Let There Be Light

Friends always say, “Be sure to take pictures of the project” or “Make sure you blog about the process.”  Truth-be-told, rejuvenating a historic home grabs ahold of your time, energy and money.  Even though we truly love this extraordinary journey, seldom do we place the word spare before any of those three previously mentioned words.  When the dust settles, like many restoration-minded souls, we wholeheartedly believe that Rejuvenation = Happiness.


I appreciate your patience and interest in Restmere. Should you become restless while waiting for the next post, I hope you’ll visit another restoration blog….one that’s on a more impressive scale than Restmere:  www.chateaugudanes.com  Restoring this French Chateau will certainly inspire your creative spirits!

Every day we uncover more fascinating history about Restmere. For example, we recently learned that Edith Wharton (my favorite author) was related to the original owners and visited the home.


Work continues at Restmere. We are remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms. Every click of a nail gun and buzz of a power saw is music to our ears.  The distinct melody of progress.

Lighting the Way


Before this phase, we restored, relocated and reinstalled several antique light fixtures that were found in the home.  When architects Richard Upjohn and Richard Morris Hunt designed Restmere in 1857, they planned for gas lighting fixtures.  While repairing ceilings and plaster over the summer, we discovered original gas fittings for chandeliers and sconces throughout the entire house. Unfortunately, none of the original fixtures remained, so we can only imagine what type of lighting originally defined the Van Rensselaer’s décor.

Since the advent of electricity, a succession of light fixtures were installed in Restmere.  Some were very good.  And some were not so good.  The provenances ranged from stunning antique French crystal chandeliers to big box store clearance bin flush mounted lights and ceiling fans.


Taking Stock

To make sense of the lighting, we began by creating an inventory of all the fixtures in the home. Next we decided which fixtures were worth rescuing and which fixtures warranted a quiet burial in the dumpster. An old newspaper article given to us by a neighbor provided some important clues.


We now believe that Adolph Audrain introduced French lighting to the home when he resided here in the early 20th century. We think his collection included a bronze chandelier with dragons and glass shades, a pair of bronze sconces with winged mermaids, four gilded sconces with hand blown glass candle covers, a ten-arm crystal chandelier, and a gilt bronze chandelier with a crystal bowl shaped design.


Oddly enough, some of these fixtures seemed as though they had been moved to other rooms by various homeowners after Audrain move to France.  For example, the Gothic dragon chandelier was hanging in the dining room, when it seemed more appropriate for the library with a Medieval carved limestone mantel.  And the elegant crystal chandelier and mermaid sconces seemed to have been relegated to a spare bedroom on the second floor when they could’ve really made a statement in the formal dining room.



To map out a lighting plan, we studied each room and determined which antique fixture would suit the space best. We kept saying, “What would have Audrain done?” Our plan may have driven our electricians crazy.  I recall them ascending ladders to closely examine the fixtures and wiring, then descending the ladders muttering the same two words to themselves over and over again, “Horror show, horror show.”

Here’s the great light shuffling plan:

  1. Move dragon chandelier from dining room to library. Remove ceiling fan.  Center dragon chandelier in front of the Medieval fireplace.
  2. Move crystal chandelier and sconces from spare bedroom to dining room.
  3. Move crystal chandelier in living room three feet so the fixture can be centered on the fireplace.

Before any fixture could be relocated and reinstalled, Tom Powers of Genuine Antique Lighting in Boston had to restore the fixtures, which entailed repairs to decorative details and rewiring. To avoid becoming ensnared in traffic on the Southeast Expressway Tom came up with an interesting plan.  We would leave a fixture on the front porch before retiring to sleep.  He would depart Boston at 1 a.m., arrive at Restmere at 2 a.m. and return to Boston with the fixture.  A few weeks later Tom would return the restored fixture to our porch at 2 a.m.  Many may argue which nocturnal creature makes a more beautiful sound on a summer evening. Is it a hooting owl or could it be a chirping Cicada?  For me, there is nothing more lovely than the sound of tinkling crystals being gently set beside a wicker porch chair.


After the antique fixtures were restored, we turned to Tom to help us find more period lighting to replace the budget-friendly modern lights we removed from the house.


He suggested this circa 1870s gas fixture that had been modified for electricity for the entry hall.


He recommended this circa 1900 slag glass fixture for the library.


He thought three of these vintage pendants would make a statement suspended above the island in the kitchen.

Don’t Forget the Switches


The light switches were another design element that we had to consider.  When we bought the house, we were charmed by the vintage mother-of-pearl button switches that adorned many of the rooms.  Push the top button, the light turns on.  Push the bottom button, the light turns off.  Sadly, the switches did not meet code.  Good news though, the House of Antique Hardware  sells push button switches in a wide variety of styles and finishes.  Additionally, the switches come with a dimmer.  Sign up for email notices and you will receive promo codes for a 15% percent discount.  This certainly adds up when you need to purchase many switches.

Lighting is such an important design element that really requires some careful planning to create the perfect ambient and task lighting.  Also, for the safest results, always work with electricians and experienced restorers.

Stay tuned to see pictures of the new kitchen.


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