My inspiration for this West Elm knock-off is their Round Rope lamp. This lamp would have been right at home in some of the seaside houses my family rented on vacation when I was a kid. They make me think of tidy little guest rooms and ocean breezes.
But of course, the genuine article would cost me an arm and a leg, and I need both those appendages if I'm going to keep DIYing at this pace.
The round shape of the inspiration lamp from West Elm was one of the most charming things about it. I got lucky and found two roughly orb-shaped lamps at the first thrift store I visited. Neither lamp is horrendous on its own, but they're definitely from decades past.
Next I went to Harbor Freight for rope. Harbor Freight is a great resource for crafting by the way. I get my glue sticks there and I find that the glue works a lot better than the stuff I get from the craft store, and costs about a third as much. Harbor Freight is like the Trader Joe's of hardware stores: awesome low prices and their own brands.
Anyway, I bought a few rolls of half-inch thick sisal rope. I wasn't sure how much rope it would take to cover my lamps, so I got a lot. You can always find a use for extra rope after all. Each roll is around $4.
I used a sharp pair of scissors to cut the rope. I found it a lot easier to cut when I unwound it a little and cut the smaller strands.
A good place to start gluing is just under the power cord, because that side will be facing the wall anyway. I didn't put glue under the entire length of rope, just every few inches. I glued about 10 inches at a time, pressing the rope down for a few seconds while it dried.
I started with the smaller white lamp because I knew it would be more straightforward. I was careful to layer the rope tightly. I didn't want any of the original lamp to show.
The short maroon lamp was going to be trickier because of the weird off-set ring around the middle. I decided to only cover those rings with rope, which meant the exposed maroon color had to go.
I primed the whole lamp with spray primer. I covered the parts I didn't want painted with newspaper and painter's tape, including the first few feet of the power cord.
Once the primer had dried, I used a chip brush to add a few rough layers of acrylic craft paint in a warm gray color. Like rope, a warm gray color reminds me of the seaside, like the faded wood shingles on a Cape Cod cottage.
The next big challenge was finding the right lamp shades. This was the biggest reason that it has taken me so long to finish this project. White drum shades have only recently become popular (again), probably because of the likes of West Elm. But that means that they are very hard to find at thrift stores, where the classic bell-shaped shades are the predominant style.
Second-hand drum shades seemed so rare that I even considered dropping the money for some new ones from World Market, but I couldn't bring myself to pay $40 for two lampshades when the lamps themselves were less than $10. After a few weeks of searching at various thrift stores, I found this…um…beauty.
Yeah, it didn't exactly scream West Elm. But some dedication picking off dried hot glue from the previous owner's improvements left me with a tidy lampshade. With a few dents and pulled threads, it isn't perfect, but I can always turn the bad parts to face the wall.
I actually had to go back to the thrift store to find a taller shade harp to make this shade hover at the right height. That added a few more weeks to the delay. Until finally, I had my first rope lamp.
The second lampshade wasn't any easier to acquire. I eventually ditched the idea of finding one at a thrift store and turned to Craigslist. I knew it was a long shot. Who the heck would go through the trouble of making an ad just for a lampshade?
Answer: some guy named Pete who lived in the town west of me. We met up in the Whole Foods parking lot. I handed him a $5 bill and he gave me a dusty but otherwise brand new white drum lampshade.
Obviously, my rope lamps are very different from the inspiration. For one thing, they are much bigger. The West Elm lamp is actually quite petite. By comparison the taller of my two lamps looks enormous, but I think mine makes a bigger style statement. Also, my lamps are a lighter color because I used sisal rope, instead the jute. But they give me the same happy seaside vacation feeling when I look at them.