Being a vintage collector since I was young, I’ve known how to rewire lamps for quite some time. I have many mid-century lamps and lamp parts around my house. Between just my living room and kitchen/dining area, I have 6 table lamps, 3 wall lamps and 5 ceiling lights, and my boyfriend still complains that he can’t see anything. I also insist on mood lighting.
Oddly enough, I was always nervous about hard-wiring ceiling lights. I’ve lived with the same unsightly and bland hardware store lighting in part of my kitchen, due to simply waiting for someone to finally do something about it for me, because it seemed hard. It’s not. It’s almost laughably easy. Certainly easier than rewiring an old lamp.
To begin with, turn the power off to the area that you will be working in. You do this by flipping the breaker in your household circuit box. Some folks do not turn off the power. If you know what you’re doing, you can simply turn the light switch off and disconnect/reconnect the wires without ever touching them. I’m not sure of my skills or my clumsiness, so I turn off the power.
Most lights operate the same way; no matter what style of shade they have, the wiring is pretty similar. Remove the existing shade and light bulbs.
Generally the old ceiling fixture will have 2 screws holding it to the ceiling. But before you go through that effort, check to see if you can actually turn it a bit and slide it off of the screws. Some have elongated screw holes that work for this.
Hold onto the base and lower it to expose the wires. Remove the wire caps or electrical tape from the set of black (hot) wires and white (neutral) wires, and if it has one, also the ground wire. Ground wires are sometimes green, sometimes copper color.
Now hold your new light base up and screw the wire caps on the black wires together and the white wires together, and the ground wires.
Gently raise the new base up and mount it back onto the screws that hold it to the ceiling.
And that’s it. Replace the light bulbs and turn the power back on. And if you’re like me, celebrate with a nice glass of wine in the glow of your now more attractive lighting.
Hanging shades on the ceiling, that aren’t made for the ceiling!
Sometimes I like to hang vintage fiberglass lampshades on my ceiling. I have one actual fiberglass ceiling shade, but I’ve never come across another one.
If you’ve ever tried doing this, it’s often a chore to get the screw-in extension posts the right length to hang the lamp shades. Most hardware stores sell packs of various length stem kits for hanging shades onto. Sometimes I have to use an open-ended extender. I will attach a long and a short size rod together to get the length right.
Covering exposed bulbs
When hanging vintage shades not meant for the ceiling, there is the problem of annoying open spaces where the light bulbs show. I handle that by cutting a circle of thin, “frosted” acrylic that I purchase at Tap Plastics. They sell it in sheets or you can bring in measurements and have it cut for you. You can probably find some at craft and hardware store as well. Anything that softens the light, without actually blocking it. I cut a hole in the center for the post to run through and simply let it rest on the existing metal shade frame. Works like a charm to cover those bulbs and smooth the light.
I hope this relieves some of you from living with unfortunate lighting. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!
by Kim Kalliber
Kim comes from a fantastic family of vintage collectors, thrifters, artists and very non-professional comedians. She lives in the ‘burbs outside of Seattle with four rescue dogs and a few vintage cars and motorcycles, in a house some deem as overly-full of 50s lamps. She’s a graphic designer and news editor by day and also creates one-of-a-kind custom purses as Kalliber Kustoms. She’s a firm believer in living out loud. Kim is a founding member of the Piston Packin’ Mamas, an all-girl car and motorcycle club in Seattle.