Installing Vintage Schoolhouse Lights

It took us a full month to do it, but we finally installed some real lights in the two main-floor bedrooms. Ever since we bought the place, this is what the lighting situation has looked like:

Probably should have taken the light down before painting, huh?

Yep. Just a light bulb hanging from live wires dangling above us. Not exactly attractive (or safe).

We’ve had our eyes on this fixture from Schoolhouse Electric for a while now, but the $145 price tag has been turning us off. We knew we could find some knockoffs for around $50, which sounded a lot better. But we also liked the idea of finding some authentic vintage fixtures,  so we headed over to Bauer Brothers Salvage in North Minneapolis. We were able to pick up these vintage schoolhouse lights for $40 each. Not bad, huh?

Vintage schoolhouse lights.
The shades are a little different, but the base pieces are identical.

The old wiring that was still attached to the fixture bases were in rough shape – frayed cloth insulation.

Old wiring.

To replace the wiring, the first step is to unscrew the ceramic insulator around the base:

Unscrew porcelain insulator.

This will reveal the wire connection points:

Wire connection points.

Before adding any new wires, we gave the fixture bases a few quick coats of “oil-rubbed-bronze” spray paint.


To install new wires, just fish the new wires in through the holes in the bottom of the fixtures and secure them to the screws, making sure the neutral white wire connects to the socket threads. For this project, I just used standard 14-gauge solid wires. Typically, you would use a smaller stranded wire for this sort of thing, but I didn’t have any on hand.

Secure new wires to terminals.

On the back side of the fixture, I twisted the wires around each other a few times to hold the wires in place, and to reduce the chances of the wires rubbing against some of the sharp metal edges on this fixture.

Twisted wires on back.

Here’s where we had to really start getting creative. Since we were using a vintage light, we couldn’t find any new mounting brackets wide enough for this sort of fixture, so we were stuck using the old rusty ones. Since the mounting screws were all rusty and wouldn’t turn, we had to use the hack saw to  cut the screws out. Luckily, I was able to get the remainder of the screws out, and the threads were still good enough to accept some new screw posts.

Vintage mounting bracket.

Another factor that made this complicated is that the boxes in the ceiling were the “shallow” style, which didn’t help mounting the lights any easier. We ended up having to mount the bracket upside down… grrr.

Shallow box.

To get the now upside-down mounting bracket in the right place, I ended up using about 20 washers as spacers. I’m sure there are dozens of more elegant ways to accomplish this, but it worked.

Washers as spacers.

After we finally worked our way through the mounting shenanigans, here’s what the lights finally looked like after they were installed:

Vintage Schoolhouse Light Fixture.

And that’s it! What do you think of our new fixtures? Ever had to get creative with mounting hardware to install a vintage fixture?