02 March, 2009

Cleaning Our Antique Light Fixture, Pulling More Wire, and Another Conduit Mystery

Well, much to my disappointment, the antique light fixtures we won on eBay still haven't arrived at our door. Granted, one of them I paid for just last week, but it's been a few weeks since we sent payment for the other. What's that seller's excuse? Grrr. I want to get these installed soon, because my cousin is coming in town in a few weeks and she hasn't seen the place yet. I want to distract her from the disastrous bathroom and the super outdated kitchen with pretty, sparkly lights.

Well, I can't really complain too much. We still have to finish pulling new wire through the conduit before the lights can be installed, anyway. So that's what Ted and I did today. With a little help--as always--from Seamus.

I think I've gotten over my fear of rewiring; I'm no longer hyperventilating and thinking "OMG, I'm working with electricity!" Because really, I'm not. I'm just the Girl Friday, the one that chants "heave, ho!" and feeds the wires into the wall. Ted is the one who knows what he's doing and can hook everything back up again. Of course, I nag him to test and test and test the lines again to make sure they're not live. But that's me; I worry cuz I care. And because he humors me, he tests them again in my presence, even though he's already tested them several times and maps everything he discovers in our "Box House Book."

So, pulling old wires and replacing them with new has become fairly routine. We'll be ready to install the dining room chandelier and the front hall light when and if they ever get here.

And while we're at it, we're replacing all the cloth wiring along that circuit. That includes the wire leading up to the light fixture in the front stairwell, the stairwell that leads to both the front door of our unit and the tenants' door upstairs.

The stairwell is lit by two gorgeous matching light fixtures, one on each level, that are probably original to the house. Seriously, the lights are what really sold me on The Box House. I walked through the door and fell in love, just like that. Here's one of them:

But look closer; some moron in the past painted the ceiling without bothering to either tape up the canopy piece or loosen the screw to drop it enough to paint under it. What a mess. (Click on the picture to enlarge and truly understand my annoyance.)

I was really nervous to try to remove this paint, because I was terrified I'd also remove the gold paint underneath. The lamp is some kind of pot metal with a red, green and gold polychrome paint job. What I finally did was to get a shallow bowl and fill it with an inch of warm, sudsy water--I just used dish soap. Then I let the canopy soak in the water for fifteen minutes or so. This seemed to soften the paint enough that I could remove it with my fingernail. It was tedious, and underneath the splashed on white latex was a layer of slopped over taupe-colored enamel--the dreaded enamel that seems to cover the wood trim in the bedrooms, and is nearly impervious to strippers. Luckily, for once, it didn't seem to adhere to this particular surface. I was able to scrape it off with my fingernail as well. Voila!

I don't think these lights have been taken down in decades; here's what it looked like when I started to wipe away the dust with a damp cloth:
Granted, some of that is sawdust from when we refinished the stairs--that stuff gets everywhere.

I had decided not to take the panels out to clean the glass. Each is held in place by a foldover metal tab, and I did not want to risk bending the old metal in case it snapped. So I used a damp sponge and warm, sudsy water to gently wipe the whole lamp down. To get the moisture out from behind the metal grill work when I was done, I used a can of compressed air to blow it out. All in all, it worked very well. It's possible to see more detail on the surface now, and I'll take another picture when I get the light back in place.

We did encounter another mystery while pulling the wire. We thought it would be a straight shot from the dining room ceiling fixture to the ceiling box in the living room, a distance of maybe 20 feet max. Afterall, there are no other fixtures that it could be powering. However, the wire we pulled out was more than three times that length. So the conduit was not straight, and was traveling off somewhere else, to power what, we're not entirely sure yet.

We first double-checked the remaining wall outlets in the living room, including the one in the floor that powers our old electric fireplace. No luck. None of those wires were connected.

So now, our best guess is that there's another electric box or two hidden behind the plaster. The most likely scenerio, since the conduit seems to be heading in that general direction, is that there were two sconces above the fireplace, in typical bungalow fashion. And just as we found a dip in the plaster where there was once a lightswitch, careful inspection above the fireplace shows a few dips in the plaster that might have been the location of sconces.

Arrgh, I neglected to take another picture of the fireplace to show y'all, and the only one I seem to be able to find on the hard drive is this one from Christmas. It'll have to do. In the space on either side of the mirror there is a suspicious swirl of plaster, no doubt covering up newspaper-stuffed electric boxes.

We need to do some investigation as we did before, possibly some test drilling to find the boxes, but I'm so excited at the thought that we might have discovered another vintage detail buried by a previous owner.


modernemama said...

Wow, those are fabulous lights

Just A Girl And Her Craftsman Bungalow said...

I have been on a light hunt for two weeks now and I've never seen anything like those lights-- just beautiful.

Care to share your story of how you found the lights on ebay? I've been watching stuff but it is very very expensive and I still have that feeling of "I can't see it in person what if it doesn't look the way I thought it would"?

Joanne said...

Thanks, Modernemama. Some women love shoes; me, I get all goosebumpy over a pretty light.

Just a Girl--I used to be afraid of buying major items on eBay, but I got over it when I realized that antiques in local stores are far, far more expensive for much the same thing. My thought is that if it's not quite what I want, I can always resell it.

There are still many overpriced items on eBay, so you have to wade through them. Search terms I use include "deco chandelier" or "slip shade". I usually end up bidding on auctions that end at oddball hours, such as the middle of the night, when there's fewer bidders overall. I also sometimes use a service called AuctionSniper.com, which bids for me when I can't be there. It also keeps me from bidding emotionally.

I have a general budget for what I want to spend on each light, and stick to it. It may takes weeks to finally win something. If I don't win one I had my eye on, there's always going to be another "perfect" one listed the next week.

Also, look for lights that might need a little work, either rewiring or just a general cleanup. They'll be much, much cheaper than ones that are already "restored."

Jen said...

You are on a roll.

Marvin said...

I've been searching online for inspiration on light fixtures when I came across your blog. So lucky of you to have bought those antique light fixtures, Joanne! They're so elegant and give out that rustic feel. I'll go check eBay as well for other light fixtures available for my DIY home building. Thanks for posting pictures of those lovely lights, and for the eBay tips too!