Life in the Big Old House: Antique and Vintage Interior Lighting | coastal life

A Hollywood Regency style chandelier, found after being stored in a barn.

Antique light fixtures are one of the best ways to enhance the interior character of a historic home. The right combination of light fixture and space can be inspirational, an important detail in restoring a historic home. When I started my first restoration project, in 1988, I was confused as to what to select.

Often a home’s original light fixtures have been removed because new fixtures can be easily purchased and installed. I am lucky to have 20 original and matching wall sconces in the Forsstrom house, as well as two original chandeliers.

The other light fixtures in the house formed an odd group, and most did not match the era and style of the house. As a collector of antique light fixtures, I quickly began to find and install restored light fixtures, some found and some from my collection. I let friends also involved in the restoration know what I was looking for, and many friends’ lighting supplies were soon donated to the house.

I found the lighting to be perfect for the style and age of the house, but many pieces were broken or incomplete. My husband and I have rewired and restored simple light fixtures. We even keep a supply of lighting parts, although I often work with a restoration professional. With lighting, safety is a major concern. It’s worth working with a professional if you don’t have the skills to restore, rewire, or install.

When starting a lighting project, first consider its goals. Looking for mood or task lighting? How much light do you need? Antique lighting is generally more suitable for ambient or dimming lighting. An old ceiling light may not give enough light and can be supplemented with a table or floor lamp.

For the best historical results, vintage and antique fixtures should be appropriate to the era, style and period. Some spaces may require more elaborate and high-end fixtures. To get started, select design patterns found in other areas of the home or look for materials and finishes compatible with the original fixtures.

Common lighting styles include Victorian, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern, and Hollywood Regency.

The grand staircase of the Forsstrom House, dating from 1915, was previously lit by a single wall sconce, an insufficient amount of light for the space. Instead, I found a Hollywood Regency six-light chandelier from the 1960s. A godsend, it had been stored in a barn for decades.

Chandelier in the hallway

A restored chandelier, as seen on the grand staircase of the Forsstrom House from an upstairs living room.

I ordered replacement parts, but soon found the project was beyond my skill set and hired a lighting restoration professional instead. He redid the wiring, fixed it, and painted the light fixture antique gold. Later I applied some black glaze and installed some black candle covers on it for the finishing touch.

My husband, along with an electrician, wired the light fixture through the attic of the house, then installed a push-button dimmer and ceiling medallion.

It is a pure delight to illuminate the grand staircase with subdued or strong light depending on the setting and the time of day. The fixture is quite glamorous for the space, especially with the 24 inch ceiling medallion. Although the selection violates my general guidelines for matching age and era, I find it works well.

The antique gold paint paired with the black glaze tone down the Regency style, helping the piece retain its quality while blending in. The shape of the sconces mimics the home’s candle wall sconces, echoing the design motifs found throughout the home.

Polychrome restoration

A polychrome paint restoration by Kasey White. The restored light fixture is for a small entrance to his Victorian home.

My neighbor, Kasey White, is an artist, as well as an old house enthusiast. I gave him a ceiling light from the 1920s. Its body was stamped metal in a pewter color, so stripping the paint to reveal the brass wasn’t an option.

Instead, she painted it full color for her Victorian home and purchased spare ceramic bulb sockets from City Lumber Co. The full color paint helps the fixture become more Victorian in theme. The luminaire is a fine example of art, economy and reuse.

Betty K. Park