Shiny Shells

My husband and I both really enjoy collecting seashells together. We have been growing our collection of shells found at the beach together, and have a few projects in mind for some of them – which started with these glass vase lamps we just finished for our bedroom:

Glass Vase lamp with sea shells

When we pick up shells at the beach, they’re almost always wet, which really helps the colorful ones look beautiful. When we get home and clean them off then let them dry, the colorful ones tend to have gotten duller, often with what looks like a white haze. I went looking for ways to bring back their shine and bright colors, and stumbled upon baby oil!

Using baby oil to clean seashells

Before using the baby oil, I thoroughly cleaned and disenfected my shells. I started by rinsing any debris off in the bathtub and soaking them in water for several hours. Then, I made a mixture of about 50% water and 50% bleach and soaked the shells in this for another 3-4 hours. Then I soaked the shells in clean water overnight and let them dry on a towel in the morning. Yes – this takes a long time. But most of the time is waiting for things to soak, and other things can be done in the mean time.

Using baby oil to clean seashells

I used precision tip Q-tips (which I love using for all kinds of things – they’re great!) to rub a thin layer of baby oil on the parts of the shells where I wanted to shine and/or bring out the color. It did a great job of removing the haze and dullness, and the effect remained even after it had dried! So far its been several weeks, and they are still looking great.

Apparently the mineral oil in baby oil is what actually does the trick – the baby oil I got lists mineral oil and fragrance as the only two ingredients. When I went to my drug store to find mineral oil, it was only available in large containers and for a higher per ounce price than the small 3 oz. container of baby oil I got – which was more than I will ever need.

Using baby oil to clean seashells

Sure, you can buy bigger shells at the store for not too much and leave out all this hassle. Eddie and I enjoy beachcombing though, and having pretty things we’ve found together around the house always brings smiles to our faces 🙂

DIY Glass Vase Lamp

I’ve been wanting lamps for the bedside tables in our bedroom for a while, but could never find anything I was quite happy with for our bedroom. I saw a few glass vase-type lamps I fell in love with (starting with this one at pottery barn – for $200 each!) but they were more than I wanted to pay, and I thought the cord hanging off the top of the vase didn’t look as nice as it would going out the bottom of the vase. Also, I especially loved the idea of being able to fill them with decorations, but the tops were always super skinny – an inch or so – and it would be hard to fit large-ish items inside or do any arranging. I decided that rather than spending money on something I wasn’t entirely happy with, Eddie and I could figure out a way to make a pair ourselves!

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Tutorial

So, now what you’re here for: the step-by-step instructions to make one yourself!

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Supplies


  • Glass vase
  • Lamp shade (UNO style fitter)*
  • Lamp hardware/bulb
  • Cardboard
  • Glass drilling bit
  • Stuff to fill your vase with! We used sand & seashells. See how I get my shells clean and shiny here!

Other optional supplies: spray paint to match lamp shade, silicone sealant, and soldering supplies.

*About the UNO style fitter lampshade: different lamp shades attach to lamps/bulbs in different ways, as shown in the picture above. For this method, you’ll need an UNO style fitter – where the lampshade rests on a flat base below the bulb. There are some better pictures of this further down.This is not the type of lampshade that rests on a spindle above the bulb.

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Drilling

First, I got my husband to drill a hole near the bottom of the vase for the lamp cord to go through. He used an 1/4″ glass drill bit, which can be seen on the left of the picture above. In the picture on the right, you can see about where on the vase we chose to drill the hole. While drilling, he kept the glass surface wet to avoid inhaling glass dust – and wearing a mask would be a good idea too. I wanted a vase with a nice wide mouth so I could put large-ish objects inside, if desired, and be able to arrange decorations inside easily. The ones we used are 11″ tall, the top rim is 6.5″ across, and the neck is 4″ across. I don’t know where they originally come from, but I see these exact vases in at least three different sizes at different garage sales all the time.

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Support

Next, I needed something to support the lampshade. Clear glass lamps I’ve seen at ikea and target with skinny necks had custom-made plastic tops to support the lampshades. I decided to make something similar out of cardboard – which I have plenty of on hand (free!) and doesn’t even show when the lamp shade is on. I cut out a circle the same size as the opening of my vase, then a long strip about 1/2″ thick wide. I cut a small hole in the center of the circle for the wire to go through. I then hot glued the long strip around the bottom edge of the circle to act as a lip and keep the cardboard support from sliding off my vase. Then I spray painted the whole thing white. Even though it doesn’t show at all from any normal angle with the lamp shade on, I wanted it to be unobtrusive even if you look at the lamp from straight above or down below – and spray painting it white did the trick.

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Hardware

Now, it was time to insert the lamp hardware. Because of the lamp hardware we got, we had to do a bit of soldering. (My husband and I met in an electrical engineering lab class – so we both know how to solder :D) There are plenty of lamp hardware options where the socket (the part the light plugs into) detaches, but the one we wanted at our store – with a flip switch on the cord itself – didn’t have this. If your lamp hardware detaches, just thread the cord through the lamp and your cardboard lamp-shade-support, then attach the socket to the cord. If not, and you’re comfortable with soldering (it’s not as hard as it sounds! Here is a good lesson), feel free to follow our lead and cut the cord, thread it through the vase and cardboard support, then solder and seal with some heat shrink tubing (all while it is unplugged, of course!). Then just screw in the bulb. We used 2 Sylvania Double Life 25W G16.5 bulbs.

DIY glass vase lamp pottery barn knockoff empty

I think the lamp looks beautiful as it is now, but if you want you can fill your lamp with whatever you’d like! This is why I wanted a wider mouthed vase – to be able to fit a wider variety of items inside and to be able to arrange them easily. You’ll need to pull the lamp cord out a ways so you can get past the cardboard support piece to add things inside the lamp. For now, these are beachy lamps. I put in some sand and then some shells Eddie and I have found on top (after cleaning them as described here). Then pull the lamp cord back through so there is only a little slack on top of the cardboard support, and attach your lamp shade!

DIY Glass Vase Lamp turned on

Because the sand is so fine, I sealed the hole near the bottom of the vase with the cord with some silicone to keep sand from leaking out. We’ll just peel off the silicone later if we want to change the insides. If you have chunkier fillings, you don’t need to worry about it.

Cost breakdown: We found the sand and shells ourselves – free! The vases were each 75¢ at garage sales.  The lamp hardware was $3 each and the bulbs were about $1 each. The lamp shades were $10 each from ikea. The lamp shades were by far the most expensive part of this project. I’d found a few I thought would be good at garage sales for about 50¢ each, but they were just not the right size to match the vases. If you find garage sale/goodwill lampshades you like or can recover, this could be even less expensive!

Total cost: $15 each
Not bad compared to the $200 each ones at pottery barn!

The great thing about these is that they could be decorated with anything you like to decorate your home with – flowers, seasonal decor, or even plants to make a neat terrarium! I’m toying with the idea of making one for my crafting desk with scraps of fabric and ribbon.

DIY glass vase lamp pottery barn knockoff

I’m thrilled with how these turned out. The clear glass vases could go in any room with the right lamp shades. I was worried that the cardboard would block the light from reaching the shells when the lamp is on, but they are actually nicely illuminated from light reflecting down off the shade. We’ve now got one on each of my husband’s and my bedside tables in our  bedroom, and they look great. Plus – they’re filled with sand and shells we found together, including some from our honeymoon in Grand Cayman and our recent trip to Houston, so they’re meaningful on top of the fact that we made them together. Now I just need to get on making a headboard!

DIY Glass Vase Lamp Tutorial

Weekend Vacation – Houston

Eddie and I went on a great trip this weekend. We had some friends getting married (the ones we made this quilt for) in Lake Jackson – on the coast near Houston. We got there early on Saturday, so decided to go to the nearby Quintana Beach. We had a great time strolling along the shore and picking up some shells. Unfortunately, I decided that because we’d only be outside 20-30 minutes, I wouldn’t bother putting sunblock on. Poor choice! I don’t know why I forget so easily how pale I am and how easily I burn – my back ended up getting quite burned.  And, of course, the dress I brought for the wedding showed enough of my back that I got asked about it all night. Live and Learn.

The wedding was absolutely gorgeous. Everything ran smoothly and everything was set up and decorated beautifully. Here are a few of the highlights: centerpieces, the kiss, and a green alligator grooms cake. There were a million other gorgeous details, but I’m still working on my photography skills 🙂

The next morning, we tried going to the beach again. There were two beaches separated by a small water way, so we decided to try out Surfside beach this time. Even though it is only about half a mile away from Quintana beach where we’d been yesterday, there were almost no shells. After walking along a ways and not having any improvement, we went back over to Quintana beach. It again had tons of pretty shells for us to collect. Nothing huge or the kinds of things you’d find in stores, but several inches wide and beautiful colors. I already have several crafty plans for these guys, and I’ll be sure to post them here if they work out 🙂 I’m not sure why there was such a difference – maybe because Surfside beach was also more crowded? At any rate, if you’re in the area, we’d suggest going to Quintana beach – it was lovely 🙂 Here are a few of the shells we brought home that I’ve already cleaned.

Sea Shells Crab clam angel wing spiral

After the beach, we stopped at Hermann Park in Houston on our way back home. There was a Japan Festival going on this weekend, which was a great time. There were booths selling japanese goods and delicious japanese food along with demonstrations of japanese calligraphy, martial arts, dancing, and music. And, of course, the festival was right next to the lovely Japanese Garden in Hermann Park.

Hermann Park Japan Fest and HMNS

We also stopped by the adjacent Houston Museum of Natural Science. We ended up deciding we didn’t have enough time to make the entrance fee worthwhile, but looked around the gift shop which had a great display of gems/minerals and other fun sciencey gizmos and toys to browse. There was also a fun solar system display outside with the planets proportionally sized and spaced.