Flexible Guide to Historic & Period Lighting
There are so many styles, influences and histories involved in old houses that the process of choosing a light can be overwhelming. To top it off, when you mix your personal tastes the process of choosing a light can come grinding to a halt because people are afraid of mixing what they like with what they live in.
My best piece of advice to every client is to choose something that they like. It’s their house and they have to enjoy every thing in it as much as possible. I used to be a real historical purist when it came to homes and would mainly guide clients to period fixtures for their period homes. Some would be really interested and jump at the chance to own something of the era while others leaned towards more modern fixtures 60 years newer than their 1870’s Victorian house. Although it may seem odd to put an Art Deco light into a Victorian home, its actually not.
In fact, it’s very historically accurate.
As I mentioned before, old homes have had a variety of histories. From the people who lived there to both the major and minor changes that have been made to the structure over the years. Tastes and interiors changed and so to did technology. Electric lighting brought about new styles and designs and homes that were converted from gas to electricity often had the newest lights to reflect those styles. We’ve often seen original houses from the turn of the century fitted with all Art Deco lighting because those were the first electric lights ever installed in the house. The same goes with cast arm fixtures or just about any other electric fixture available.
When doing homes that were originally electric, the style is not quite as diverse as there were certain fixtures made for certain styles of homes. In Toronto, we have a plethora of Tudor revival homes, which was the style of choice for many of the 1920s “suburbs” now within the heart of the city. The Tudor and gothic style can seem very heavy and castle like which is appealing to some and oppressive to others. For clients that want more of an updated look with a period feel, we recommend using lighter finishes on the lighting. In some cases we’ll restore their period lighting that came with the home while in others we’ll select antiques and reproductions from our showroom. Finishes like satin nickel, burnished and highlighted brass and antique brass have a rich but lighter appearance that compliment more contemporary designs while also having a period feel.
Also with older historic homes, what you see is not necessarily what you get. Many have been gutted or drastically transformed over the years with only remnants of their formers selves. Purists will bemoan this fact and often try and bring the home back to what it once was. For this you have my full respect and support as you are doing a huge service to the house. But for those that like the way it is, there are a lot of possibilities inherent on the walls and ceilings. Because you have a blank canvas, treat each light like a piece of art curated in a gallery. You can chose from different, styles and finishes and the only limitations are your budget and imagination.
To learn more about various historic styles, make sure to visit our lighting style guide.
Also, if you have any specific questions regarding your house or a certain style, do not hesitate to email me.
Guide to Buying Antique Lighting
Antiques carry presence, history and craftsman ship that is rarely seen today. They are treasures to be loved, cherished and hunted for and one can’t help be amazed at the uniqueness of their design. There is a reason that people are drawn to antiques and that reason goes beyond the fact that they are old or potentially valuable. Instead the reason can be traced to what they are, how they have survived after all of these years and the personal meaning they may carry towards owners or prospective buyers.
Then there’s the hunt.
Any well seasoned antique hunter or new person to the market knows how much fun it is to hunt and find the right thing they were after. It’s not just buying something….its finding something. Something unique and wonderful that no body gets to own but them.
But for every treasure out there, there are at least ten wrecks out there that should be avoided.
From antique furniture to lighting, there’s a 50/50 chance that is has been altered, repaired or fiddled with in some way. Professional jobs are hard to spot and for good reason. Good repairs or alterations do not necessarily alter the value of the piece so much as just protect what is there for a hundred more years of enjoyment. Of course this depends on what it is and certain items carry higher values in their original state whether they are damaged or not.
Bad repairs though……they can be more hassle then they are worth. In my lifetime’s worth of experience in dealing with antiques, I have seen just about everything. From painted chewing gum to patch up holes to “rewired” lights done with speaker wire. I am amazed and confounded at the cheapo lengths DIY’rs will go to. What’s made even worse is when dealers know that there have been massive alterations or poor repairs and try to sell them as originals or fully “restored” pieces.
Like any resourceful company, we do look around to see what our competitors carry. There’s a lot of good out there but there’s also a lot of bad. One such company (that shall remain nameless) has a very extensive selection online, but a selection that is always on sale. When I look at what they have and what they profess them to be, I can’t believe they can charge what they do for essentially lying to people. At one point I saw a very nice set of early art deco slipper shade wall sconces on their site Unfortunately they were missing all of their glass (the most valuable part) and the glass was replaced by metal parts for the ceiling cap of an earlier lamp. A lamp made 20 years earlier I might add. And they were charging a higher retail price that we would ask in our showroom fully restored!
When I emailed the company about the sconces, they assured me they were all original and would never alter an antique the way I was suggesting.
It was outrageous to see and even more so to be lied to.
And I’m sure they do it every day.
Antique dealers and companies that restore antiques sometimes have a bad reputation as sharks or shysters and its because of companies like the ones above. Which is why I’m trying to right the wrongs.
When you are looking at antique lighting, there are things to be mindful of other than style, size or budget. Here are a few:
Antique lighting was either, gas, electric or both. Unless it’s a signed L.C.T Tiffany or Handel lamp, the original wiring and sockets ad no value to the lamp and actually act as a liability. All vintage and restored lighting should be rewired with new sockets and either CSA or UL approved for installation. By law through the Electrical Standards Act, all lighting has to be certified for installation. All to often, antique dealers and “restoration” companies will replace the lead wires but not the sockets as seen the photo on the left. This is not safe and not reflective of a quality restoration. Only porcelain sockets should be used for down bulb lights as seen on one of our restored fixtures on the right.
Repairs and Adaptations
As I mentioned before, there are some terrible repairs have been conducted on antique lighting with the goal of getting the job done as opposed to getting it done right. The fixture on the right is a fantastic C 1880 aesthetic movement gas light. It came into us with a couple of the arms drilled out when it was originally electrified in the 1900s. Not only did the person drill right through the arms to get the wire through but they also ripped off the gas key so no one would turn it and pinch the wire. This was an incredibly poor job that resulted in us doing a full restoration of the arm and a recast of the gas key. It looks as original as the day it was made but took us a long time to correct other peoples problems. When looking at antique lighting, its important to notice poor repairs and use those as red flags that the light isn’t what it seems. Fixing those bad repairs can often cost more than what you paid for the light which is why its important that its done right. Saves you time, money and provides piece of mind which will allow you to truly enjoy the light.
Finish and Overall Condition
Original finishes are the most sought after for certain collectors and there is a reason why. Its partially reflected in the overall value but more importantly, its something that has lasted all of these years which is a rarity with antique lighting. But original finishes are fragile things and often don’t last the test of time. All too often people with re-polish antique lighting to get the bright shiny brass effect but fail to lacquer or treat it in any way. As a result, the fixture tarnishes and needs constant maintenance as seen with the fixture on the left which has tarnished to a dull brass. To make matters worse on the fixture, the person who “restored” it failed to remove any of the dents in the center body and actually left wire sticking out of the arms. The fixture was actually “live” on the ceiling which was a major fire hazard.
With finish, its important to choose something you like and a finish that will last. All of our finishes are period style finishes fashioned after original ones form the 1880s onwards. They are all treated with lacquer or wax and are suitable for interior and exterior use where specified.
Although a lot of this may seem overwhelming, its actually not. I explain it to clients everyday and that’s what make us and our lighting different from our competitors. Although we may not divulge how we restore everything we always make sure to both show and tell people that it’s done right. That’s why we’ve been in business for over 30 years restoring lighting, have CSA approval on our lighting and why we offer a warranty on all of our antique lighting.
We stand behind everything that we do because like the antiques we love to find and restore, we want them to carry on for another 100 years of enjoyment.