coming up empty handed.


You better believe I grabbed these as soon as I realized they were the same lamp, even though they are different colors.

And this is a good tip, because surprisingly I often see the same lamp in different colors at thrift stores:

  • always be looking for a shape you like and not a finish or color

I’m actually in the process of updating our master bedroom by introducing a new color (coral – which I’m loving it right now) and had played with the thought of painting the bases coral, but guess what? I’m pretty sure there isn’t a spray paint made that comes in a coral color, ’cause I looked at a bunch of brands. And while I do have a small paint sprayer which is fine for furniture and wood, it wouldn’t produce the smooth surface needed for a lamp base.


So I decided to bring a bit of shine into the room by painting the bases with Krylon’s Looking Glass spray paint. I was hoping for a mercury-glass look (like the mercury glass pumpkin I used it on), but these turned out more of a brushed silver. Which is fine, really, though I’m not sure why the difference – maybe because the lamps were bigger?

I did find out, though, that I needed to spray a clear coat on the bases so that none of the silver rubbed off, which I didn’t need to do on the pumpkin. This makes me think the coating on the original ceramic was different, maybe?

So, here’s another tip when you’re painting unusual surfaces of old items:

  • be prepared to “go with the flow” and be open to changing from the original plan


Do you wonder if I’m one of those folks who keep the plastic on their shades? Ha – I’m still figuring out the shades that will work – I like this shape and the size is good, I think, but it needs some sort of adapter to work on the lamp. Since I’m not sure I will find something, I might need to take it back so I didn’t want to unwrap it yet.

This is actually the second set of shades I’ve bought – I was SO excited to find a coral colored burlap-type shade at World Market and then was SO bummed that they were too small for the bases and World Market didn’t make them in a larger size. My plan now is to add coral-colored ribbon trim to the white shades.

If I can get them to fit. Ahh…the joys of working with thrift store items.

Tuesday Thrift Store TransformationSo why do I do it? Simple: these lamps cost $4.00 each and I probably used $3.00 worth of paint, bringing each lamp base to a total of $5.50. I bought the shades when they were 20% off and combined that with a $10 off $30 coupon from World Market, so they were just $11.00 each.

That’s just over sixteen dollars for each complete lamp – and customized to what I like. Yup, that’s why.

Do you shop for lamps at thrift stores?




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  1. says

    My goodness! I just did this myself, but did not paint the base metallic, instead, a blue that matched the lampshade! I can tell you that I was very satisfied with the result, too… only now I realize the shade is probably “a shade” too small for the lamp base. I am on the outlook for another lamp, smaller, at the thrift store, to paint the same blue. I love how you recyle and re-use, your ideas are always so great!

  2. Crystal says

    The lamps turned out great!!! I’ve been looking for some lamps to refinish, but no luck so far. I’ll just keep looking. Love what ya did!!

  3. Debra says

    Love this idea. I have used it myself several times. I have a lamp that I purchased in a yard sale, love it but last year the shade tilted and got scorched. I looked everywhere for the correct size shade but had no luck. So I decided to cover the lamp with fabric (leftover material that I had used to recover a wicker love seat). I used the shade as a pattern, sprayed the lamp with an adhesive and covered the edges with a coordinating ribbon. So designer…lol! And inexpensive.

    • Jami says

      Oh, I wish that they had come with shades I could do that with, Debra! These are turning out to be hard to find or adapt shades for. Ugh. :)

  4. says

    Hi Jamie – I haven’t ever done a thrift store lamp – at least not yet. I guess I’m just coming late to the party. I do have a lamp that I am thinking about painting – but it’s one that I bought at Wally’s World a few years ago. I’ve already done a little something to the shade, so, it will only be a little while before I try this technique. (Then I’ll be looking for something for the guest bedroom!) Your’s look so good that I’m about ready to take the leap! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Hugs –

  5. says

    I thought the Krylon looking glass spray was supposed to be sprayed on the inside of the glass. Maybe that’s why it turned out looking more like brushed silver. I was going to use that paint for something, but couldn’t spray the item from the inside for the look I wanted. I’d like to know if anyone has used it on the outside of an item and had it turn out looking ‘mirrored’. It would entice to know.

    • Jami says

      I painted the ceramic pumpkin I linked to in the article on the outside and it turned out great! I also painted the outside of ribbed ice-cream glasses to make antiqued mercury-glass vases and they turned out great, too. That’s why I was surprised that these didn’t turn out as well…

      • says

        Wow! That’s very interesting. I was just looking at buying that paint the other day to paint some sea shells. Since it wasn’t cheap ($13!), I thought I’d pass on it if it wasn’t going to turn out to be ‘mirror shiny’. I just went back and read your post regarding your mercury pumpkin. (You’ll have to forgive me for not noticing the link the first time – I’m rather new to these blogs!) Your pumpkin turned out fantastic! It certainly looks mirrored and that’s the look I am after. I can see why you would have expected the lamps to turn out that way also. I really appreciate your responding to me. I may have to rethink the cost of the paint and bite the bullet to give it a try.
        Have a great Thanksgiving. I’ll be on the look out now for turkeys AND pumpkins to re-do. You are so clever!

        • Jami says

          Oh, dear, that is expensive. I did finally find it at our Walmart (I thought I had looked before I bought it online the first time) and it was under $9. If you have one nearby, it might be worth checking it out. The joy of DIY is that you never know how something will turn out. Luckily, most of the time it’s all good!

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