Lamp Rehab Part One: Cleaning Stiffel Lamps, Sourcing Shades

stiffel

In the past few months I’ve acquired some great old lamps.  Two pair came from an estate sale, one from eBay, and a couple from the Habitat ReStore.  I’ve become quite a lamp lady, but only if they need fixing it seems.  In my quest to rehab them I’ve learned quite a bit.

 
Lamp tip 1: Use WD-40 to clean up non-brass metal lamps. 
My favorite Dallas lamp parts shop is Royal Touch Lamp and Fixture Service, and the folks there told me that most old Stiffel lamps (including these) are not brass, as many people believe.  Instead they are made from high-quality, heavy zinc plated with brass or some other metal, which is then antiqued and lacquered.  As such, they shouldn’t be polished with brass cleaner because that would ruin the finish.  The Royal Touch experts said to use a soft rag with WD-40 as a solvent to clean the surface without removing the patina.
 
That suggestion was easy and worked great.  These were $10 each and look quite nice now.  In the photo below, the lamp on the left hasn’t been cleaned, and the one on the right is after cleaning with the WD-40.

Stiffel lamps

These came from an estate sale in Amarillo and were $10 each.  You can tell they were made by Stiffel because they have metal tags along the top of the socket.  The three-way switch is on the base of the lamps.  Base switches are surprisingly superior to those on the socket.  They save time and arm motion, so if you find an old lamp with a working base switch I think it’s worth a premium.
 
Beyond surface cleanup all these needed were new shades.  Unfortunately that can be an expensive proposition.
 
Tip 2:  Become a savvy shade shopper.
  1. Bring your lamp with you when shade shopping.
  2. Start with premium lamp shade stores to get an idea of what you want, and try on as many shades as you have patience for.
  3. Check the following stores for shades, in order from least to most expensive:
  • Ross Dress for Less
  • Big Lots
  • Tuesday Morning
  • Antropologie (good sale shades)
  • Lamps Plus (also sometimes good sale shades)
  • Pottery Barn (occasionally on sale)
  • Restoration Hardware (excellent selection, shades tend to be horizontally wide rather than tall)
  • Specialty lamp stores (tend to break the bank!)
The shades on these lamps are the box-pleat silk shade in size F from Restoration Hardware.  They were expensive ($80 each!), but I thought they looked really great and decided to splurge since the lamps sit prominently in my living room and are visible from the street.  It irks me now to see they are on sale for $54.99, but they still make me happy every time I turn them on so I suppose I can live with my full-price lamp shade guilt. 
 
I’d love to hear comments on where you buy shades!  Perhaps I am need to add some places to my list.  Next up will be a post on solid brass lamp rehab.
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11 responses to “Lamp Rehab Part One: Cleaning Stiffel Lamps, Sourcing Shades

  1. You can cover the shades or even the frames with fabric. Check out:

    http://kirinote.blogspot.com/2007/09/how-to-cover-lampshade-frame.html

  2. I like Lowes for shades – nice selection of basic shades, very good prices.

  3. willim weglein

    I have a brass stiffel floor lamp and the base is totally pitted. I would like to replace the base. What do I need to do. Does the almp have a serial number that I can referenc? How do I contact you telephonically to work out my problem?

  4. Hi Erin… I just wanted to congratulate you on finding those lovely lamps. My best friend left me two Stiffels in her will, but I only got one of them. The missing one was identical to your lamps (with a black shade), and the other one was a candlestick which I have just broken the base on by tripping over the cord. Will have to start searching for a replacement base now, so wish me luck. Thanks for the cleaning info. …Mag

  5. I know this might sound crazy and wasteful but I for replacement lampshades I sometimes go to Home Source or Hobby Lobby and just buy a lamp with the shade that I need. I take the shade and I donate the lamp. It is so much less expensive than a lamp shop and the shades at both stores are so beautiful, interesting and affordable.

  6. Kaththee and I have come to the same conclusion. After seeing internet prices for shallow drum mid-mod shades I think it would be cheaper to go back to Lowe’s and spend the sixty bucks for the lamp that has the shade I wanted. Yesterday it seemed like a crazy idea. This morning it seems to be the solution. Lowe’s and a lot of stores are stocking mid-modern lamps, but the shades on the lamps from Taiwan may not be the best quality.

  7. Erin, thanks for the tip. I received one of Mother’s Stiffel lamps after she died, and yesterday found a beautiful one at Goodwill for $20! Both in the same condition as yours (Mom was sick a long time before she died). I’ll try the WD40.

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