A Bright Idea – Finding Antique Lighting

This past year we’ve been on the hunt for antique lighting for the Finch house. No original fixtures remained when we bought the house last year. The entire home was outfitted with brass 1970s era chandeliers and light fixtures from big box stores. None of it was right for this house.

This gasolier,  with Greek Key designs on its ball shades, will be in our dining room.

And once we took down the dropped ceilings, and opened them up to their 12 foot height, each main room needed large chandeliers.

So I’ve taken it as my personal charge to find gasoliers and chandeliers dating from 1900 to 1925, spanning both Victorian and early electric Art Deco eras. I’ve combed through antique stores, auction sites, Ebay and online retailers, and local vintage lighting stores to score some great finds.

This French gasolier chandelier came in the big box below.

A local artist also had some authentic lighting that she was tearing apart to use as pieces for her birdhouses and sculptures. She allowed me to purchase and trade them, knowing they would stay in Zebulon. (I had some old fixtures that were from 1930s and 1940s, not bad, but too late for the era for which I am restoring. We found a way to trade.)

Along the way I learned some rather expensive lessons.

Lesson 1 – while online auction sites provide lots of great fixtures from across the nation, the cost of shipping can be pretty high. This 1900 french gasolier chandelier cost $400 to ship and the box was nearly my own height! I had to unpack it in yard for it to fit into our Raleigh house.

Lesson 2 – We didn’t want to use old wiring and risk our antique fixtures being a fire hazard, so each piece we’ve bought has been rewired. Raleigh vintage store Lighting Inc has been great to work with and offers fair pricing. Most of my finds have gone there.

This copper 1920 era beauty will illuminate our upper hall.

Lesson 3 – Nearly all vintage pieces require work on their finish. Brass, bronze and copper finishes all need cleaning and touch ups. Some of the work we’ve been able to do ourselves and the rest has been done by Lighting Inc. which has all the dipping vats, steel wool and apparatus to restore the luster on each one.

Edison style bulbs and metal detail work enhance its beauty.

Lesson 4 – Buying a finished and fully restored piece is often worth the money. Once shipping, rewiring, and finishing work is done, the price for the sconce or chandelier ends up being very close to vintage lighting store pricing.

Silver glass sconces

Zebulon did not have electricity until 1916 and even then it was limited to a few hours each evening (4 to 10 p.m. in the winter, and 6 to 10 p.m. during the summer.) While we were doing work on our ceilings, we found old gas pipe lines, so we know that at least some rooms were lit by gasolier. So many of our fixtures are gasolier chandeliers fitted for electricity.

Finish repaired on right sconce.

None of these pieces are in the Zebulon house yet, as we still have work to do on ceilings and walls in every room.

They will be installed as a finishing step in each room, and add to our preservation efforts to bring this lovely home back to its original grandeur.

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