10 Creative Uses for Old Lamps

Don't pitch it. Get creative!
Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Whether you're interested in going green or just can't bear to deal with the fallout once Aunt Mildred finds out you hate her wedding present, you may not want to pitch lamps that aren't being used. Sure, there are a variety of reasons to want to get rid of an old lamp:

  • Age: Maybe you're worried that an old lamp could be a fire hazard, or it's just so hideously outdated that you have to resist the urge to knock it off the table "accidentally" every time you dust.
  • Dependability: If an old lamp doesn't work, that's usually a pretty good sign that you should think about getting a new one … unless you just need to replace a bulb.
  • Style: Trends and personal preferences come and go, and lamps are often expensive items necessary to lighting a room. What to do when a room or sense of style outgrows the lamps selected a decade (or several decades) ago?

These are all valid points, but why not make them reasons to repurpose or recycle an old lamp rather than throw it away? We hope the following ideas will offer you a way to make peace with your lighting scheme and avoid Aunt Mildred's wrath all at the same time.


10: Create Lightly Loaded Planters

Many old vintage lamps have a beautiful glass or ceramic shade, but the wiring is worn out, components are broken, or perhaps the style just isn't up-to-date. This quick project allows you to recycle the pretty shade for a good cause. Just hang it upside down, suspended by a chain to make a lovely planter, bird feeder or even candleholder. This works with bases that are relatively sturdy or particularly decorative, like glass.

If the glass shade comes from a ceiling fixture, there may already be holes in the glass that you can use. If not, you can drill your own, but be careful. Make three holes equidistant from each other. The holes should be just large enough to fit your bolts through. Once you've finished making your holes, lay the glass shade face up on a semisoft surface, like a sheet, so you won't inadvertently damage the material.


  1. Insert the three bolts into the respective holes, so the points are facing inward, inside the bowl.
  2. Place a washer on each bolt inside the bowl, then loop the chain link around each bolt.
  3. Place caps onto bolt points and tighten with pliers.
  4. At the other end of the chains, connect with the key ring.
  5. Fill with a lovely potted plant, some candles or floral arrangement and hang where desired.

9: Make a Shady New Look

Look at that jug with different eyes. Doesn't it look like a lamp base?

If you have great old shades and no decent bases, consider using them atop something cute like an old jug or bottle. Warning: if you want to wire the "new" lamp, you should talk to a local pro or learn about the skill extensively online.

Here are a few ideas for repurposing an old shade:


  • Jugs and jars: Flea markets and yard sales are full of vintage and brightly colored bottled that are large enough to look great with a shade atop them.
  • Wine glasses: Depending on the size of the shade, a large martini, margarita or wine glass could be beautifully illuminated as a lamp.
  • Dolls: Antique or even just retro dolls are often hollow and therefore easy to slip wiring into. This could be a fun project for a girl's bedroom or as an artsy piece, depending on the style of the doll and shade.
  • Hurricane lamps: Since they're rarely in use, secondhand shops often have a selection of old-fashioned hurricane lamps. Since they have an empty glass base, they can be easy to retrofit with new wiring for a simple shade.
  • Candlesticks: They can be just the right height for a lamp and since most are hollow, it can be easy to rewire them for active duty with the right shade.

8: Turn the Base Into a Bookend

Maybe you'd still like to use your lamp in some functional way. Luckily, sturdy lamp bases can be repurposed as bookends, while slender bases look lovely holding candles instead of a bulb. Just gut them of their electrical parts and use as bookends, candlestick holders or other household items.

Be creative and don't be afraid to experiment. For instance, you can try a mosaic pattern or use shellac to attach a series of favorite postcards. Cover the base with old stamps or try a stencil with a bright contrasting color. You can also use a clear lacquer to affix any items to your base.


There's also the option of sewing original covers for your bases, using a new pattern.

7: Smash Them!

It's not a broken lamp, it's a mosaic.

Hate that old lamp? Just smash the thing already. If you have a lamp that would look better in pieces, break it carefully and reuse the pieces to form a garden border or use in a mosaic. Here's how.

  1. Find a good space outdoors for smashing your lamp. You don't want to find tiny shards of glass in the toes of family members or pets later on.
  2. Cover your smash area with newspaper. Wear safety glasses.
  3. Place lamp on smash area and cover with an old towel -- one you won't mind throwing away. Make sure the lamp base is completely covered.
  4. Fold up longer ends of newspaper, effectively sealing the lamp between newspaper and towel.
  5. Smash methodically, moving from one end to the other. Hit lightly for larger pieces, and smash areas again for smaller pieces.
  6. Carefully shake towel above newspapers. Discard (since you don't want to take the chance of small, embedded shards in the cloth).
  7. Pick up the newspaper carefully by the edges, move your glass shards into a container until you're ready to make them into something [source: Mosaic Safety].



6: Mix and Match a New Look

Often a lamp may be in good working order, but it just doesn't match the room's style or color scheme any longer. Don't be afraid to spray-paint the base and mix up the shades for a whole new look. This is an especially nice way to hold onto lamps you thought would not fit a room's updated décor.

Spray-painting a metal or plastic base is simple -- spray the base thoroughly outside to avoid fumes, allow to dry and repeat for a second coat (add clear coat if desired to finish with a higher polish).


Spraying a ceramic base is trickier, due to the way ceramics are fired and glazed.

  1. Rough the surface with sandpaper or another abrasive, like a scouring pad. Gently scratch-up the surface evenly. Dust well or vacuum surface to remove all traces of dust.
  2. Spray ceramic base with an epoxy primer.
  3. When primer is dry, apply your color evenly. Apply a second coat, then use a clear finish to add high polish [source: Painting Tile].

Once you have a freshly painted base and new-looking shade, you'll be able to mix and match your options to optimize a room's flair and décor.

5: Change Their Function

You can make a more creative doorstop than that.
©Getty Images/Jupiterimages/Photos.com

Even if you can't imagine a new function for an old lamp, you can still use them as decorative pieces around the house. Once you part with the shade, consider cleaning out the bases, especially if they're large. They can make beautiful vases or -- believe it or not -- gorgeous doorstops.

If your old base is made of glass, fill it with brightly colored glass beads, available in bulk from craft stores. Ceramic bases can be decorated and repainted. Metal lamps, which are naturally very sturdy, can be spray-painted to freshen up the original metal tone.


4: Add Some Holiday Cheer

Any holiday you can think of is made better with a little creative decorating. This idea is for those lamps with lovely pendants or drops of any kind. It's easy to transform them into decorations perfect for a holiday tree, wreaths or even earrings, depending on the side of the drops.

You'll need the following items:


  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Craft wire
  • Magnifying glass
  • Sewing needle
  • Small craft beads
  • Straight earring hooks

Examine the pendants attached to your lamp. Taking your pliers, gently open the small connecting rings at the spot where you want to salvage the pendant. Slip the pendant off the adjoining wire. Leave the pendant's connecting ring slightly open.

Using craft wire, attach the pendants to a blank wreath or enhance another pre-decorated wreath. If you want to use the glass beads individually, remove from pendant with pliers and attach to wreath with hot glue gun.

For earrings: Use as much of the pendant as you desire, add or subtract beads, filling gaps with different colored craft beads for effect. At the top of each earring, open the connection ring and slip ends through earring hooks, squeezing tightly to close when finished [source: Stringing].

With a little creativity, antique or retro pendants from lamps can be used as ornaments

3: Build Bug Zappers

Use that lamp to get rid of unwelcome guests.

Recycled lamps can make an outdoor setting cozy and even be used to keep annoying pests away. Simply gut the base and fill with citronella torch oil and a wick. That lamp will still be providing light but, rather than attracting bugs, it'll be keeping them at bay. You'll want to caulk any fractures and plug the hole where the electrical cord used to extend from.

This new use works best with lamps that can handle the outdoors. Avoid fragile and delicate lamps for this project. That doesn't mean that it has to be a big lamp, however. In fact, smaller bases are best for outdoor use, since they can be moved around easily.


2: Use Them for Stable Bases

Need a cute end table or coffee table more than a pair of old lamps last used during the Carter administration? Consider using one wide-bottomed base to make an end table. Two matching bases are perfect for a medium-size coffee table. All you need to do is select the tabletop and attach the lamps as the legs and, voila, you have a piece of furniture unique to your home.

Remember to select lamp bases that will bear the weight of a tabletop and any items that will potentially be resting on the table. Spindly or fragile lamps are not a good choice. Think heavy, sturdy metal or wood.


1: Give a Little

That old lamp could play a supporting role in a local production.

If you really can't think of anything you want to do with that old lamp, donate it. Goodwill and other similar charities are always a safe bet, but also consider local theaters and schools with tech programs. The theaters can use the lamps as props -- especially if they're vintage -- and the tech programs can use your old lamps as guinea pigs in class. A high school, summer stock program, local community group or Shakespeare festival are among the possibilities.

Your nearest recycling center may accept old lamps of different materials. You can also look at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in case you have an older or mercury-containing lamp that needs to be disposed of as hazardous waste [source: EPA].

That dusty lamp of yours may be old but, odds are, it's still of value in one form or another.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Blydenburgh, Stephanie. "Make it Mosaic: How to Tile a Tabletop." DigsMagazine.com. (April 27, 2011). http://www.digsmagazine.com/lounge/lounge_tiletable.htm
  • CraftyCottage.com. "Ideas for Decorating Lamps." (April 27, 2011). http://www.craftycottage.bluesagepress.com/index_files/lamps.htm
  • DailyMotion.com. "How to Rewire a Lamp." (April 27, 2011). http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9sdp5_how-to-rewire-a-lamp_school
  • Davies, Anna. "How to Paint Ceramic Tile." Redbook.com. (April 27, 2011). http://www.redbookmag.com/recipes-home/tips-advice/paint-ceramic-tile
  • Debransky, Megan. "Why Glass Comes in Different Colors." Earth 911.com. (April 27, 2011). http://earth911.com/news/2011/04/08/why-glass-comes-in-different-colors/
  • Earth 911.com. "Recycling." (April 27, 2011). http://earth911.com/recycling/
  • Editors of Publications International, Ltd. "How to Rewire a Lamp in 9 Steps." HowStuffWorks.com. (April 27, 2011). https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/how-to-rewire-a-lamp.htm
  • Editors of Publications International, Ltd. "How to Refinish Furniture." HowStuffWorks.com. (April 27, 2011). https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/how-to-refinish-furniture15.htm
  • EPA.gov. "List of Retailers that recycle." (April 27, 2011). http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html#whererecycle
  • EPA.gov. "Mercury Lamps." (April 27, 2011). http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastetypes/universal/lamps/faqs.htm
  • Etsy Online Craft Store. http://www.etsy.com/
  • GlassDrillBit.org. "Drilling Through Glass." (April 27, 2011). http://glassdrillbit.org/
  • House and Home.org. "Decorating Lamp Shades." (April 27, 2011). http://www.houseandhome.org/how-to-decorate-lamp-shades
  • How-to-make-jewelry.com. "How to String Beads." (April 27, 2011). http://www.how-to-make-jewelry.com/how-to-string-beads.html
  • JoyofShards.co.uk. "How to Make a Pique Assiette Mosaic House Number Plate by the Direct Method." (April 27, 2011).
  • http://www.thejoyofshards.co.uk/projects/pr1step1.shtml
  • Schexnayder, Faith. "How to Make Tile Mosaics and Patterns: Adhering Mosaic Tiles." Flatforkstudio.com. (April 27, 2011). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd-TXCGVvEc
  • Tedeschi, Bob. "Rewiring an Old Lamp." NewYorkTimes.com. (April 27, 2011). http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/garden/07prag.html?_r=1