Like a vase, a vintage table lamp often qualifies as a mini piece of art. Consider the colorful, textural lava-glaze lamps of the 1960s or the curvaceous brass spindle lamps created by lighting illuminist Stiffel. And that’s to say nothing of ultra-modern lamp designers like Stilnovo and George Kovacs. A pro tip: be sure to tot along your used lamp when it’s time to shade shop. Even for experts a try-on sesh is imperative to getting shape, size, and scale right.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VINTAGE TABLE LAMPS
Whether you live in a space that’s been blessed with gracious overhead lighting or not, who can resist the romantic sway of mood lighting? Yes, flickering candles are the epitome of atmospheric light, but consider a vintage table lamp the lazy girl alternative. Add one to a side table or desk to cast an ambient glow without the stress that comes from babysitting an open flame, or use one as a jumping-off point for curating a lovely lifestyle vignette.
From bold, brass stallions to sculptural Mid-Century Modern spheres, used table lamps are more than just light sources, they’re decorative objects with majorly definitive points of view. For tips on how to choose the perfect vintage table lamp for you, read on below.
WHAT SPACE ARE YOU TRYING TO LIGHT?
First off, take a moment to size up your needs. Are you lighting an office? Bedroom? Or den? Some antique table lamps are quite necky (think swing-arm lamps and goosenecks), which makes them perfect for desks, while other lamps are grand, imposing pieces that will present nicely on large-scale furniture like credenzas.
If you’re decorating a credenza, you might also want to think about employing the power of pairs. Nothing adds drama quite like a duo (Just ask the Judds). The same goes for a bed flanked by nightstands. Why not add symmetry by adding a secondhand table lamp to each?
TYPES OF VINTAGE TABLE LAMPS
Curvaceous and stately, vintage jar lamps blow air kisses to tradition while pushing a bold, modern agenda. From the urn lamp to the gourd lamp, these vintage table lamps possess come-hither curves that are perfect for offsetting the 90-degree angles most case furniture offers up. Additionally, ample proportions make them game for accenting a large piece that might dwarf a smaller style like, say, a candlestick lamp.
Our Favorite: Ginger Jar Lamp. For those with an Eastern-trained eye, once cannot do better than a vintage ginger jar lamp. It reinterprets the original blue-and-white empress verbatim, minus the removable lid. Lack of storage aside, you get the same clean, fuss-less look of a ginger jar while receiving the added bonus of a chic, warming glow.
Sometimes you need a lamp that will put its neck on the line for you. Enter the most ably-named lamps we know: the gooseneck, the swing-arm, the banker’s and architect’s lamps. Packing compact profiles, these are task-oriented lamps that typically feature a sheltering shade attached to a long, thin neck and a heavy base. Imbued with undeniable 1920s allure, these antique lamps frequently meld modernist and industrialist principles, favoring brass, bronze, or stainless finishes. As their names suggest, they’re perfect for illuminating numbers, figures, or any other dexterous task you throw at them. Desk buddy? Absolutely.
Our Favorite: Gooseneck Lamp. While the name lacks a little elegance, we’ll admit, the gooseneck lamp is a timeless beauty nonetheless. Showcasing a dome shade that protects a lightbulb mother hen-style, the lamp dissolves into a flexible, ribbed neck which is supported by an oblong base typically etched with Nouveau-inspired scrollwork. For those who dare, try rotating a gooseneck 90-degrees—see how it takes on the undeniable shape of a sconce?
Candlestick lamps may have started out as a wired translation of the table candelabra, but they’ve since become definable as any lamp with a narrow-profile body supported by a larger, pedestal-style base. If you’re in the market for something traditional, this will likely be the style of lamp you end up with, as Neoclassical and Colonial-inspired lamps often follow the candlestick formula to a tee. Similarly, so do figural lamps, which often work in a cheeky, identifiable object at the base (like a pineapple), and then dissipates into a narrow neck.
Our Favorite: Spindle Lamp. Think about the architectural interest spindles lend to stairways, and you’ll understand why we can’t get enough of brass spindle lamps. While calling them curvy might be the understatement of the century, there’s no better word to convey their beguiling charm.
Essentially a shade-less lamp, the globe lamp encompasses any lamp that features a body that also doubles as the light diffuser. Modern lamps tend to take on simplistic shapes like spheres which rest on virtually invisible bases, but in the early 20th-Century, Victorians created bronze sculptures on which a glowing sphere rested. While most of these lamps are strictly mood enhancers, there’s no denying their theatrical presence.
Our Favorite: TV Lamp. For anybody who has ever fancied a vintage table lamp shaped like a panther or a pair of Siamese cats—meet the TV lamp. These fiberglass or plaster lamps were originally designed to illuminate a TV during the era when it was believed watching TV in the dark would ruin your eyesight. Yes, we know better now, but wouldn’t these kitschy relics make adorable companions to a quirky office or bar?