Monday, January 13, 2014

Thrift Store Win: Vintage Stiffel Lamps (And a Word on Diffuser Bowl Lamps Versus Torchieres)

I have to confess something weird: I have an OCD quirk regarding lampshades. A crooked lampshade drives me crazy. Like, Yellow Wallpaper crazy. Crooked lampshades cast crooked light, which makes the entire room look askew and... wrong. It drives me nuts. Last summer, I gave away a perfectly good lamp on Craigslist because the shade hung crookedly no matter how much I tried to straighten it.

Soon after that, I found a weird but wonderful pair of vintage lamps at my favorite thrift store. They weigh enough to serve as weapons in Clue. They boast intricate Ormolu designs, and they have that je ne sais quoi that told me they might be a very special find. I mistakenly thought they were torchieres, and I liked the bases but I thought the globes on top were ugly. I bought them anyway, because a) My Thrift Store Win! senses were tingling, and b) They would never, ever have the dreaded Crooked Lampshade Problem.
I had such a good feeling about them, I Googled them as soon as I paid for them. Google blew my mind: I was the proud owner of a pair of vintage ceramic and brass lamps made by Stiffel. Which often sell for $1,000+ per pair on 1stDibs. Whoa. I've only found one pair of lamps identical to mine online, and they were selling for $1,050.00 + $125.00 shipping. Whoa again. So I took my lamps home, put them on my bedside tables, and ogled the pretty details. I think the floral motif is vaguely Art Nouveau, and the tiny snake is precious. I love the details, but soon I wished they had shades.

I started doing some research, and The Thrift Shop Romantic enlightened me (ha): I had a lamp with a diffuser. She says, "A diffuser is a milk glass shade that was common in the early electric lighting periods, and was used specifically so very bright bulbs would bend and soften light in lamps coming through fabric shades. Meaning you would plop a fringed, drum or bell shade right over it. Today, at antique stores and thrifts, we're left with the base lamp, and the diffuser-- because so many fabric shades met unpleasant fates. So to our modern eyes, it looks like we're buying a torchiere lamp, with a built-in milk glass shade." LIGHT BULB MOMENT! More research yielded the following image. Old lamps with diffuser bowls need lampshades with spider/reflector fitters. Unfortunately, they're not easy to find online.

Via Home Concept
I found exactly what I needed at Lumen. The woman who helped me knew exactly what I needed. She took me to their lampshade showroom and showed me half a dozen shades that might meet my needs. We discussed my lamp's dimensions, lampshade materials, and my budget, and then she sent me home with a gorgeous black parchment lampshade made by the New Brunswick Lamp Shade Company, on approval. Taking items home on approval is a normal thing in the high-end design world, but I've never done it, and it made me feel like a Very Fancy Lady.

Artist's Design Amateur's Rendering of  the Evental Outcome
When all is said and done, I'll have spent just under $300 for a pair of vintage Stiffel lamps with shades. Am I crazy?!?! That's a huge amount of money for me, and it's a little shocking to spend that much on some lamps. But then I think about the unusual quality of these vintage lamps, compared to the new lamps at Pottery Barn that aren't nearly as nice and cost $150 without a lampshade. So these were a good investment. I'll probably keep them forever, and I can't say that for the $40 Target lamps I bought five years ago. A perfect pair of Stiffel lamps is a treasure, so keep an eye out for Stiffel the next time you're thrifting.


  1. Wow! What a lucky find. Congratulations!

  2. Ohhhhhhh!!!!!!! I just scored a Stiffel Sedum "torchiere" too! $75 bucks thank you very much :-) And your explanation of the diffuser makes so much sense and explains why the lamp actually does look kind of funny. Now, to get a shade that looks appropriate. Thanks!!


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