If you need decorating bang for your buck, start with lighting. Although lighting is step three in a room redesign, it carries a lot of importance, and you can be thrifty with this element. In redesign, first we place the largest pieces of furniture, then the smaller pieces of furniture, then the rugs. Then comes the type and positioning of the lighting. The right lighting can change the entire look of a space. Many lighting fixtures can be had for a pretty reasonable cost, but sometimes either the budget might not allow for a desired fixture, or something with a little history is actually better for a particular space. If you come upon the right vintage fixture, you can have it refurbished, or possibly tackle the job yourself. Here is a guide to retrofitting a vintage hanging lamp in a foyer.
Step 1. Find your replacement fixture.
In this case, we found a hanging lantern that was similar to something it was replacing, but the style of our thrift store find fit the space a little better. It had been used in another home, so it didn’t come with instructions or all the fittings we needed. Before taking it apart, hold it up to the ceiling or gauge by the fixture that you are removing the length of the lamp cord and hanging chain that you need, if these are being replaced.
Step 2. Disassemble the fixture to retrofit it.
It’s a good idea to lay the pieces out on a flat surface the way you take them off, so it will be easy to reassemble again. Had we wanted to paint it, now would have been the time to break out the spray paint, when the glass could be taped off and the interior parts were off the main frame. This is also the time to measure and replace critical parts like the electrical lamp cord and the hanging chain. These are easily found at hardware and home improvement stores.
Step 3. Threading
Thread the lamp cord down through the hanging chain and all the way through the stem of the fixture. For this type, use wire strippers (inexpensive and available at hardware stores) to slit the plastic about 2″ to separate the leads and gently strip the ends of the lamp cord. Strip both the top and the bottom ends now, and strip just about 1/4″ from both leads on either end. Use wire nuts (you can probably use the ones that came with the original fixture) to connect the ends of the lamp cord to the electrical wires connected to the light bulbs.
Step 4. Reassemble the fixture.
Try not to have any spare parts on this step.
Step 5. Hang In there.
This is where the real work begins. Turn off the power and take down the existing light fixture. It is best to turn off the circuit that controls this fixture at your electrical panel. This is a fairly easy procedure. Do pay attention to how the fixture comes down, to guide you on putting up the new one. In older houses, the old receptacle may not look like the new fixture. This is where your helpful local hardware store or home improvement center comes in. Notice that in this picture, the electrical box shown is from a 100-year-old home. The box is more shallow than would be used in today’s homes, the wires are old-style, and there is no ground wire. No matter, you can still switch out the fixture.
Step 6. Modify, if needed
To make this work, we did need a small piece called a coupler. We got it from our favorite local hardware store when we took in the new fixture and dimensions for the electrical box in the ceiling. It was the best $1.50 we spent, because the whole project would have been sunk without this little item.
Step 7. More Modification
By screwing the coupler on to the existing box, we got the extra bit of length that we would have otherwise had in a more modern electrical box. If you are lucky enough to not be dealing with hundred year old electrical, you’ll skip the coupler and go right to the next step.
Step 8. Ta-Dah!
This step is best done with two people. While one person holds the fixture, the other person connects the one wire from the fixture to one wire from the electrical box. Tighten these again with wire nuts. Do the same thing to the remaining two wires. Then screw the fixture in to the coupler and adjust so the fixture collar sits flush against the ceiling. It’s time to put the light bulbs in, turn the breaker back on, and enjoy your frugality.
There you go. A couple of bucks for a garage sale or thrift store find can replace a broken fixture without breaking the bank. No electrician required. Just be careful on those ladders.
A version of this article was orginially published at AboutOne on 3/23/12.