OK – so we really didn’t need another vintage lamp, but the nature of the Malvern Flea Fair is that sometimes something will catch your eye on a stall and, so long as the price is fair, you just can’t resist it. So it was when we spotted this item lurking amongst a bunch of unrelated stuff. Her grass skirt was grubby, and there were a few chips to the plaster work of her torso and face, but all the lamp and decorative parts were there and it all seemed within our ability to restore, so home she came with us.

There’s always a danger with projects like this of sticking them in a cupboard to be undertaken ‘when we’ve got a bit of time to spare’ which, of course never happens. Fortunately, in this case, this lamp was a bit too big and the figurework too vulnerable to risk trying to store it, so work could begin quickly. First of all, though, we set about trying to find another example on line to compare with. Various keyword searches around vintage Hula/Hawaiian/Tiki lamps turned up multiple examples where the light fitting sat on top of or above a figure, but none where the light sat within the grass skirt, which made us excited that we might have chanced on something with a bit of rarity value, and luckily the construction was straightforward enough for us to embark on a restoration without getting stuck, so we gently set to work.

The grass skirt came off easily, secured only by a rusty pin, and when laid out proved to be intact and in good condition. The fabric cover of the shade underneath, forming the lining underneath the skirt, was similarly sound, if dirty, but also came away easily once the draw cords at top and bottom were snipped and removed. That went straight into a gentle hand wash and came out much improved, assuring us that we weren’t going to have to reconstruct either item. The garland of ceramic flowers around the figure’s waist, however, was much more fragile and had suffered both from handling and from being squeezed around the figure’s bust in a show of modesty. It shed ‘petals’ each time we touched it, and removal would have meant cutting the string onto which the flowers were fixed, so we decided to leave it alone as much as possible.

The light fitting itself was original and intact, but not sufficiently iconic to outweigh my desire to make the restoration a fully safe one, especially since it sat in a wire framework that would make a lovely shorting or electrocution hazard if the fitting decayed. A grubby length of plastic cable didn’t enhance it, either. Rather than resort to an off-the-shelf fitting from B&Q, though, I got on line and sourced a brand new vintage-styled fitting (indeed, two – one plastic and one brass to see which would work best) and a length of braided cable that would look much more original. The pieces arrived quickly, and I found that the plastic version allowed a much tighter fit than the metal-on-metal combination. All that went aside, though, while attention turned to the figure itself…

The plasterware torso, the obvious central feature of the whole lamp, presented a dilemma. There were enough chips in the paintwork to mean we couldn’t leave her unretouched, but the skin tone wasn’t one that could easily be matched, especially in the same paint finish. Likewise, the painted features were finely done, so an amateur repaint of the entire thing would have ruined it. Fortunately, friends in the vintage trading world had a contact who not only repairs classic plasterware pieces, but also creates moulds for replica items which he then handpaints, meaning he has an extensive palette of paints of the right type and consistency. Carefully bubble wrapped, the lamp disappeared off to his workshop, to reappear some weeks later completely re-done.

We could barely wait to get cracking on the reassembly, starting with the rewiring, then sewing new cord into the skirt and fastening over the frame before finally replacing the grass skirt, secured by a couple of discreet stitches to take it back to how it was most likely attached originally. We’d already identified a suitable place for her to live, illuminating a dark corner by the record deck where a number of other Tiki-style items are on display, so there she stands, looking as good as new. Now if only I could find out more about where she originated…