How to Restore Antique and Vintage Light Fixtures
A professional restorer demonstrates everything from cleaning tips to refinishing techniques.
Whether it's a seemingly broken lamp you discovered in your basement or an old chandelier you've been eyeing at the thrift store, no antique or vintage light fixture is ever beyond repair. "Any piece, heirloom or flea market find, can be brought back to life," says Sharon Ozone of LightingForYou and Brooklyn Lamp Repair. "Even if you have a piece with a missing or broken glass shade, it can be re-blown."
But how do you determine if your light fixture is in need of restoration or repair? Ozone says to inspect the bulb and finish. "Flickering lights belie old wiring or singed sockets," she explains. "Protective wax coatings can thin over time, which may lead to an electrical fire if a fixture has cloth wiring." Curious how you can restore an old-school light fixture to its original condition? We asked Ozone to take us through the step-by-step process, and here's what she had to say.
Start with a quick cleanup.
Ozone says the first step to restoring an antique or vintage light fixture is to give it a gentle, but thorough cleaning to remove any dirt or debris. "Mix three drops of all-natural dishwashing soap with a little water and apply with a damp, squeezed-out rag," she says. "Immediately hand dry with a soft cloth to avoid disturbing the patina."
Brighten things up.
If you still find dirt, buildup, and stains after gently cleaning a light fixture, Ozone says a deeper scrubbing may in order. "If there's a stubborn spot of discoloration, use a nylon brush to remove," she says. "If dirt is more encrusted or there's a dark tarnish, a Brillo pad can be used to gently buff of the raised surfaces, leaving a bit of age in the crevices, and details. The general rule of thumb is less is more."
Refinish, if necessary.
If an antique or vintage light fixture's finish is too damaged to simply clean or scrub, Ozone suggests applying a new finish. "Slowly spray-on a primer/paint color combo in even strokes and allow to dry fully before adding a second coat," she says. She also recommends gilding, an artisanal technique that involves carefully hand-gluing sheets of gold leaf to a light fixture, for a glitzier finish.
Leave any rewiring to the professionals.
Ozone says that if an antique or vintage light fixture needs to be rewired for electricity, your safest bet is to take it to a professional. "Lamps and chandeliers from the early 1900s up to the 1940s often have asbestos in the wiring, and if one undertakes this there's a risk for exposure," she explains. "Also, rewiring a complex or delicate light fixture, such as a chandelier with multiple arms and connectors, is best done by a professional."
Switch to LED bulbs.
Looking for an easy and eco-friendly way to extend the life of an antique or vintage light fixture? Ozone says to switch to LED light bulbs. "LED lights draw less energy current and create less heat, which helps prevent the wiring and sockets in your light fixture from drying out or burning," she explains. "They also come in a variety of warm, dimmable hues that create an ambient glow for your vintage lighting."