Mother Earth Living

Try This: Paper Lantern Lamp Shade

Turn a boring paper lantern into a personalized lamp shade in a few easy steps.
By Susan Wasinger
May/June 2004
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Artistically and geometrically interesting, lanterns can be strung from corner to corner to bathe a room in light. These spread the illumination and make your watts go farther. Use compact fluorescent bulbs to get the most bang for the buck.
Photo By Susan Wasinger

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We all know compact fluorescent lights are better for the environment, but their cold, bluish, overly bright light doesn’t do much for a room’s atmosphere. The solution: Envelop fluorescent bulbs in warm, mellowed parchments, and their glow becomes more like an incandescent. These artfully customized paper lanterns do the trick while helping the light cast an ambient glow across an entire room. New smaller, compact fluorescents give off as much light as a 60-watt bulb, but they use only 13 watts of electricity. This sculptural string of lights provides 360 watts of illumination while expending the energy of just 1 standard bulb.

Decorate your paper lanterns using a couple of methods:

Tea: Start with plain, inexpensive paper lanterns in various shapes. To soften the overly white whites and bright colors, spritz on a “tea stain”—actually a strong mixture of 3 parts black tea and 1 part coffee. Allow the stain to saturate the open lantern, then hang to drip dry. Turn the lantern upside down and repeat the spray.

Paint: The paint effects look complicated but are actually easy. The more free-form and hand-done they look, the better. Using nontoxic acrylic paints, apply wide brush strokes to highlight the Asian feel. The rim of a glass and a lip-balm cap become black printing tools; simply place one hand inside the lantern and apply pressure while stamping on the color to get better contact.

Or, with a nod to Jackson Pollock, spruce up a plain globe lantern with simple swirling dribbles. Sparing use of metallic paint makes the lamps sparkle even when the lights are out.

Find it: A great selection of interesting and reasonably priced paper shades is available on the Internet at

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