How to Use Antique Light Fixtures in Your Home

At Quittner, we design historically-informed lighting, but we also restore antique and vintage fixtures from the past. When people come into our store, they often ask how they can use an antique fixture — most importantly, is it safe?

Restored french pendants for a Germantown, NY client

Restored french pendants for a Germantown, NY kitchen. (image: Em McCann Zauder) 

There are many reasons to use an antique lighting fixture in a room from a design perspective. They bring a character to a space, and can exhibit craftsmanship that is hard to find today, often for a reasonable price if one is willing to do some digging. But, how can a person be sure that their antique fixture is safe to use in a modern home?

The first step to ensuring that an antique fixture is safe for use is to inspect the wiring. Was the fixture rewired recently, or does it still have its original wiring installed? If the wiring looks old, it is vitally important that it be removed and replaced by a professional. The rubberized coating surrounding older wiring cracks with age, exposing the copper wires within. This can lead to electrical fires, or the electrification of the fixture’s metal parts (and a subsequent shock for anyone who touches it). Even if the wiring looks new, it may exhibit sloppy practices such as wires spliced together poorly. If you can see wiring that looks even a little dodgy, it’s always best to bring the piece to a professional to take a look. We offer this service in our workshop in Germantown, New York, and most cities have a lamp supply store or repair shop that can help you out if you aren’t close to the Hudson Valley.

A restored pan light in Hudson, NY

A restored 1930s chandelier for a home in Hudson, NY (image: Gavin Preuss)

Once you’ve picked an antique fixture to have rewired, the process is generally straightforward and can often be accomplished without significantly changing the aesthetic design or style of the fixture. Unlike with many antiques, antique electrical lamps and light fixtures, like chandeliers, pendants, and sconces, can be modernized on a budget without destroying the “antique look.”

Exterior restored sconces

Restored Arts & Crafts sconces for a home in Hillsdale, NY 

In cases where some of the original parts of the fixture have been damaged in the course of time, the fixture as a whole can typically still be saved with some creative problem solving. This is our favorite part of the restoration process, and these types of projects have heavily influenced many of our own lighting designs. For example, the Hallie was inspired by a single piece from a midcentury light. We cannot know what the original looked like — there were no maker's marks or patent numbers on the part — but what was left left a distinct impression of the original's mechanical design. So we were able to get creative to come up with our own version of a traditional design.  

The Hallie

The Hallie, in black and white variations, with Tala Sphere II bulbs, available here (Image: Em McCann Zauder)

If a light fixture you would like to have restored is missing or has some damaged parts, replacement parts can be reproduced or comparable parts can be obtained and aged chemically, or patinated, to match the look of the original. This is a more expensive process typically, and so we often advise clients look for antique fixtures that have either been restored and rewired already, like those we sell, or that are in amazing condition aside from the wiring. A budget find can quickly become a pain in your pocketbook if you don’t know what to look out for as potential large expenses when it comes to lighting restoration.

Before you hang your restored antique light fixture, make sure that it was rewired using parts listed with the Underwriters’ Laboratory (or UL Listed), which is the electrical trades’ gold standard. Using UL listed parts helps to guarantee the safety and reliability of the fixture, which is especially important for anything that will be hardwired like a pendant, sconce, or chandelier.

If you have any questions about using antique lighting in your home, or have a project you’d like to discuss, send us an email.

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