Six illuminating tips for restoring old lighting to it former glory

Lighting restoration expert Jolene Farmer has weaved her magic everywhere from the British Museum to the artisan workshops of Venice. Here are her tips for bringing your old lights back to life.

Jolene Farmer started her career in restoration at the age of 16 when she was apprenticed to a master gilder in Venice.

She went on to work at places including the British Museum, Sotheby’s and the Courtauld Gallery before starting her own business 10 years ago, concentrating on restoration of decorative finishes, oil and water gilding, metal work and the wiring of lighting.

‘There is no
comprehensive guidebook for restoration,’ she says.

‘Each piece is a
puzzle you have to work out always striving to maintain the integrity of the piece.’

Jolene Farmer in her workshop restoring a gas chandelier.

Jolene Farmer in her workshop restoring a gas chandelier.

‘As a restorer you are both detective and surgeon investigating how a piece was made and making sure any invasive action is sympathetic to the original makers craftsmanship and vision,’ she adds.

In this article Jolene — one of the experts featured on the Quest TV series Salvage Hunters: The Restorers — shares her tips for restoring old lighting.


Don’t refinish surfaces unless you really have to

Aim to retain the aesthetic wear and tear if not too far gone. Refinishing the surface can result in your antique lamp losing value or looking like a repro.

But in the end, it’s down to personal taste — if you’re restoring old lighting for your own home then it’s up to you. Be careful not to remove protective coating with abrasives or solvents if you are cleaning them up.

Jolene Farmer and Drew Pritchard  working on an Italian spider chandelier

Jolene Farmer and Drew Pritchard working on an Italian spider chandelier

LED bulbs are an absolute must

Never use halogen bulbs as they get far too hot and can damage the wiring or discolour your lights. Always use LEDs where possible as they run cool to the touch and now come with a warm old fashioned glow, can be dimmable and they even have a decorative filament range.

The toughest thing to repair? Glass

Restoring or replacing broken or missing glass on lighting is extremely expensive and unbelievably tricky. Not only do you have to replicate the remaining glass, but it must also appear consistent when the light shines through it. Very few do it well.

If you are buying a broken antique light, then bear in mind that restoring metal is more economical than restoring glass.

A restored spider chandelier – fixing glass is not for the faint-hearted.

A restored spider chandelier – fixing glass is not for the faint-hearted.

Never, ever take shortcuts with the wiring

Do not attempt to rewire a lamp if you are not fully competent to do so as it could be dangerous, and you don’t want to hurt anybody or start a fire. It may even invalidate your insurance. You’ll find a good electrician will refuse to install an antique light without it being certified for safe use.

If you choose to rewire it yourself be sure to have it professionally tested. Having decided to go ahead and rewire a lamp make sure there are no sharp edges that can cut into the wires and make sure that nothing twists and moves that may put stress on the wires. It is common sense but unfortunately, I have seen a lot of wiring that lacks any.

Don’t be afraid to go crazy

Pretty much any object can be turned into a lamp with enough imagination, so let your imagination run wild.

Drew Pritchard and Jolene Farmer with a palm tree light.

Drew Pritchard and Jolene Farmer with a palm tree light.

French polish works wonders on metal

French polish is not just for wood, it can be used to protect and warm up brass. You’ll need to do three coats and be sure to practice on an inconspicuous area first.

If the brass is slightly warm it can help the flow of the lacquer. Work quickly and don’t overload your brush or go back over a tacky area as you will get drag. Leave a few hours between coats. The longer the better.

All new Salvage Hunters: The Restorers, 9pm, Wednesdays on Quest (Freeview 12)