DIY Refinished Copper Light Fixture


You know those apartments that have lots of wacky “improvements” that were obviously perpetrated by people devoid of skills, taste, and common sense?

We have one of those apartments.

In our three years of living in our charming Somerville rental, we’ve dealt with a bathtub that drains onto the floor, hideously painted tile that turned out to be sheets of MDF molded to look like tile, and rogue so-called weather-stripping which was actually just strips of worn felt stapled to the inside of the front door. And don’t get me started on the thermostat that is hard-wired with SPEAKER WIRE.

But my favorite misplaced attempt at fixing something in this apartment was uncovered on the light fixture in the kitchen. It’s a lovely vintage schoolhouse style fixture, but with a terrible, chippy paint job on the base.

When I started scraping away the loose paint, thinking I could snazz it up with a new coat, I discovered….COPPER. As in, real, beautiful, timeless COPPER.

Restoring a Copper Light Fixture || Jade and Fern

Seriously, people, how these long-past tenants ever got this brilliant idea into their heads is a mystery. You’re killing me, Smalls.

Thankfully we live in the internet age and solutions to such horrors are only a few searches away. Well, a few searches and several hours of elbow grease away. Afterwards I was left with this:

Restoring a Copper Light Fixture || Jade and Fern

Not too shabby, eh?

The worst part was getting off the non-flaked paint. That required boiling the fixture for several hours, and scraping off what I could with fine grade steel wool. I had to do that twice and it stank up the house with the smell of hot paint. Fun.

Once the biggest areas of paint were off, I loosened the remaining bits by soaking them in boiled water again and carefully scraping them away with a utility knife.

Then all that was left was polishing the piece until my arm fell off. It was very satisfying, though, check out the difference it made:

Restoring a Copper Light Fixture || Jade and Fern

To polish, I dipped the cut half of a lemon in table salt and rubbed off the tarnish. Much oompfh was necessary and I now need a sling to support my exhausted wrist. And finally I rinsed all the goop off, dried the fixture with a paper towel, and buffed it to a shine with a clean rag.

No, it’s not perfect, and yes, there’s some silvery spots where the zinc that was apparently in the piece reacted to the vinegar I used during boiling (lesson learned: use PLAIN WATER, not water and vinegar!).

But it’s mine all mine while I live here and I love it!

Restoring a Copper Light Fixture || Jade and Fern

Never changed a hard-wired fixture before? Neither had I! I used this video to learn. I skipped the volt tester because I live dangerously, but please do as THEY said and not as I did.

What do you think? Have I become the DIY-challenged monster I loathe? Will future tenants love or hate this restoration?

Author: Marlene @ Idle Hands Awake

Maker, baker, cat momma, total nerd, perpetually covered in glitter/sawdust/paint. Blogging DIY and design for modern creatives.

11 comments on “DIY Refinished Copper Light Fixture”

  1. I’ll have to forward this along to the previous tenant to see if they know anything about this atrocity! 😉

      1. Not guilty! But glad to see such a nice improvement. And that painted “tile” was definitely always weird. Did you take it down?

        1. Hi Gala! I knew you weren’t responsible for this or anything else funky in the apartment. 🙂 The “tile” remains, alas. I took a peek behind a broken piece in the kitchen, and there’s no drywall or anything behind it, so unless there’s a total got job, it’s here to stay. Hope you’re well, thanks for stopping by!

  2. It’s absolutely beautiful! What a treasure buried under all of that paint! I’m so glad you took the time to uncover this because it is beautiful!

  3. One note of caution…lead paint. I’m not sure if your place is old enough for this to be an issue, but I’d double-check before boiling off any more old paint and stinking up the place with the smell of hot paint. After all, the Mad Hatter went “mad” because of exposure to lead fumes. Of course, you can always wear that sexy “Breaking Bad” mask!

  4. Oh, yeah…mercury. Well, I knew it was one of those nasty heavy metals. It’s a wonder the human race has survived this long, given all we do to try to poison ourselves.

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