When Ms. Bungalow and I bought this house six years ago, one of the first things I wanted to change was the kitchen pendant lights. But then I took on other projects and added new priorities and the kitchen lights just kept hanging around. Here’s what one of those pendants looked like:
It is hard to tell from the picture, but that flat cone shade is actually perforated metal with a rubber edge. I typically used it with a bulb installed, but for some reason that didn’t make the photo. (Also you can see that I was using the soffit-level shelf to store vases. I’ve since decided that makes the room look cluttered, so now I leave the shelf bare to carry out its true intended purpose: dust collector.) Anyway, a pendant that mod might be just the thing for a mid-century ranch home, but it’s completely wrong for a bungalow.
What the kitchen needed, I decided, were a pair of schoolhouse fixtures to replace the mod pendants. Schoolhouse fixtures are a period staple that were used for many years in a variety of settings. Their utilitarian character is completely compatible with the hard-working no-frills kitchens original to bungalows like mine and other early 20th century American homes.
Fortunately schoolhouse fixtures are quite popular again and there are many options for fixtures and globes available from a variety of vendors. Several outlets even sell hand-painted globes in nifty vintage colors and patterns.
Aren’t those shades fabulous? My favorite is the acorn-shaped globe with the gold-on-gold stripes in the bottom-right corner. It also happens to be the most expensive and the most local, from Minneapolis’ own Lightworks. (Other globes shown include offerings from Rejuvenation and Schoolhouse Electric.)
The trouble, of course, for my thrifty kitchen makeover is cost. Complete fixtures and globes from the specialty lighting shops would be beautiful and worth every penny of their $200+ cost per each. Past browsing of salvage shops also told me I wasn’t likely to do much better on cost with a vintage fixture.
Just as my hand-painted globe lust was about to overtake my thriftiness, I decided to check a big box store I don’t usually shop at. There, hanging in the window and burning like a beacon was my bargain schoolhouse fixture. Bronze finish? Check. Swaggable chain pendant? Check. Big 14″ glass globe? Check. Handpainted? Not so much. Bargain price? $50. So for less than the cost of one of my favorite (still totally gorgeous) globes from the specialty shop I got two complete fixtures.
Check out the photo above for my “after” shot of the kitchen with the new schoolhouse light and uncluttered soffit shelf. The shelf was actually a big consideration in the length of the fixture. Because it projects out 10 inches from the top of the cabinets, the shelf can cast a shadow on the cabinets if the light is too close to the ceiling. I made sure the pendant was long enough to put the bulb just below the height of the shelf. Now there are no cabinet shadows and the globe still has plenty of clearance thanks to the 9 1/2-foot ceiling.
For the light above the kitchen’s counter table, I used the original fixture box and swagged the light directly over the table with a ceiling hook. The electrical box in the ceiling is under plaster and connected with rigid conduit so relocating it would have been an enormous pain for little reward. I think the swagged pendant looks great and if I ever get a chance to replace the counter table with an authentic breakfast booth like the one that used to be in this corner, the electrical box is in just the right spot.
These cheap schoolhouse lights aren’t as refined-looking as their more expensive competitors, but the combination of form, function, and price is tough to argue with. That said, I did have some trouble with one of the lights that came with a slightly misshapen globe. I returned the globe to the store for an exchange and the first replacement unit had scratches and surface bubbles in the glass straight from the factory. Eventually I left with the globe from the display that first caught my eye. There’s still something not quite right about this globe’s symmetry, too, so I guess I got what I paid for: just good enough. Besides, with the standard fitter on these fixtures, I can always choose to upgrade the globes down the road.
Kitchen Project Cost Tracker
- Schoolhouse lights: $100
- CFL bulbs: $4 (on sale!)
- Previous work: $7
Total so far: $111
For more information on lighting with old house character within your budget, check out this new article from Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival magazine: Lighting on Your Budget.
[Aside: Sorry for the grain/noise in the photos– I later found that my camera was locked on ISO 800, a speed far too high for my old dog of a snapshooter to resolve well. My savings for a DSLR never looked more necessary.]