The Alabaster Albatross

Virginia Dwelling has no mission statement.

Sadly, we lack the water coolers, coffee-stained carpets, and cubicle-to-cubicle quarreling to support one. One day, perhaps, we’ll gather around a worn-out conference room table and spend hours hammering out a phrase that has all the appearance of meaning but is also conspicuously void of it. Virginia Dwelling: Improving for the Better

Our fondness for the trappings of the business world aside, we certainly do have philosophies that guide us. One of the most foundational is recognizing and celebrating those things that have established themselves as classic: art forms, designs, materials, etc. From where we sit, rebuilding and restoring are unquestionably worthy pursuits.

Only time will reveal what is classic and what is a fad; or, from another angle, only time can make classics.

Enter the Alabaster Albatross: my pet name for a lamp that, until recently, spent the better part of the last two decades in the trunk of my mom’s car. (Don’t ask. I don’t know.) I’m pretty sure that the last time voltage coursed through its wires, the Backstreet Boys were the lords of pop music and getting to the airport a half hour before a flight wasn’t a problem.

For some time, this lamp has been one of those curious objects that has, for inexplicable reasons, repeatedly reentered and retreated from my consciousness. I don’t unload the groceries at my parents’ house a lot these days, but every now and then I’d get a glimpse of it and the desire to fix it would renew itself afresh. Needless to say it wasn’t in great shape, but it is carved alabaster and it didn’t take much imagination to see that it was grand in its day.

Here it is. I’m no expert on lamps, but Caroline has herded me through enough antique shops that I’d peg this as a model from the 50s or 60s – maybe a bit earlier, maybe a bit later.

Besides not having a socket, its main problem in life is that one of the alabaster rings had cracked at its narrowest point.

The first thing I did was to pull the remnants of the old socket.

With the socket off I could slide the sections of alabaster body off until I got to the damaged piece.

To fix this damage, I simply slathered the broken surfaces in super glue and held it in place for a few minutes. (My sincere apologies for the lack of an insightful, unique restoration technique!)

With the layers of the lamp strung back on the center shaft, I could attach a new socket. I used this Westinghouse 3-way model. This one is a dark bronze color. The metal hardware on the lamp was originally a bright gold, but it has darkened over time and this is a better match now.

I removed the sleeve that goes over the base of the light bulb so I was only working with the base.

The base went on neatly over the spacer and, momentarily, the wires just stuck up from the center.

Next, I took the socket fitting itself and wired the leads. I was careful to make sure the connections were neat and secure.  Before finishing, wrapped the base with electrical tape as an extra precaution (not pictured). Once wired, the outer sleeve went back over the socket. A press-fitting connects the sleeve to the base.

After securing the socket, something had to be done about the plug, itself a replacement.

I picked up some new replacement plugs from Lowe’s, but unfortunately they were too cheap to use. You’re supposed to run the wires through the housing and snap the whole thing together. Maybe this works on paper, but I could not get the two pieces to stay together – which is pretty important!

These did not work. These did not work.

As an alternative, I reused the old plug which had actual screws that secure the wires in place, a far superior connection. I also cut a new plastic face (you can see that it is missing in the earlier picture) to fit over the prongs.

After this, all that was needed was to tighten the nut on the bottom of the lamp to secure the various pieces, and the old beauty was up and running.

The final step, of course, will be to patiently wait until a shade that “doesn’t make it look old and creepy” can be found. Still, it is time to declare the Alabaster Albatross bettered.