Restoring Ethnic Table Lamps. The Story of a Neglected 1970s Table Lamp.

Restoring Ethnic Table Lamps. The Story of a Neglected 1970s Table Lamp.

A long forgotten piece of iconic 1970s lighting history.

At a visit to a recent garage sale I found myself in possession of a rather lovely if somewhat neglected 1970s Table Lamp. The lamp had a bit of history which always adds to the interest of an older item. The elderly lady selling the lamp was downsizing and the lamp had become surplus to requirements. The lamp was originally purchased at an Antique shop in London’s Portobello road way back in the 1970s. The lamp is “Ethnic” by design and was probably sold at the height of the 1970s interest in North African and in particular Moroccan arts and crafts.

This lamp is cast from hollow brass with a simple but interesting profile and shape. The lamp is made in two parts with a fine threaded section forming the mating joint. This lamp was almost certainly made in India for export to Europe to feed the demand for Ethnic items of homeware. The lamp had not been used for many years and looked dull and unloved, however bad the lamp looks at first glance there is quite obvious potential and my feeling was that with a little work the lamp could be made to shine again nearly 50 years after it was first purchased and used in a home. This great looking old ethnic lamp was found complete with its old wiring and fittings which were obviously unsafe and would not meet modern standards. The other obvious issue that needed addressing was the finish. When the lamp was originally made it would have been brightly polished and then sealed with a thick coat of roughly applied varnish or lacquer, when it was made the finish would have looked OK but with the passing of time the varnish has deteriorated and the brass has tarnished in between the original rough brush strokes giving the lamp its streaky look.

Ethnic Table Lamps

Ethnic Table Lamps

Ethnic Table Lamps

Here is the old ethnic lamp as found.

Refinishing and bringing the Brass back to life.

The brass colour of this lamp is a quite dirty looking yellow. The old varnish coating was thick and tough and the only way of reviving the finish was to use a strong good quality paint stripper. The stripper was thickly applied and left for 20 mins, after another coat and some brushing in the varnish started to loosen. The lamp was now in need of a finish refresh. I decided to give the brass a really gentle rub down with super fine and best quality wire wool of 000 Grade. After a few minutes of gentle rubbing with the wire wool I added some good quality metal polish called auto solve, the polish started to give the brass a lovely aged glow, I polished the lamp to a position where some of the original tarnish marks and brush strokes remained. It would be easy to spend more time and polish the lamp to a deeper and flawless glow however I think the lamp looks better with some of its history and dark lowlights showing through. The newly polished finish also revealed a few dents from use and signs of manufacturing which really add to the look of any piece of old brass lighting.

Ethnic Table Lamp

The two parts of the lamp after polishing.

The joining threads used on these old Indian lamps are fine but very well made. These can be a tendency for theses threads to become loose with use and time which can lead to problems so whenever I reassemble a lamp like this, I always secure any threads with glue.

Ethnic Table Lamps

The Threads


This interesting piece of ethnic brass lighting will obviously need completely rewiring and will need some modern fittings and components to bring it back to a usable and safe condition.

When restoring any old lighting or rewiring any lamp there are a number of important safety points to remember.

  • Always follow your local or national standards and only use components that meet your countries regulations.
  • In the UK metal lighting such as this lamp needs to be earthed (grounded), check the wiring standards in your country.
  • Always smooth down and fit protective plastic or rubber grommets to areas, such as tubing, where your cable passes.
  • Always fit a cable-stay, point where the cable is fixed that will stop the wiring being pulled out of your bulb holder in the event of the cable being pulled or the lamp dropped.

The wiring route on this lamp was fairly straight forward, at the top the lamp has a standard ½ Inch thread which modern bulb holders are still made with. A couple of things to watch for on this type of lamp is rough casting edges and small wiring openings, this lamp was made in the days of thin two core wiring so the cable entry hole on the base will need to be opened up to accept a wiring grommet and the much larger three core earthed cable.

Ethnic Table Lamp

Ethnic Table Lamp

The lamp was fitted with grommets and also a length of protective sleeve over the cable where the rough brass moulding edges are located, this is well over the top but it is something a like to do as it shows that thought has been put into a restoration like this. A Bulb holder was wired up and fitted to the existing lamp thread. UK wiring is Green & Yellow for Earth – Blue for Neutral – Brown for Live. With the bulb holder fitted this old lamp now meets modern safety standards.

Finished and In Use.

Ethnic Table Lamp

The finished lamp

With the revived finish complete this old 1970s lamp is again ready to be used for the original purpose of lighting a space.


Ethnic Table Lamp


Ethnic Table Lamp

The lamp back in use after decades of being forgotten.

In use and with a shade fitted the lamp comes to life. Here we can see the lamp in use with an original 1970s Orange plastic ribbon shade and also a modern thin pleat coolie shade, the lamp looks good with both shades showing that it could be incorporated into both retro and modern settings.

Even a simple restoration project can bring a great sense of satisfaction and is great fun. I would encourage anyone to bring new life to an old unloved item, if you fancy having a go take your time and always remember and follow these simple pointers.

  • Shop around.
  • Find an item.
  • Give it some thought.
  • Do research.
  • Restore.
  • Antiques are Green


This was a short job that was fairly straightforward. I am really happy with the end result and I am delighted to have provided this old ethnic lamp with new life.

Materials – Earthed Wiring. Earthed switched Brass bulb holder. Grommets. Plastic cable tie used as a cable stay. 000 Grade Wire wool and sundries.

Time Spent on the lamp 2 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 refinishing 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.


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