Vintage Light Fixture Rehab

A vintage light fixture can add a unique touch to a space. When hubs built my craft studio in the basement, the main source of lighting was pot lights but I also wanted pendant lighting over my sewing machines for additional task lighting. We chose a pair of Ranarp pendants from Ikea.

They were far from vintage, but easy to install!

The black and white cord gave them a vintage vibe. I especially liked the ease with which the pendant clipped onto the end of the cord. That got me thinking about how easy it would be to swap them out if I ever found a pair of REAL vintage shades.

Here’s how my craft studio looked just after we installed the Ranarp pendants (and before the industrial sewing machines were in place).

The opportunity to own real vintage shades presented itself at the Aberfoyle Antique Market a few years ago. Although I never snapped a picture of the actual shades we found back then, if you saw the post on our jaunt to Aberfoyle this Spring, you may remember this pile of green enamel shades we came across:

Green enamel shades were plentiful at Aberfoyle this year, but the pickings were slim the year we found the two 12″ light reflectors shown below. We had to dig deep through a pile of tangled items to pull them out of a bin. It’s somehow more fun if you have to work for your reward!

The fixtures didn’t have the canopies, but that was just as well because I had a feeling we could simply clip them onto the Ikea Ranarp fittings.

As you can see, they weren’t in the best condition. There were some chips and cracks in the enamel and rust on the exposed metal that was difficult to see below all the dirt but this pair had just enough character and age to make them interesting.

Although they were dirty and crusty we could still make out the label (which we took pains to keep intact during the cleaning process).

After a bit of research on the net, I discovered that the Wheeler Reflector Company made industrial lighting and was based in Boston but had offices in Atlanta, Cleveland, NewYork City, San Francisco and Toronto (where these were likely from).  I found this catalog online; my fixtures are similar to the shallow dome ones shown on the second row. For a 12″ diameter reflector in the early 30’s, it would have cost a whopping $2.80 for each one! The price has gone up quite a bit since then!

The first step was to gently brush off all the loose dirt we could. The dirt underneath was anything but loose. It was practically baked on from the heat of the once-present light bulb!

Yuck; I had to wonder if I should have taken a pass but there was no going back. When tackling cleaning something like this – or any cleaning project for that matter – always start with the least harmful substance first to see if it will come clean and then work up to progressively stronger ones. Try your cleaning solutions on a small hidden spot first to be cautious.

Porcelain is a tough, durable material, but is susceptible to chips, cracking and dulling. Never use abrasives, like a harsh scrubbing powder, vinegar or steel wool; these could damage the finish and further rust any exposed metal.

Here is the progression of cleaning products we typically use on vintage finds like this:

  1. Warm soapy water, with a sponge or cotton rag – and plenty of elbow grease – should be the first thing you try. This will remove at least some of the dirt.
  2. Non-toxic environmentally friendly cleaners such as a water based citrus cleaner, or Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner.
  3. A paste of baking soda, lemon and water spread on evenly, left for 1/2 an hour and wiped off.
  4. Barkeeper’s Friend. It’s a mild abrasive that works on Porcelain. You must wear gloves when you used it because the main ingredient can burn skin.
  5. If all the above fail, and you have them on-hand, you can move on to household cleaners such as Spray Nine and Fantastik All Purpose Cleaner.
  6. Buff to a shine with a product such as 3M Hand Glaze.

I honestly don’t recall at what stage we stopped on the outer surface; it was much easier to clean, but the underside remained stubborn and took a lot of elbow grease.

Here’s a comparison of the before and after of the underside:

Even with the rust spots, the underside cleaned up better than I ever imagined.

Here’s the before and after of the upper surface.

What worked for us, might not necessarily work for you – depending on the item – but as long as you start with the mildest, least-harsh solution before moving up the ranks you’ll get to a point that you’re happy with and can stop. Just remember that you’re not trying to make these look brand new 🙂

After they were both clean, Hubs polished the enamel with a soft cotton cloth and a product called 3M Hand Glaze Show Car Finish. It’s typically used on automotive paint to leave a gloss finish but he thought he’d give it a try. According to the directions, it can’t be applied in direct sunlight or on a hot surface so hubs applied it in the garage. He wiped it on, let it haze, then wiped it vigorously with a soft cloth to bring up the shine.

After all that cleaning, we were happy to discover that these light shades can clip onto the end of the existing Ranarp cord!

Here’s how my sewing room looked before the swap:

We took down the Ranarp shades…

…and swapped out for the vintage ones:

The vintage green pendant shades work because there are touches of ‘industrial’ green throughout the rest of the space – like this vintage steno chair.

… and the base of my industrial pattern table (in the process of being set up). 

The pendants not only look good, but they really focus the task lighting over my sewing machines where I need it!

Thanks to Ikea’s Ranarp components, I can easily switch between the green and white shades if I want to change up the seasonal decor in my craft room.

However, I love all the wear, tear and the patina that comes with age so I think I’ll keep these up for a while.

I love owning vintage pieces such as these shades, the card catalogue and steno chair. They are all reminders of a nostalgic time when life was lived at a slower pace.

When it comes right down to it, the old adage is true that they just don’t make things the way they used to! Vintage pieces have a quality that transcends time and a few pieces can help you develop your own eclectic style anywhere in your home.

Next time you’re shopping for lighting, consider a vintage light fixture! Don’t pass up something just because it looks beyond redemption. A little (ok, a lot!) of elbow grease can do wonders 🙂

Don’t forget to pin for later!

Aberfoyle Antique Market is our go-to place for cool vintage finds. One of the most incredible finds, this past Spring, was this vintage phone booth! It was so inspirational, we ended up making it over twice!

We upcyled it into a planter:

For the alternate version, we perfected a new technique for faux barn board shelves using a pickling solution and milk paint. If you love barn board, but don’t love the premium price, find out how we did it!

Get your DIY mojo on at Birdz of a Feather. Follow us here (link in the footer) or on Bloglovin’ (button below) to get tutorials on other DIY projects, in and around the home. You can also follow us on Pinterest, our Youtube channel, on Facebook and Instagram.

Featured on Hometalk.com

 

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2 thoughts on “Vintage Light Fixture Rehab

  1. Very impressed with your clean up job, the before and after is amazing. I too love old items for just the reasons you mentioned. The quality of workmanship is far and away superior to what is made today, unfortunately.
    We left my husband’s grandfather’s hanging lamp at our old house and I still miss it.

    • Thanks Susan; it’s all thanks to my husband’s brawn.

      I too have left things at previous houses that I wish I hadn’t; that’s why I never plan to move again 🙂

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