Our Magic ($5) Lantern


I, along with probably every other female out there, am fascinated with lanterns.  Does it strike anyone else as funny that we’ve moved well beyond the time of needing lanterns for light and yet they’re popping up everywhere lately, but as decor instead of the means to see at night?

Sources (top left, clockwise): Z Gallerie, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn

As Chris will remind you (over and over and over….), I have no problem purchasing completely useless, non-purposeful, and non-functioning items for the mere reason that they look pretty.  And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

While I can usually get away with that, what I can’t get away from is spending a fortune on these “useless” items.  That said, the lanterns above range from $24-$41 for a small one to $99 to $119 for a large one.  Time to find an alternative.

On one of our many Habitat for Humanity ReStore trips, I found these guys (at $5 a pop) practically pleading me to take them home as my next project.


They were so dusty, I couldn’t even tell what color they were supposed to be until we got in the sun.  Turns out they were brass at one point and had rusted into the above state.  I originally planned to transform them and use one as a hanging pendant in our entry but it didn’t look quite right.  I took a second look and knew they’d be perfect to repurpose for the “lantern look.”

Chris worked some voodoo magic to disassemble the lanterns for spraying ease.  Then, they received a quick visit from my friend Mr. Oil Rubbed Bronze Spray Paint, found at any home improvement store. And, voilah, instantly transformed from gross, rusty light to chic lantern.


There are exactly three phrases in the English language that will literally paralyze me with fear: my dad asking if I did my Calculus homework, my mom yelling my first, middle, and last name, and Julie yelling “look what I found!” in a store. This fear manifested itself in the ReStore a few months ago when Julie rounded the corner with an armful of some of the most disgusting lanterns I’ve ever seen in my life. You couldn’t have paid me to take them home, but apparently Julie thought it should be the other way around. Great.

First of all, I should note that these weren’t actually “lanterns” in the classical sense, but rather cheap brass lighting fixtures found outside any 80s or 90s builder home. The term “dime-a-dozen” comes to mind, but Julie had already decided that these could somehow be magically transformed into something that looked like a real lantern. That store isn’t air-conditioned very well and I wanted to go home, so at the time $5 a piece seemed like a reasonable price to pay if it let me leave. I should have saved my $5.

After we get home, it was obvious they needed to be cleaned up. One thing I learned about most lights like this is that they’ve very easy to put together; more often than not, they’re basically held together by one long bolt that acts as a spindle, and everything else is pretty much pressed together. Anyway, I got everything pulled apart and cleaned all the glass panels fairly quickly:

Here’s what the larger lantern looks like completely disassembled:

Anyway, cleaning the metal was going to be a task all it’s own. The corrosion had built up and trapped so much dirt that it was like a cocoon of nastiness encasing the brass, so I filled a bucket with vinegar and let it soak overnight. The next day I had a surface that was at least clean enough to paint, so I hosed it off and partially reassembled it. Time to spray:

I left the old light bulb in there so paint wouldn’t get in the socket.

And reassembling everything (I only lost one bolt!):

Huzzah! New “lantern”. Note that the top is different: I originally put this one together with the intent that it would hang in our entryway, but Julie didn’t like it there so in the “after” pictures you can see the dome and hook I ultimately capped it off with.


As you can probably tell, the lanterns are playing musical chairs around the house until I find the perfect spot.



Filed under Easy DIY Projects

46 responses to “Our Magic ($5) Lantern

  1. Very creative and cool! Great idea! xx Kristin

  2. DO or DIY

    Thanks Kristy! I love easy repurposing projects- especially when all it takes is a good ole can of spray paint! Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Mary H.

    I like them on the mantle.

    • DO or DIY

      Thanks Mary! I have quite the rotating collection on the mantel, but I agree, I like them there too!


  4. Michelle

    Great idea! I love the ReStore. I’ve been looking for something to put as decor on a bathroom shelf, and this is it. Thanks for posting.

    • DO or DIY

      Thanks Michelle! So glad to hear this inspired you. Good luck with your project and happy ReStore hunting!


  5. Debbye

    Love this idea! You’re so lucky that your husband helps like you like this! Do you put anything under the candles or do you have any ideas about what would look good to put under them?

    • DO or DIY

      He reminds me how lucky I am pretty frequently, Debbye! 🙂 I currently don’t have anything under the candles right now as it’s more decorative than functional. You may want to try a small mirror. Several different sized mirror options can be found at craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, usually around the candle aisle. The mirror could be a neat affect. If not, you could always spray paint the mirror with the same oil rubbed bronze spray paint for the same look.


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  7. So clever! This is one of those questionable ideas that you know could go either way, like it’s the greatest plan ever or you need to just throw it away when you’ve finished messing it up. Yours definitely turned out to be an awesome idea!

    • DO or DIY

      Thanks Kristen! I was a little nervous in the beginning but I figured if I was going to experiment on transforming something, it may as well only cost $5 so it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it flopped. I’m glad it ended up working out, not only because it looks great but because I can tell Chris “I told you so.” 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!


  8. I use cotton balls to fill the sockets. It works really well.

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  10. Haeli

    Like this. You know, you could always spray a wooden plaque to create a base. Might be tricky to get the right shape, but it’s a thought. I actually disassembled one of the small ones and plan on putting images behind the glass and covering the edges with copper foil, one day……

    • DO or DIY

      That’s a great idea for a base, Haeli. Thanks for sharing! I’m hoping the hubs may have a trick to carving the specific shape out of the wood but, hey, it’s worth a shot!


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  12. Kathy

    I am wondering about the shapes. In the earlier pics, the supports are slanted a bit, but the the later one s show them straight up and down?

    • DO or DIY

      You can blame my poor camera angle for that, Kathy. 🙂 The lights were straight but I set them on our sloped driveway when I took the shot, thus they look a little crooked.


  13. Stephanie

    I love these!!!! Such an amazing find and transformation. Love them on the mantle!!!

  14. Rhonda

    Who’re did you get the items you capped off the lights with?

    • DO or DIY

      It was actually part of the light- we didn’t need to purchase any additional pieces. We reassembled some of the domed mounting pieces slightly different after we finished spraying it. We basically just left off the top mounting piece you see in the before picture, which gave it more of a lantern look.


  15. Gosh I love brilliant people who are willing to share. Thanks.

  16. Cory

    Awesome!!!!! I bought an old lap like that and I couldn’t figure out how to take it apart and paint it, so it’s been sitting there. I’m going ti take it out this weekend and work my magic. Can’t wait!

    • DO or DIY

      Good luck with the project, Cory. Don’t you love how light manufacturers are so good at hiding the screws in plain sight? 🙂


  17. Michelle

    I have done this before and am wondering if you had any luck keeping the lantern from fogging up after you light the candle. I may need to add more venting holes or something but am curious if you have any suggestions.


    • DO or DIY

      Hm, good question. I actually just use ours for decor and never light the candles in them so I haven’t had this problem. While drilling holes may help a little, I think it would still cause a bit of smoke and fogginess. What could help is removing the glass panels in the back of the lantern (so you can’t see it) to allow the candle to obtain enough oxygen and avoid fogginess. Yay chemistry! 🙂

      – Julie

  18. Amber

    oh heavens thank you!! I’ve had this huge stunning outdoor light brand new in a box in my garage for years! It was given to me but it was way to large for my house!! Now it has a purpose!

  19. This is ingenious! Now I will be on the lookout for some of these!

  20. kmnystrom

    Great job! Where did you get the “hook” (round loop of metal) for the top of the one lantern? I don’t see it in the before pictures of the pieces. Thanks!

  21. Laura

    what did you “cap it off” with?

  22. Deenie

    How about flameless candles. Some are very realistic looking.

  23. Traci

    looking at the awesome lanterns you made.
    How did you get the part off the top
    With the wires sticking out? I gotta make some!!! I LOVE them!!!

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  25. Tish Harris

    Beautiful. Great job & doable. Thank you.

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