Vintage Chandelier Restoration

So… I was going to break this up into two posts, but the formatting in post #1 was all messed up. I think because I published it during a WordPress update. Anyway, I’m condensing both posts into this one (with way more pictures!) so I apologize if you already read some of this. Thanks for sticking with me while I figure out the technical side of blogging!

If you follow me on Instagram (@thehappyhouseproject) you know that I’ve been working to restore my great-grandmothers vintage crystal chandelier. I’ve been tracking the progress there using #THHPChandelier so check it out there if you are interested!

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The chandelier belonged to my great-grandmother Mamie (my Mom’s Dad’s Mom). She had this 3-foot beauty commissioned in the late 60’s/early 70’s. According to my mom and uncles the chandelier was hung in their family living room. Unfortunately, many years later, there was a fire in the house and the chandelier was damaged. My uncle held onto it for a few years before passing it along to my mom. They both always meant to restore it but neither got around to it. Eventually, when my parents downsized out of my childhood home my mom offered me the chandelier. Here’s one of the only ‘before’ pictures I have of it. You can see my mom had started to take the crystal strands off.

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The chandelier was in REALLY bad shape. It needed to be re-wired and have all the parts stripped. We didn’t even know what color it was at that point. We honestly thought it was orange-y brass (it’s not!).

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I worked on it for almost 2 years on and off in spurts as I had time. We took off every single strand of crystal and began experimenting with ways to clean them off. I used a combination of scrubbing each crystal with a toothbrush and Dawn dish soap with warm water followed by a Windex/water rinse. This was super time-consuming. I probably spent 10 hours cleaning crystal. I had to scrub each and every crystal front and back, sometimes more than once. You can even see some of the wires in the sink in this picture. As I was cleaning a lot of the wire literally disintegrated and fell off.

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I let the crystal air dry on a dish drying mat. Here is an adorable picture of Faust helping for illustration. What a stud. And so helpful. (You can tell this picture is really old because of the green paint in background and original laminate counter!)

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The next step was to start re-pinning the strands. This is when you replace the wire between each crystal. You can see the bottom-most wire was replaced in this picture and the others were not.

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Unfortunately, re-pinning is a manual and time consuming process so to have this done professionally would have been about $100 an hour (I got estimates between 8-12 hours- ouch!)

As I’m cheap adventurous, I opted to do the re-pinning myself. I’ve spent about 30 hours working with the crystal so far. (Obviously, I’m moving a lot slower than a professional would.) You definitely get into a groove and I can crank out the long strands in about 25 minutes. But it does take another 5-10 minutes per strand to get it attached to the frame and readjusted. John made me a work station in our dining room using an engine hoist to hold the chandelier up. BEST. IDEA. EVER. If you don’t have extra engine hoists lying around, you know, like normal people, you could easily build a temporary frame out of cheap-o wood.

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The supplies for re-pinning are pretty simple. I use (1) 20 guage stainless steel covered copper wire from JoAnn Fabrics* (2) Craft pliers (needle nose) and (3) Wire Cutters

*Traditionally, you would match your wire to the chandelier frame. However I had already started re-pinning before we even knew what color the frame was. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it’s gold-y brass! Also, I think the stainless wire helps reduce “breaks” between the crystals and allows the eye to focus on other details. Totally a matter of preference here, but I prefer the look of the stainless wire!

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I do the strands one pin at a time. This is the only way to ensure I don’t mess up the pattern or loose beads.

I snip the old wire with the cutters on the front side.

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Then, I flip the strand and I pull the old wire out with my pliers.

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There is sometimes a little soot/residue left on the crystal underneath where the old wire was. I give this a quick wipe with a rag and some Windex if needed.

Then I cut a piece of wire about 1.5-2″ in length. I make one notch in the wire so it looks like a V.

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I thread the first bead and hold it into place.

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I thread the second bead.

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I then make another notch about 1/4-1/2″ past the crystal (depending on the size of the next bead). This is so ensure that the crystals have room to settle while I tighten the wire. They crystals need to be touching (on this chandelier, some leave bigger spaces between the beads) but they shouldn’t be smashed together or the crystal will chip. Here’s a side picture to show what I mean.

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Can you see how the wire has two ‘bends’ in it which give it a flat “U” shape?

I loop the wire around the back and begin tightening with my pliers, continually checking that I’m not tightening too much.

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I keep tightening the wire enough to close the gap, but not squash the crystal. I loosen the wire and adjust the bends if I think they crystals are sitting too tight. That’s pretty much it! Just do that 7,508,218 times and you’re done. Hah hah. Hah. *cries*

To attach to the chandelier I use the same method but simply attach the strand directly to the holes in chandelier frame.
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I then go back and tighten/loosen any pins that are making the strand lay odd.

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For the tear drop beads I used the same technique between the tear drop and the round beads. However, on these strands I use pin head wires to attach these directly to the frame. I attach them using a “J” bend instead of a loop.

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You can see some of the tear drop crystals have iridescent rainbow colors on them. These are Aurora Borealis crystals and they were very popular during the time frame this chandelier was built. The cast off amazing rainbow lights when the light hits them, the cats are extremely entertained!

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Speaking of frame- did you notice how awesome it looks? My Instagram friends know that we sent the frame out to be professionally rewired and restored. Mark at Aladdin Lamp and Shade Company in Jersey City, New Jersey did a great job restoring the frame without completely replacing anything.

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He also understood that I did not want it look brand new (it’s almost 70 years old why mess with that?!) and instead of polishing it to a shine, he used a chemical dip that stripped the damage but left some antiquing. I love love love it!

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For anyone wondering, we ended up spending $886 ($300 deposit and the rest paid at pickup) getting the frame restored (welding some damaged spots, replacing the struts and assembly), rewired and dipped. Not exactly a drop in the bucket, but this is something that is going to be in our family for many more years to come and deserved to be done right. This also included 10 vintage light bulbs that Mark recommended we use. The chandelier takes 8 and we bought 2 extras. Mark also was able to provide us with a canopy and matching chain since my family does not know what happened to the original parts.

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I also wanted to note that I went with Mark at Aladdin based on his experience (the shop was founded by his father in the 1950’s) and also price. I got quotes between $1,200-$1,800 for this same work, or in the low $800’s but at two shops out in Ohio where we would have to road-trip it to pick it up (vs. 1.5 hour drive to Jersey City).

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Here’s a picture of it lit up (with about half the top tier of crystals attached). HOW AMAZING DOES THIS LOOK? I can just imagine how much fancier our house will feel with this baby hanging in the foyer… excuse me, foy-ehhh. Chaz, get the door.

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I wasn’t sure about the about the Aurora Borealis crystal, but they are so amazingly fabulous lit up.

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 I have to find the time to finally wrap this project up. We’ve taken so many pictures because we want to remember the time, effort and love we poured into this restoration. To hang it we will have to rent scaffolding so I’ll probably strategically plan that so I can get some painting done in the foyer as well.

Thanks so much for reading this and all to all those who have liked/commented/reached out on Instagram about this project. It’s definitely motivating me to buckle down and finish up. I can’t wait to show you the finished product in her new home!

Update 6/13/16 A chandelier update can be found here.