Rustic Greenhouse Lights from a Mad Scientist

I’ve always thought of my brother, Dan, as a bit of a “mad scientist.”  He likes to experiment, making his own furniture, cabinetry, light fixtures.  Add this to an engineering background and a strong artistic streak and, as you can imagine, he builds some pretty cool things.

This past Christmas, my husband, Chris, and I were the lucky recipients of his latest experiment:  Two rustic hanging lights for our new Sunglo greenhouse, complete with Edison-style bulbs, a custom patina on the wire bulb cages, and vintage-inspired cords and plugs.

Just right - rustic hanging lights for our greenhouse
Just right – rustic hanging lights for our greenhouse

I had wanted to find overhead lighting for our greenhouse that was simple and industrial yet with some vintage charm.  And these lights are exactly that.

A Little Q&A

I thought it would be fun to find out how Dan got his inspiration for these lamps and hear about his process, so I sat down with him for a little Q&A.

H:  Dan, these lights are so unique.  How did you come up with the design?

D:  While flipping through the latest Rejuvenation catalog, I came across a pendant light called “Wiley.”  The design was based on the classic old trouble lights.  It looked simple enough to make myself, so I figured I’d give it a try.

H:  Yes, as soon as Chris saw them he said they look like old-fashioned trouble lights.  In fact, the lights you made are portable so we actually can use them as trouble lights if we want to.

D:  Yeah, sure.

H:  So anyway, you just thought heck, I’ll build some lights.  But how did you find parts?

D:  There are lots of sources for reproduction lamp parts.  So I bought the metal bulb cages and cloth-covered wiring online.  The wood handles came from a ship’s wheel I bought years earlier and never used.

Vintage lighting -reproduction trouble light
The wooden lamp handle, cloth-wrapped cord and vintage-look plug.

H:  Oh no, I remember that wheel.  You took it apart?

D: Well, the wheel was a reproduction and not worth a whole lot, so I didn’t lose any sleep over cutting the handles off.  The wheel had eight handles. The rest of the parts (sockets, threaded rods, etc.) I got at my local hardware store.

H:  There is a very cool corroded-looking, rusty patina on the wire cage.  How did you do that?

Vintage lighting - reproduction patina
The rustic patina on the lamp cage

D:  The bulb cages were steel with a brass-looking anodized coating. I wanted something a little more rustic than brass, so I sanded off the coating, a rather tedious task, and then sprayed the bare metal with a rust activator and let it sit overnight.

H:  What substance did you use for that?

D:  I used Modern Masters Rust Activator designed for their Metal Effects line of paints.

H:  Was this one of those rare projects where everything went as planned, or was there a stumbling block?

D:  The hardest part was drilling straight through the wood handles. I drilled in from each end of the handle as straight as I could and hoped the holes would meet somewhere in the middle. Finding the exact centerline of the handle was difficult, and I had one handle split on me while I was drilling, but fortunately I had extras. That whole process would have been much easier if I had a drill press, but I think the end result looked pretty good.

H:  Oh, I would have to agree with you there!

Vintage lighting - reproduction trouble lights
A pair of reproduction trouble lights.

Don’t Try This at Home, Kids

Now keep in mind that lamp building is a tricky business best left to professionals, so this post is not a tutorial.  As they say, “don’t try this at home.”


Disclosure: Affiliate links used.

There is also a huge array of reproduction trouble lights and trouble light chandeliers on Etsy.  Here is a small sampling.

lights chandelier 1lights one lightlight one light2


Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
My Shop
Dan’s Workshop
Decorating and Holidays
Our Little Sunglo Greenhouse
Floral Design
Garden Design
The June Bug Diaries
Our Laundry Room Remodel

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