Unless you are new to the blog, or haven’t actually met me, you’ll know that my answer to “What is the most important aesthetic feature of a historic house?” is lighting. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, lighting is the most important thing to me. It sets the character of a space like nothing else, and it’s really the jewelry of any room. I am scandalously in love with chandeliers – but really I love all vintage or creative lighting like nothing else.
Doug’s Great-Grandparents, Mac and Vera, raised their thirteen children in Marion, Indiana. They lived in a house the family called “The Old Homestead” that was built by his great-grandfather. Later, the house was owned and occupied by his Great-Aunt Alice Mae and his Great-Uncle Ron. Aunt Alice Mae was the last to pass away, and the house was being sold. Many family members, including Doug and his father, went to help clear out the house of the contents.
When you have an old house, and almost no one else in your family does, you end up being a caretaker for many family artifacts. The “this is old, give it to Doug and Amy, they like old things” happens to us a lot, and we have some pretty incredible family pieces. Doug came home from that weekend with a Victrola (and 12 bound books with about 200 records), a Edison Wax Cylinder Machine (with about 300 wax cylinders), and two chandeliers that they found tucked away rusting in the basement – in garbage bags.
“These are in rough shape,” Doug said. “I seriously doubt you can do anything with them. But it was easier to take them than to say no. And you do love lighting.”
I looked at them, and they were ROUGH. I didn’t have time, or any idea where they were going to go, so they went in the attic at Jackson Street. When we went to move, we found them, after forgetting about them for years. I thought about parting with them, but they were a PAIR. It’s so hard to find a pair of chandeliers of that age – probably late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The rust was quite bothersome. But I couldn’t get rid of a pair.
There are two places in our house that need a pair of lights : the upstairs hallway, and the porch. There was too much rust, so the hallway was out. I had the thought of using them on the porch. They would be well covered because the overhang is HUGE, and if I cleaned what I could, I could spray paint them black and they would just look like cast iron with the rust texture. Done.
We took the chandeliers apart, and I got to work with each piece, scrubbing them with multiple brushes and really cleaning them well.
Amazingly, they came quite clean, and I saw that they had a copper coloring that was quite nice.
After really working on them, I was amazed at how good they looked. As in, it would be a shame to paint them black.
I still wanted to spray them : since they were going to be outside, I wanted to keep the rust from getting worse. I used a combination of copper and bright gold Rustoleum on them, which gave it the right color, and just enough shine. It also makes the finish no-so-perfect, which I like.
I laid out all the parts, and got to work with my paints.
It was clearly hand-painted before, and I wanted to do that again, but in colors to match the house. I chose a purple, blue, and silver (and an ivory, but it came out silver, so it really doesn’t count). I never actually map out my colors, I just start, and hope I don’t hate it.
I did each piece followed by its twin.
I generally pick my colors, and then do one color at a time. Everything that’s blue. Then silver. Then purple.
I spaced it out over a couple of days, but then it was done, and I loved it!
Then we got to wiring.
Doug usually does most of the electrical, but I really wanted to learn to do a complete re-wire, and this was the perfect project, because we each had a light to do, so I could watch and see how he did it while I did mine.
We had to replace all the sockets as well, so it was especially fun! It’s actually really good work for me, because I don’t have to be really strong – just meticulous – and the fact that I have tiny fingers doesn’t hurt.
I was petrified that when we plugged them in, one of my bulbs would be out, and all of Doug’s would work. And then I would be sad because EVERYTHING IS A COMPETITION.
But, mine worked perfectly. (So did his. For the record.)
Lit and unlit, they turned out better than I could have dreamed.
I always think a porch should be an introduction to what you’ll find inside the rest of the house. I’m really crazily excited to be able to put out furniture and pillows and plants. But the lights set the tone.
I have a passion for period lighting, and we love giving new life to family pieces. It’s colorful, and classic. Also, we can’t afford a railing, and it’s a three-foot drop to the ground. So the amount of light they put out is pretty important, too. (Don’t fall off the porch).
A neighbor – who is quite fun – walked by after we had hung them, and said, “Well, that’s not something you see everyday.”
To me, that’s perfect. I want the house to be unique, and to be a reflection of us.