If you’re looking to freshen up your lighting, be on the lookout for old bridge lamps. Consider making over one – or even more – like we did. Bridge lamps make great reading lamps because you can swivel the head to direct the light where you need it.
We love to buy vintage items and put a more modern twist on them. On our flea marketing and antiquing jaunts, Hubs and I have come across a multitude of bridge lamps in our travels. Hubs was a hard sell and didn’t love them as I did, but I knew they would make a nice addition in our home once refurbished and re-wired. One day, I was able to convince him to buy one. After the first makeover, he did a total turnaround. Before I knew it, we bought another, then another! Now our bridge lamps adorn various rooms around the house!
What I love about bridge lamps is now ornate the metal work can be. Each one is so different! This is an example of one in our stash that we didn’t get to yet.
Check for Wiring and Missing Parts
More often than not, the bridge lamp you find will be missing both the lamp shade and the metal collar that attaches the shade to the lamp. The electrical cord may be less than stellar also, so you’ll need to run new wire. We didn’t get pictures of the details on how to rewire these lamps, but it’s fairly simple. Here’s one site that explains the rewiring process, but you can google others too.
The Metal Collar Enigma
If you can find a bridge lamp with its original parts, it will be a much better buy. We had to source a specialty lighting store just for the collar and it was surprisingly expensive. Not to mention the running around trying to find it.
Several years later however, at our favourite outdoor antique market, we stumbled upon a whole bag of metal collars for $100. We didn’t need a whole bag so we left. But then we went back later and asked if we could buy just a few from the bag to keep on hand and the vendor said ‘yes’! If you don’t ask, you never know. It’s always a good thing when we’re proactive; they cost a pittance compared to the ones we sourced in the city.
Take the collar with you when looking for a replacement shade to make sure it will fit. We found all our shades at a thrift store.
Here’s a close up of an original collar. This one clamps to the lower arm of the lamp and then the glass shade fits underneath. Simply tightened the screws to hold the shade in place, but don’t over tighten them or you will crack it!
To Disassemble or Not?
You have to decide if you’re going to paint your lamp assembled or disassembled. In some instances you could keep the lamp assembled and paint the whole thing.
For our very first lamp, because some parts weren’t being painted and Hubs didn’t want to tape them off, he took the lamp apart. Individual parts were sprayed and reassembled after it was dry.
Our first bridge lamp was the original brassy metal finish so there was no need to strip or sand. It’s best when you can find them unpainted; so much less work!
Before painting clean with TSP or Simple Green cleaner. Rinse thoroughly with water and let dry completely. If the surface is previously painted, sand with fine 220 grit sandpaper or sanding sponge to get into all the crevices. Remove all traces of dust.
To paint the pieces you can spray them vertically or horizontally. For the former, wrap wire around any parts that are threaded and hang the pieces to spray them. For the tubes, run wire through the length of each and fashion a hook on one end to keep it slipping off. Add another hook on the other end to hang it. For the latter, a small piece of dowel at each end would allow you to spray it horizontally between two sawhorses and rotate it around as you spray (if the dowel is a tight fit). Just set a nail at either end of the dowel so it can’t roll away – but not so close that you can’t rotate it, as shown in the overhead diagram below.
Lay down some plastic to catch over spray. Hold the can about 8″ – 10″ away from the surface and spray steadily back and forth with even passes. Several light coats will prevent runs.
When using a spray can, Hubs suggests you invest in a spray can grip, such as the Rust-oleum one shown below, to give you more control over the spray and eliminate ‘finger fatigue’. Hubs used a metal primer to prime first, let it dry, sanded again with fine grit sandpaper, removed the dust and then used car paint to spray the metal.
If you decide to take apart the lamp, my best advice would be to take a full length picture of everything before you do. Then you’ll know how it goes back together!
We transformed our first bridge lamp from brass coloured metal….
… to a sophisticated charcoal grey. Hubs used car paint on most of the metal. You’ll notice that we left the silver ‘acorn’ as-is for contrast. You might also notice that Hubs switched around the order of the pieces when he put them back together (despite my advice to take a ‘before’ picture).
I had wondered whether Hubs’ reinterpretation was correct, then found out from a reader with the exact same lamp that Hubs got it right! Intuitively, he knew that the ornate parts of the rod should be at top where they can be seen!
I think every room should have some dark decor accents and this particular bridge lamp does the trick in our master bedroom.
This next bridge lamp started out black and stayed that way! We lucked out with the collar; it was still there. However we again had to rewire the lamp and replace the shade with the new one shown below.
In this case, someone had already hand painted the petals of the flowers red, which we liked, so we decided not to paint over it. Hubs DIY’d the red crackle-painted side table that picks up on the red accents on the lamp.
A New Shade Makes All the Difference!
The deco shade we used was found at a second hand store (as was the previous one). There were two on the shelf so we snapped them both up. They’re great to have on hand if you ever plan to do another bridge lamp makeover – which of course we did! Once we got going, it became addictive.
With our third project below, the shade is SO outdated!
This time, we painted right over the collar. We’ve seen other upcyclers spray paint the cord too, but it ends up looking sloppy and unprofessional. So we replaced the black cord with a new white one. Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet and spend the extra money for new wiring just for the aesthetic.
As you can see below, we put that extra deco shade to good use with this one. If we had just replaced the shade, it would have made a huge difference! However, this lamp got a complete overhaul with light, bright white paint and new wiring.
With two black bridge lamps under our belts, this white one really pops against the blue in our spare bedroom. I can’t imagine it any other colour!
This lamp is ready to shine for another 75 years!
Just When We Thought We Were Done!
For a while we actually thought we were done buying bridge lamps. However, last year we stumbled upon this one at an antique barn and we just couldn’t pass it up. It was calling my name 😉.
Then, when we least expected it, we found another at a car show:
This one will be more challenging since the paint is in rough shape. However, that might not matter since I don’t think we’ll use it for its intended purpose. We now have bridge lamps in almost every room of our house so it’s time to get more creative with our upcycles! Subscribe, if you haven’t already, to see what we eventually do with our ‘new’ bridge lamps.
I hope these three projects have inspired you to try a bridge lamp makeover. They’ll light up your life!
As always, pinning is always welcome and appreciated!
If you decide to go flea marketing in search a bridge lamp to upcycle for your own home, don’t forget to keep calm and carry the kit! We’ve assembled a DIY flea market survival kit for your travels, and adorned it with a free printable, so check it out.