I recently gave a set of vintage 80s lamps a modern makeover using a little spackle and some paint. The faux ceramic pottery lamps turned out to be pretty good dupes of the Pottery Barn Courtney lamp!
In this post I show you exactly how I turned the Before into an After!
When Did 80s Vintage Get So Expensive?
I have a not-so-hidden talent. Put 10 items in front of me and I will choose the most expensive one. Every single time. This is not a good talent to have.
Recently I was looking for ceramic pottery style lamps for our console table. The table is 6′ long and sits behind a 12′ sectional, so the lamps needed to be hefty.
All I needed was the the right size and shape. Even if they weren’t the right color, I could always spray paint them to match. Surely I could find something that wouldn’t break the bank.
Enter my talent. This set of vintage pottery lamps on Etsy was exactly what I was looking for.
Only – they were almost $800. Ummmmm. What?
Modern Pottery Lamps
These were the next contenders for my perfect pottery lamp. I use the word “contenders” loosely.
I absolutely loved the ceramic glaze finish on the Pottery Barn lamp and the price was more reasonable than the others. But, at $230 it wasn’t in the budget either.
The Facebook Marketplace Find
When this set of classic 80s lamps popped up on Facebook Marketplace for $20 I jumped on them. They were the perfect shape and size!
But, my heart kept going back to that rich glazed finish on the Pottery Barn lamp. My vision had changed. So, now I had to figure out how to turn these lamps into that new vision.
Painting finished pieces to look like ceramics is tricky. Glazed pieces have a depth of color that spray paint can’t match.
This summer, I used a paint layering technique to transform this purple Goodwill find into a celedon ceramic dupe.
I figured I could try the same thing with the lamps once I smoothed out the texture.
So, with a little time, some inexpensive spackle, and a few colors of craft paint, I transformed my $20 marketplace find into a fairly good dupe of the $230 Pottery Barn Courtney lamps.
Here is how I did it.
- Spackle or Joint Compound
- Putty Knife
- 220 Grit Sandpaper
- Craft Paint (3-4 similar colors)
- Krylon Triple Thick Gloss Spray
1. Prep The Surface
Clean the surface to remove all dirt, oil, and any lingering grime. Hot soapy water is usually all you need. Just be sure to rinse it thoroughly.
Oh, and keep the electrical cords away from water!
Prime If Needed
If the surface of your lamp is slick or shiny, spray it with one coat of spray primer to give the spackle something to grip onto.
You could also do a light sanding to rough up the surface slightly. My lamps were already a rough texture, so I was able to skip this step.
2. Fill Details & Skim Coat
Fill Grooves & Details
If you have any details or deep grooves like on my lamps, fill those with spackle.
If the details are deeper than 1/8″, fill the grooves part way, allow to dry, and repeat.
This will insure that the compound dries completely between each step.
After the grooves are filled, smooth a thin base coat over the entire lamp. This is just a skim coat, so don’t worry about full coverage.
Smooth Surface with water
Dip your fingers into a little water and smooth out the spackle. Don’t worry if its not perfect. You will be adding more layers.
Let the lamp dry completely. I used regular spackle – not the lightweight / quick dry type – because I wanted to be sure that I had enough working time to get the surface really smooth.
That meant dry time was in the neighborhood of 1 – 5 hours, so I left mine to dry overnight.
Trust me – you don’t want to be putting the final details on your lamp and have the coating shift or slide because the bottom layer never completely dried.
Ask me how I know.
3. Final Spackle Layer
Spread On The Spackle
Add another coat of spackle all over the lamp. This one can be thicker than the first since you have already filled the grooves.
I tried using the putty knife for this step, but the curved edges of the lamp made it difficult.
So, I resorted to using my fingers and that worked much better. I had more control over the thickness of the goop.
You really can’t mess up this step. Just slap on enough spackle to make sure the entire lamp is covered.
Smooth With Water
Let the spackle layer dry for 10 – 15 minutes.
Then, dip your fingers in water and smooth over the surface to even out the finish.
Use really light pressure to shape the spackle into the form you want. Watch out for sections that may be thicker than others and smooth those down.
I again let mine dry 24 hours so that the finish would be fully dry – which is essential for the next step.
Lightly sand the entire lamp with 220 grit sandpaper to get rid of any bumps or dings.
I chose to leave some imperfections in mine for a more realistic look.
Use a damp cloth to clean all the sanding dust off the lamp AND your table or work surface before moving on to painting. Any dust particles will create imperfections in the final finish.
First, Let’s Talk Technique
Before we start the step by step painting directions for, let’s talk about technique.
Recreating the look of fired glaze is tricky, but not difficult – once you understand the process and why that process works.
Looking closely at the inspiration lamp, you can see that the color is not even. There’s the obvious cream color of the overall lamp, but you can also see bits of tan and brown beneath.
In fact, all of the colors on the swatch were pulled directly from the photo of the lamp.
To mimic the look of depth of color in real glazed pottery, you will layer thin coats of 3-4 similar paint colors and finish with a gloss coat.
Choose 3-4 Similar Colors
The exact colors are not as important as the technique. Remember, I used this same technique in blues and greens for the celadon ceramic dupe above.
The key to achieving the most realistic look of ceramic glaze is layering several VERY thin coats of paint in similar colors.
Choose 3-4 colors to layer. I picked tan, beige, off-white, and white (not pictured).
Now – let’s get painting.
Spray the entire lamp with white primer and allow to dry. Why prime first? I’m glad you asked.
We need to prime the lamps to create some “slip” on the surface. The spackle or joint compound is porous and it will drink in the paint before we can blend the colors.
Let the primer dry.
Wet Brush Base Coat – Darkest Color
Using the darkest color, dip your brush lightly into the paint and then into a cup of water to dilute it.
Lightly brush the watered down paint over the entire lamp surface.
I chose to use the tan as a base since it looks like the fired clay.
The color will look uneven and streaky. That’s ok.
This is just your base color that will provide some depth to the final look. You will continue to build the other colors just like this.
Wet Brush Lightest Color
Use the same wet brush technique to cover the lamp with white (or your preferred lightest color).
Notice that the darker color is still showing through in some spots.
Remember, the key to this technique is multiple thin coats!
Color Wash With Thinned Paint
The next part is the secret to creating the look of real ceramic glaze.
For the remaining layers, thin the paint 1:1 with water to make a color wash. The color should be almost transparent. As you add layers of watery paint, the colors will blend to create the look of glazed pottery.
Keep a VERY wet brush and start glazing from the top.
The thinned paint will drip and run. That is what you want. Just work your way down the lamp brushing out the drips as you go.
As the glaze dries, watch out for runs and lightly brush across them to remove.
Let each coat of glaze dry before adding the next coat.
Continue to add washes of various colors until you get the final color you want. The darker layer you painted first will give you depth and dimension through the sheer color wash layers.
The good news is that you literally can’t mess it up. If you don’t like it – paint over it and start again!
TIP: Test your technique on an old vase or ceramic plate. I bought 2 cheap vases from Goodwill for .79 each and practiced until I was happy with the look.
6. Finish With Gloss Spray
When you love the color of your lamp, its time to bring it to life with a glossy glaze.
There are a bunch of spray gloss options out there, but Krylon Triple Thick Crystal Clear Glaze is my favorite for creating the look of ceramic glaze.
It goes on thicker than the others and builds to create a depth you just can’t get from any of the others.
Spray three thin coats, allowing each coat to dry for 2-3 minutes.
NOTE: Do this step outside and wear a mask if you have one. The fumes are very strong.
And, that’s it! I love how the lamps turned out. They are exactly what I hoped for! Let me know if you try the technique. I’d love to see the different color combos you come up with!