Wednesday, March 3

.Installing a vintage light fixture in the hall (Part One: Out with the old...)

The other day I bought a vintage Craftsman table saw from an ad on Craigslist (which is an event that probably deserves its own separate post). When I met the seller to pick up the table saw, he showed me several other items he had for sale, including a vintage light fixture.

It was love at first sight. And can you believe he only wanted $10 for it? Try looking up Beardslee fixtures on eBay sometime, and you'll see what incredible prices vintage fixtures can go for...

Period light fixtures are one of the most attractive features of a vintage bungalow, and they are great fun to collect. Light fixtures are also one of the easiest items to rewire and install. I've come to have as much enthusiasm for acquiring them as I have for hand woven oriental rugs.

When we moved in to the house almost ten years ago, the only original fixtures were in the bedrooms and the foyer. One of the bedroom fixtures is pictured below.

Whatever was originally in the bathroom, hall, sunroom, and kitchen had been removed and replaced with cheap modern fixtures from the local big box hardware outlet. They looked terrible.

This el-cheapo big box store light fixture retails for $19.95, and is very similar to what I removed.
The neo-victorian design is inappropriate for an art nouveau bungalow...
Getting rid of them made me happy.

I got a push in the right direction for this project a few years ago, when I found a box of vintage fixtures at the Brown Elephant.

I found three of these fixtures in a box for $2 each.

These lights certainly looked better than what was there, and I installed a few of them so I could get rid of the cheap modern lights. Here's a picture of the third vintage fixture, after I hung it in the hall:

But the new one will look much better. It's very simple to install light fixtures, usually all you need is a screwdriver and a few parts from the hardware store. You'll usually want the following supplies:
  • a small box of wire nuts
  • a package of assorted locknuts to fit different size nipples
  • a crossbar (for fastening the fixture to the electrical box)
  • a package of lamp nipples (for attaching the shade to the fixture base)
  • maybe some lamp cord, if you want to rewire the fixture.
My local neighborhood hardware store did a better job of supplying me with all these things than the big box outlet.

The first step was to remove the old fixture. I removed the glass shade by unscrewing the brass cap which held it on to the base. This exposed the screws that held the brass base to the ceiling. I removed the base, and the crossbar that held it to the ceiling. Once that was completed, I unwrapped the electrical tape that was holding the wires together, and the fixture was free. Now the electrical box in the ceiling was exposed, and I could install the new fixture.

The electrical outlet boxes in this house are eighty years old, and take different parts than modern boxes. Fortunately, my local neighborhood hardware store still carries the odd doohickies they use to connect the lamp nipple to the box. That's one nice thing about living in Berwyn, there are so many bungalows the neighborhood hardware stores often still stock vintage parts.

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