Help with period lighting

weedyacresApril 2, 2013

OK, Mr. Weedy is planning out the wiring for our 1920's tiny workers cottage, and wants to know the design, so I need to get it worked out. I need to at least figure out where the lights will be so that he can put in junction boxes and run wire, so here's my plan plus my questions.

LR: Currently has no lights, so apparently floor lamps have been used. Are can lights completely out of the question? Or any other built-in overhead (or wall) lighting?

DR: Currently has a space for an overhead chandelier. Will need to cover old opening with a medallion (ok for 1920?). Need help with style of chandelier that would be appropriate.

Kitchen: Currently has an overhead fan/light that isn't original. Will have galley kitchen, with sink under window on outside wall, stove and fridge on inside wall. My first instinct is to run for the can lights again, so steer me to what is good for the period while providing sufficient work lighting.

Bedrooms & hall: Currently each have overhead boxes. My inclination would be to put in a simple, nondescript $10 flush-mount light.

Bathroom: Will do light bar of some kind over vanity mirror.

When I think of vintage lighting, I tend to think grandma-y and frail, and I'm not too keen on that. And then, of course, there's the (tiny) budget. I appreciate any general guidelines to steer me in the right direction.

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How high are your ceilings

For inspiration, look at -- this site is NOT, however, budget-friendly!

Then go to or eBay and search for something suitable for your dining room. If the fixture you find are missing glass shades, reproductions can be found at a number of online sources. This should be the most decorative light fixture in the house.

If you can find a smaller but similar fixture for the living room, even better! This won't easily work if your ceilings are 8' or less -- then you should look for a flush-mount fixture. I would not go with can lights in the living room. You could go with sconces if you can't find a ceiling light you like. The "switch" light is just for general lighting so you don't trip in the dark; you'll still want lamps for reading, etc.

Make sure you have switches for both rooms at the front door, at the bedroom hall, and possibly also at the entry to the kitchen.

Some people hate can lights in the kitchen, but I find them very useful. However, if you can also add undercounter lighting, it makes food prep easier. And a pendant light over the sink helps clean-up. I'm a firm believer that it's nearly impossible to have too much light in the kitchen. Put switches at the entry to the dining room and at the rear entrance.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 12:05AM
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Weedy, here are pics of my hall, parlor and dining room lights:

I do not recommend can lights for any purpose. My ceilings are 9.5 feet, and I have never hit my head on my fixtures. Flush mount lights are not right either...but most pendant lights you can shorten the chain if needed to accomodate your house. And don't opt for the 'schoolhouse' style--that is okay for schools and offices, but isn't quite right for a home.

I second the idea of sconces for the dining and living rooms, and the use of floor/table lamps. My overhead light in the parlor is almost never used since I read on the sofa with a floor lamp.

For the bedrooms and hall, I'd go with simpler style pendants. Here are pics of my bedroom and upstairs hall lights:

Here is a not so good pic of my kitchen light:

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 12:40AM
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Yeah, Rejuvenation for ideas and eBay for purchases. :) I've bought a ton of antique/vintage light fixtures on eBay for our house for very reasonable prices, most rewired and ready to go.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 5:02AM
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OK, I did a bit of quick searching to get a sense of what's out there, which terms to search for, and what appeals to me. A few follow-ups:

-Is crystal ok? I love this chandelier, though it's over my price range:

Or these bag lights;

-I am drawn to the glass in this globe light. Appropriate?

-Milk glass:

What about mission style? I prefer that chunkiness over the more delicate victorian stuff. Art deco?
Drum shades: I do like them, would they work?
Is wrought iron appropriate?

I guess I'm realizing I'm drawn to textured glass as a material. Goes with the vintage plate stained glass panel I want to put in the bathroom.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 9:00AM
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The right crystal chandelier in your home would be appropriate for the age of your house, as long as the fixture doesn't overwhelm the house's "delicate" proportions and modest character.

The bottom two lights are not appropriate -- the glass in #3 is wrong, and the hobnail glass in #4 is too 1950s Early American Revival.

Art deco and craftsman could be used, as long as you did so with a light touch. Nothing over the top or heavy. Also, be aware that many vendors sell anything with a straight line, circle, or triangle as "art deco" including a lot of '50s Danish Modern pieces. Yup, I've actually seen ads for "1950s art deco"!

Drum shades are again too '50s and also have been extremely popular for the past several years, which means they'll be out of style and very dated looking any second now.

Truly, I would look for antique fixtures from the period -- some can be had very inexpensively.

How high are your ceilings? Do you have enough height for pendants in the living room, hall, and bedrooms, or do you need to look for flush or semi-flush fixtures?

And, to give you an idea of what you might look for, here's a catalog from the day.

Here is a link that might be useful: lighting catalog from the '20s

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 9:39AM
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8 1/2 foot ceilings everywhere but the bathroom.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 10:45AM
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With 8 1/2' you could use something with an 18" drop from the ceiling to the bottom of the fixture. I don't think your want to go much lower than 7' clearance, from the floor except in the dining room, where the bottom of the chandelier should be at 60" (30" above the table).

Forgot to mention earlier that a medallion would be fine, as long as it goes with the light and is not too large or ornate.

Do you like the look of this one for your dining room? It's a good price, and but may be little large for your room -- what are the dimensions again?

Here is a link that might be useful: 1920's ebay light

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 11:04AM
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I am not any help with period appropriateness, but I would like to ask if you've given any thought as to furniture arrangement. That will make a big difference as far as where to place the light fixtures. Standard placement would be the center of each room, I think. At least that's where they were in our 1920 home. But in our dining room, that placement didn't make sense. We had a buffet along one wall and centering the table under the light made the room lopsided. The light would have worked much better centered on the window.

Since your space is so small, I would not use the whole dining space for the dining table. I'd put the table in the corner and place two small chairs for reading or conversation in the bay window area. If your dining table is expandable, the two chairs could be pulled up to the table when you need extra seating.

Something like this:

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 11:36AM
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Do you have someone who can rewire if necessary?

Here are another couple of lights from eBay that would work, if you like the style: You could buy shade for this one.

And another similar:

Here is a link that might be useful: Really eBay this time

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 11:46AM
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Wall sconces would be very appropriate to the house age and can bounce a fair amount of light off the ceiling. Very nice vintage fixtures can be found pretty reasonable, especially if you're willing to strip paint off of them. Most vintage fixtures should be rewired with new cord and sockets, usually a pretty simple task.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 1:02PM
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We're running all new wire everywhere, adding outlets and potentially lights and switches in LR, DR and kitchen. No problem to re-wire old fixtures.

LR/DR is 13'x26'. Here's my tentative furniture layout.

I'm a clean lines kind of gal, so not real hip on the frou-frou, victorian, scrolly stuff that is apparently very 1920 or thereabouts. How to put a vintage spin on my modern tastes? I do like textured glass and crystal, though. Here's some ebay sconces that I think are kind of cool:

This post was edited by weedyacres on Wed, Apr 3, 13 at 14:18

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 2:10PM
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On the other hand.... this being a small modest house its very likely there were only bulbs in a porcelain socket with a pull chain in bedrooms, hall, and maybe even kitchen. I have a couple of cool old deco porcelain sockets in my house that I put in reproduction early 1900s lightbulbs that give a beautiful amber light and I love the pull chain! But that may be too retro for you so my point is just that taking it all in a more simple, utilitarian direction could be the way I go I think. The frilly chandeliers and such just seems a bit too over the top for a small modest house of this type.

One option is if you find the right vintage glass shade you can have the fixture part built to fit the shade by a lamp and light fixture restorer-person (eek - what would you call such a person? Vintage lighting technician?)

BTW, IMHO the kitchen would be the one place where track-lighting could fit in, depending on the style - some of those with nickel or chrome finish have a certain utilitarian esthetic that could fit nicely with 1930s style.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 2:41PM
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weedy, has a very easy to use and helpful 3D room arranger. I've found using it in internet explorer works best. Sorry to get off-topic, but it could be helpful to see everything in 3D before you start wiring.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 3:29PM
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Circus Peanut

weedy, if you like glass and glitter, Halophane shades might be the answer to keeping it in the right tone and era?
click on photo to go to eBay auction

And this is probably as close as a 1920's worker's house ever got to the mid-century bling you're gravitating towards -- I like this one quite a bit for your bungalow by the way:

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 5:39PM
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If you like arts and crafts also check out arroyo craftsman - Box Canyon Purveyors has good pricing on their products and great customer service

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 7:35PM
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OK, circuspeanut, I'll see your art deco ceiling chandelier and raise you up a notch in bling.

It's $135 on ebay (don't know how to make the photo link to the listing), 10" diameter, 18" hang length. Could it be my starting point? My DR focal point?

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 10:19PM
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I don't remember if we've seen the outside of this cottage but given it's a 1920's cottage I think Early American or Colonial Revival would be appropriate and the linked '20's catalog confirms that.

Don't forget about salvage yards and yard and estate sales - especially in areas with a lot of houses in styles similar to you. Take advantages of those who want to modernize! (And if that's common just take to cruising on garbage pickup day!)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 10:29PM
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Circus Peanut

You go, girl! Love it, even if it's a little too swank for the build of the house. But can you fit an 18" light with your ceiling height -- perhaps shorten it?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:29AM
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Love that last fixture!!! It would be great over the dining room table.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 12:35PM
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Here's the front of the house. It's pretty non-descript.

I'm having a hard time sorting through the random light parts and pieces on offer on ebay, and visualizing what they would be like fully restored (which would be the cheap way of getting my lights). I guess I'm not familiar enough with the period styles.

I'm going to visit my local Habitat Restore this weekend to see what vintage stuff they might have.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 8:50AM
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Circus Peanut

Weedy, definitely look into old catalogs that will help you understand the 'vernacular' of old lighting. (Some good ones at

There aren't that many variations, really -- you have the canopy (part that fits against the ceiling and hides the junction box), the various chains and fittings, the bulb socket, the lamp holder that holds the socket and the lamp fitters which have little screws into which the shade fits (often these are the same piece), and the shades themselves. A pan light ("hubcap") has a very large round or oval canopy to which the chains are attached, and is either against the ceiling for lower ceilings, or has another section of chain between it and the canopy. You can mix and match parts to your heart's content. It's really fun.

Shades go by fairly standardized fitter sizes of 2.25", 3.25", 4", 6", etc.

Take a gander at this 1923 Montgomery Ward light catalog -- it's got most of the usual suspects from your house style and era.

A slip shade ("batwing") fixture is one where the shades slide down into metal fittings that are roughly triangular in shape. These are among the more fancy fixtures starting from about the 1920's. Good ones with intact shades tend to demand fairly high prices, as do reproductions.

Slip shade sconces are pretty and hug the wall nicely, although they are definitely a more upscale style.

A good source I use for the various adapters, new bulb holders, chain attachment pieces and the like is Grand Brass. Prowl their online catalog for photos of the various parts & pieces, it will be very helpful.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:12AM
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Circus Peanut

Whups, just reread the thread and see that Chibimimi already linked to an excellent historic lights catalog. So: what she said. ;-)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:16AM
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That's okay, peanut -- I love the sites you linked!

Weedy, that fixture you posted is cute as a button -- but a little small for a dining area, unless you have a postage-stamp table. 10" is not very big at all. You would also need more drop to bring it down to 30" off the table (or 60" off the floor -- pretty much the same thing), On the other hand, that fixture would be great in a bedroom or the hall. And you can find something similar but larger for the dining area. It's a good start to a lighting plan!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 9:25AM
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Some of the fixtures I see here look like they will cost more then the 60K price of the cottage.

If you want to stay to the "workers cottage" theme from the depression era what about a bare bulb hanging from a wire with a pull chain?

Just wanted to give you a chuckle I know you probably need one about now.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 12:28PM
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SouthernCanuck, I believe you are referring to this fixture!

Rejuvenation apparently used this light as a wry "before" picture on the cover of their catalog a few years ago. So many people wanted to order it that they began manufacturing it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bare bulb fixture

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 4:01PM
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I can't believe they actually sell those. I was just kidding but hate that LOL acronym. They do look kind off cool in a retro sort of way.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 5:53PM
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$128 for a dangling light bulb? You've got to be kidding! Fortunately Pottery Barn has the same thing for $12. Now we're talking in our budget!

Chibi: Good point about the size of that bling light. I don't know that I can justify paying $135 for a hall light, though, that wouldn't even be visible from the living area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pottery Barn drop light

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 9:32AM
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antique shopping! We went last week to a place in Lancaster Pa looked up I said to hubby I love all these old lights.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 7:37AM
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