Restoring a pair of old, neglected and forgotten French antique table lamps.
Boudoir lamps are as the name suggests are designed to be used on a womans dressing table or in a bedroom, they are usually ornate and petite in stature. This pair of lamps date from around the 1920s to 1940s period. They are well-made pieces of lighting. Each lamp has a round pressed brass base with a sweeping pedestal and an ornate floret disc leading to a solid cast and turned brass column. The column is really ornate and is beautifully turned with some fine craftsman made detailing. At the top, the lamps finish with a traditional French cup that holds the large European sized bulb holder.
These lamps are made from brass that had been given a chrome coating and a layer of varnish for protection from ageing.
At some time in history, the lamps have been rewired with French two core cable and fittings. When found the lamps were in a poor state and made great candidates for the scrap metal dealers brass bin.
As you can see the lamps were found in a poor state. Apart from the obvious wiring and electrical fitting problems the chrome and varnish had faded and had been rubbed away by years of use and polishing. The lamps had also become loose and unstable from years of use followed by many years of neglect.
Restoration, is it worth the effort and time?
When attempting to restore lamps in such poor condition there are a few things to consider before you start.
• Are the lamps complete – are there any obvious parts missing, if there are missing parts can you replace them easily with modern components.
• Wiring path – Some old lamps & lighting were manufactured in an era when the wiring was used was very thin and of a small diameter, this is especially true of some old French lighting. If the openings for the wiring path are too small in diameter then it can be impossible to install safe modern specification wiring.
• Finish – On old lighting, you must expect the finish to be used, weathered and far from perfect. This is not critically important as a degree of wear and ageing is to be expected and can actually add to the aged look of the lamp/lighting.
The first job on a project like this is to strip the lamps to the component parts. These lovely old lamps were well made and despite the initial appearance were found to be structurally sound, no parts were missing which was a big bonus.
Here is one of the lamps showing the parts used in its original construction.
Stripping. Cleaning. Polishing.
The next task was to strip the varnish from the lamps and give then a preliminary polish. The varnish was stripped using a paint stripper. Note – When using paint stripper make sure you work in a well-ventilated area or outside if possible, also wear gloves to protect your skin and goggles for eye protection.
Once the varnish was removed the lamps were polished lightly using a quality metal polish, then the lamps were reassembled and tightened up ready for rewiring.
Here they are looking much better and ready for the interesting part of the restoration.
The Wiring path on these lamps was found to be clear and good, luckily the lamps come from a manufacturer who provided ample room for the wiring route. The wiring path did have a number of rough edges, these were smoothed out with engineering files and glass paper and all areas of wire insertion were protected with grommets.
The lamps are going to be fitted with new plastic European sized screw fitting bulb holders, these unswitched bulb holders will allow the old bulb holder cups to be reused and will let the lamps remain true to the original design.
Here in the UK lamps made from metal or conductive materials have to have an earth or grounded wire fitted, in the UK we use three-pin plugs which have earth, live and neutral connections, this varies around the world so if you are in any doubt please check your local regulations with an electrician or local authority. These lamps were fitted with a proper earth grounding point under the base.
Now we come to the fun part where we can start to see the lamps becoming useable items once again.
The new bulb holders were wired and fitted, as the bulb holders are unswitched the lamps require inline on/off switches for operation as it can be annoying having to operate lighting from a wall switch.
These lamps had a large generous sized opening in the bases for cable entry, this allowed the use of modern screw fitting cable-stays which prevents the cable being pulled from the bulb holder in the event of a hard pull, this is a feature that is part of most countries specifications so it is important to incorporate it in to any restoration you carry out.
Once the wiring was completed the lamps were tested and made ready for a final polish and clean up, the lamps were also fitted with a filler inside the base and a green felt bottom which is a nice finishing touch.
The finished, cleaned and polished French Boudoir table lamps.
In use, the profile of the finely turned columns and the chromed finish provide a classical lighting effect. It brings me great pleasure to breath new life into these old neglected French lamps.
Despite the rubbing to the chromed finish and the various marks from use these early 20th Century lamps still look excellent, with time the chrome and exposed brass will tarnish and dull, this will change the finish again and may well be an improvement depending you your own taste. If you are looking for something perfect and pristine then these older gems and restoration projects are probably not for you.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading my post and that this may encourage you to “go green” and give life to a Vintage or Antique item.
Materials – Paint Stripper. Metal Polish. Earthed Wiring. European screw fitting bulb holders. Earth points. Inline switches. Cable Grips.
Time Spent on the lamp – 5 Hours.
I often have a number of Vintage Industrial items for sale in my eBay shop here – Hertfordshire Lighting and Design
I would love to hear from anyone who has performed a similar restoration project; it’s always great to share ideas with other people.
If you have any questions or need advice on any item of Vintage lighting please contact me and I will do my best to help.
Michael Adkins. firstname.lastname@example.org