Before and After: Art Deco Light Fixture

Batting this light bulb is the only thing that cheers me up.

– Homer Simpson

As part of our bedroom redo, I wanted to restore and install an antique light fixture. I bought one in rough shape online.

Before

Before

You’ve seen this puppy before. I spent many hours freeing the fixture from its painted carapace, finally arriving at bare metal.

clean

My goal was to restore this to a gold tone with polychrome touches common in the 1920s, as seen here:

light urbanremainschicago

The “polychrome” refers to the small touches of color. Usually, these are green on the leafy elements and red on any flowers or crests.

To get from bare metal to this look, the next step was to prime it before any rust could set in. I used a Rustoleum spray primer for metal. I was almost sad to cover up the metal after working so hard to reach it, but rust would have been far more saddening.

 fixture primed

Once the primer was set, I hit it with a couple of coats of gold spray paint.

fixture gold spray paint

Mr. T just called: he wants his pendants back.

I used the Rustoleum that gives a “bright reflective finish” and it surely delivered. But this was just a base coat to give some dimension. I applied Rub ‘n Buff metallic wax (in Grecian Gold) over this layer to warm it up.

fixture after run and buff

“Better. But you are still not feeding me why?”

With the main body color in place, it was time for the polychrome. I took the advice of The Artist Generally Known (to me) As Mom: she recommended acrylic paint and a coat of fixative. And, BONUS, her traveling kit of paints was within striking range at my brother’s house.

fixture acrylic

My goal for the polychrome was not Technicolor, but more of a wash. I wanted it to look like the original colors had been bright originally, but they had faded with age. I watered down the color and applied tentatively; it’s easier to add than to take away. I didn’t use much, and some wore off a bit when I applied the fixative (hello, pardon??). I used green for the leafy parts, but I used a blue for the floral elements instead of the more usual red.

fixture with polychrome

fixture with polychrome 2

Body done!

In the before picture, you can see one of the original sockets still attached. This fixture takes a ring-type porcelain socket, which is basically a porcelain socket with two parts that screw together. I bought ones with the leads already attached.

Please allow Inigo to demonstrate.

Please allow Inigo to demonstrate.

Ok, cat indulgence over. Here are some better pictures (apart and installed):

fixture porcelain apart

The ring screws onto the socket, which is inserted from the top.

The ring screws onto the socket, which is inserted from the top.

I later Rub-n-Buffed the porcelain ring to match the rest of the fixture.

Sticking the sockets in is not wiring as such, and this thing will need to be wired for use. I know something about wiring. My grandfather was an electrician, my dad and I wired all sorts of things when I was a kid (some of them legal!), and the Kev and I have done a stack of inspector-cleared jobs on this place. This light is an easy wiring job, but an easy job still requires basic skills and knowledge. So in the interest of not being responsible for your well-being, I’m not going to walk through the wiring. But here are some options for this part of the project:

  • Have an electrician or lamp repair technician wire it up for you. They could wire it for your installation, or the electrician could wire and then install it. It should cost relatively little, and you’ll have complete piece of mind. 
  • If you want to wire or install it yourself, check out code requirements and seek out competent instruction. BobVila.com and ThisOldHouse.com (no longer affiliated, those two!) both offer relevant guidance.

To assemble the pieces, the “pan” part faces down. I bought a finial to replace the hex nut that had been holding the thing together (in the wrong orientation) when I received it. The new finial screws onto the big matching “finial” (I really want the formal name for this part if anyone has it — there seems to be some diversity of terminology out there) that stiffens up the fixture so it hangs straight. This piece attaches to the chain. Finial bone’s connected to the chain bone, chain bone’s connected to the canopy bone (more about the canopy here), canopy’s attached to the HOUSE.

fixture after with letters

One of the things I really love about these old fixtures is the shadows they cast. Hard to photograph, but here goes:

fixture shadows

That was a long one — thanks for reading to the end. I hope you found it illuminating! BWAHAHA! I crack myself up.

Linking up at House of Hepworths and Thrifty Decor Chick — thanks for hosting!

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6 Responses to Before and After: Art Deco Light Fixture

  1. ooh, very nice! I’m impressed with your dedication….looks like it was a lot of work…but the finished result is awesome 🙂

    • Stacey says:

      Thanks, Gretchen! It definitely took dedication (or my husband might say obsessiveness!). Thanks for stopping by, it’s so nice to hear from folks! xo

  2. Richard Dunn says:

    I was given two deco light fixtures by my Aunt, about 25 years ago. I put them in storage because I have been building. Now I am ready for the fixtures and they need to be rewired, which is no problem. However, they seem to be painted like a copper color. While I will probably never sell them, I don’t want to decrease their value. Should I repaint them, or leave the original paint alone?

    • Stacey says:

      Hi, Richard — that’s a great gift! The paint may well be original, and it would be worth finding out. My lights are always in rough shape by the time I mess with them, so I’ve never had that issue! Do they have any manufacturing marks on them anywhere? I’m thinking if you could find anything stamped or cast into them, you could send that info with pictures to an expert and they could give you the lowdown. If no marks, Vintage Lights has images from old catalogues at http://www.vintagelights.com/catalogue.html but I’ve never had a lot of luck finding my fixtures.

      For experts, John Remackel at John’s Antiques is great, but he’s in the process of retiring. No website, but his number is (651) 222-6131. Other options are Allen’s Antique Lights (http://www.antiquelight.com/) or contact Urban Remains in Chicago (http://www.urbanremainschicago.com/products/lighting.html). Someone at one of those places should be able to give you some info or tell you who would know. Please stop back and let us know what you find out — I’m obsessed with old lights, and I’d love to hear what you learn. Thanks for coming by!

  3. Stacy says:

    Great job! I can totally relate to your passion for vintage light fixtures! Two queries: Any issues with paint adhering, despite using the Rub & Buff wax underneath? Secondly, what did you use as a fixative, and what type of sheen did it have, if any?

    My project is just a small, metal flush mount fixture that is in my entryway and most likely from late 20’s/early 30’s. It’s a bit rusty (not sure of the metal), but has a raised floral design, which I can (faintly) see was once painted. Your project inspired me, and I can’t wait to get started! Thanks for the information!

    • Stacey says:

      Hi, Stacy — it’s me, Stacey! It’s nice to hear from someone who loves these old fixtures, and thanks for the kind words. It’s a little bit of a niche interest!

      I haven’t had any issues with paint adhering to the Rub & Buff, as long as the Rub and Buff is completely dried and has been fully buffed down to the desired sheen. Since fixtures do not get handled very often, I have to admit I don’t always use a fixative. I have used a clear wax on a few, which was a nice mellow effect.

      How is your project going? Come back and tell me all about it. I love old lights!

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