A DIY Barn Light for a Vintage Garage

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that my brother, Dan, made some gorgeous rustic hanging lights for my new greenhouse.

Rustic DIY Hanging Lights

My greenhouse, with its curved walls, really had the potential to be so much more than a utilitarian workspace – more interesting and more charming.  It just needed the right accessories, lighting being high on the list.  And these lights really delivered.

Now Dan is at it again.  Only this time, he’s bringing old-world charm to another workspace with loads of potential:  His 1908 garage.  And he’s doing it with a vintage-inspired barn light that he made himself.

Today, he has graciously agreed to be my guest writer and share how he did it.  Here is his story:

The Problem

A boring plastic light socket and curly CFL bulb mounted to a plastic electrical box in an otherwise vintage 1908 garage. Sure it’s just a garage, but there’s no reason it has to look bad.

old light

The Solution

I saw a vintage-looking barn light in a lighting catalog, but I wasn’t too fond of the nearly $300 price tag.

So, figuring I could do better, I picked up an aluminum work light at a local hardware store for $12. It had a high-quality thick electrical cord and porcelain socket.

aluminum light03

I also picked up some high-temperature spray paint in white and black, and an outlet and faceplate in brown.

spray paintswitch plate cover and plug


After taking the light apart, I gave the inside of the aluminum shade a coat of the white spray paint, and it turned out looking like antique white enamel. Just the look I was hoping for.

shade after painting
Aluminum shade after applying off-white paint.

Once that dried I gave the outside of the shade and the socket a coat of the black paint. The black paint would be a base coat for the Modern Masters Metal Effects iron paint I planned to use.

Fun Fact: Paint fumes can cause brain damage and death.

I like my brain cells and plan to keep them.  When undertaking a project like this, I am always careful to read, understand and follow all safety precautions.

So back to the project:  When the black base coat dried, I painted the outside of the shade and socket with the Metal Effect iron paint. It goes on pretty thick, so just one coat was enough.

light after iron paint

After that dried, I sprayed on the rust activator. The iron paint has real iron in it and the rust activator causes the iron to rust, so I watched the overspray when applying the activator and made sure not to get it on anything else that could rust, like any tools I had laying nearby.

light with rust activator

After a few days, the final result turned out looking more authentic than the patina on the fixture I saw in the catalog.

DIY Barn Light
After the iron paint and rust activator were applied, this aluminum utility light looked like a salvage yard find.

After painting the blue plastic electrical box with a textured black paint I had left over from another project, I swapped out the CFL and socket with the brown outlet and cover plate.

finished outlet
Plastic electrical box after getting a spray paint makeover.

Now my garage looks less utilitarian and more vintage. So the hunt begins for some antique tools to hang on the walls to complete the look!

The finished product!
The finished product!

A pretty imaginative project, and  I thank Dan for sharing it with us.  This ruggedly handsome light looks like it’s been around for years, and it really adds to the magic of his old-world garage.

Let’s have another look at the before and after.

Aluminum light

Finished DIY Barn Light
Barn light illuminated.

Now remember, this post is for entertainment only.  I call my brother “The Mad Scientist” for a reason, and any attempts to copy his work are at your own peril.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out Dan’s recent guest post about his beautiful DIY Garage Rebuild, which he did on a budget using reclaimed materials!

Dan’s DIY Garage Rebuild



Handmade barn lights come in so many fun variations.  The possibilities are endless.  Check out these and many others on Etsy.


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12 Replies to “A DIY Barn Light for a Vintage Garage”

    1. Hi, Jane: The finished look is rusty and dull. I think the shininess of the final photo is because the light was turned on so the shade was illuminated. But you bring up a good point, and I have added an “after” photo with the light turned off.

    1. Hi, Jen: Yes that rust activator really opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Dan is also working on a really cool desk using the rust activator on the legs. Glad you enjoyed this project!

  1. This is so pretty! I love that you made that new light look old effortlessly. Such a beautiful transformation. Thanks for sharing this at Inspiration Thursday and I hope to see you next week!

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