Early electric lighting was often incorporated into decorative plasterwork in homes of the upper middle class and wealthy. These original installations seldom used an electrical box behind a fixture, just attaching a bulb socket to the framing and running wires behind the plaster.
For the project shown, the original lighting had been disused for decades and was not safe to reactivate in its original form. Because the precast plaster ornament on the beams in the room had to be removed to allow structural repairs, it provided an opportunity to replace the wiring and install code-required electrical boxes and unobtrusive fixtures with reproduction glass shades. The shades match a single historic shade that was found in a cupboard in the room. A historic photo shows shades like it in the room more than a century ago.
Appropriate lighting for historic houses can be a challenge, especially for houses built before the advent of electric lighting. Even houses built with electricity often need the system updated. Restoring early lighting is always appropriate and often possible.
Electrical wiring and appropriate fixtures are covered in Chapter 10 of Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners. The 720-page best-selling hardcover book is available in bookstores and from online retailers (it is currently 34% off on Amazon! http://ow.ly/Ga2650zCHIZ).
Signed and personalized copies are available directly from the author on this site.
Bookstores can order copies from W.W. Norton.
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