I have a problem. You know how some people end up with half a dozen pets because they just can’t not take home a stray? I’m that way, too, except that my strays are abandoned or broken household items, the older the better. I have a collection of antique Singer sewing machines that keeps growing (we had 9 machines in the house for a while there). It pains me to see beaten up antiques free on Craigslist and not take them home to refurbish. And if it’s on the curb, right there, in front of me? I’m doomed.
Which is how I came to possess an extremely battered glass chandelier.
I was 30 miles into a 40 mile ride along some hilly back roads in the Berkeley hills; the particular road I was on isn’t even residential. There’s some parking areas for hiking trails towards the top, but no houses. I was slogging up what is usually one of my favorite climbs in the area in nearly 100* heat at a predictably slow pace. It was hot enough that even in the shade I was having trouble. I had long since lost view of my two ride buddies. I was mostly staring at the pavement 20 or so feet in front of me, occasionally looking up in hopes that I’d gotten to the top without noticing it (I hadn’t). And I looked up, and I thought I was seeing things; there was a glass chandelier hanging in a tree in the back of a turnout that was a few yards from me. Glad of the excuse, I stopped to check it out.
It had once been beautiful. Probably not a great quality chandelier, it had been quite pretty at one time nonetheless. Now, however, it was dirty, one arm was broken in half, most of the bobeche (the glass tutus around the “candles”) were missing and the two that weren’t were broken, the crystal drops were missing, and the metal parts were all corroded. Still, hanging in that tree looking sad, the chandelier spoke of better times. Elegant dinners, glittering parties. I needed to take it home and fix it up. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
The first challenge, of course, was how do you get a chandelier, a fragile GLASS chandelier no less, home on a bicycle? The short answer is: You don’t. I did spend a good 5 minutes considering. I was on the bicycle with a rack. I might be able to rig something using my wind breaker (no, I don’t know why I bothered to bring it, either). Maybe I could use its cord to tie it on? It didn’t take long for me to realize that no matter what I did, there was an extremely solid chance that I would just damage the chandelier further by trying to take it home on my bike. But, since it had clearly been hanging here a while, I could probably safely assume that it would still be here if I came back for it with a car.
I almost didn’t. I almost put it out of my mind and left it hanging in that tree. But after the ride, one of my buddies asked me if I’d seen the chandelier in that tree, how odd was that? And so I went home, showered, changed, and got a car. The chandelier was still there. I regret that I didn’t get a picture of it at the time; I didn’t think to photograph it until I had it home and in pieces. And it’s a crappy picture, too.
There had been five arms on the chandelier; one of them was broken in half with a chunk of the middle missing. The wiring was in uncertain condition, so I removed it entirely. The entire thing was FILTHY. The entire thing could be disassembled, so I took it apart and washed all the glass parts; the metal was a bigger problem. The metal had, at one point, been made to look like brass. It wasn’t brass. If the pieces I tried to polish are any indication, they were mostly copper with a brass-ish coating. Polishing just took the coating off and left them looking even more terrible. After some research online, I discovered I could replace most of the metal parts with actual brass, but it would be prohibitively expensive. I also found out that just about the only way re coat the pieces was to paint them, and lo, I happened to have some gold spray paint laying around. So I sanded the worst corrosion off, and painted all the gold bits with a soft gold paint.
I ordered new insulators for the light fixtures, and cleaned the corrosion off the contacts. I looked up how to wire the thing without electrocuting myself (actually, this is pretty easy). I purchased fancy antique reproduction cord and a plug (with modern safety features) to use for the parts that would show. I got replacement candle covers for the light fixtures, and found fancy LED Filament bulbs that look like Edison bulbs but take dramatically less electricity. I stalked Etsy and Ebay for replacement crystals and bobeche.
The arm was going to be the hard part. These chandeliers are sort of mass produced, but there’s still a lot of variation in them. I’m fortunate; there’s a local shop? epic warehouse of fun? Salvage yard? called Urban Ore, and I had seen bins of spare chandelier arms there. I packed up the arm and went looking. It took me a while to get an employee to help me (they were swamped and short staffed, go figure), and then I spent nearly an hour fishing through the loose arms and trying to find one that matched. I got pretty close; unless you hold the new arm up right on top of one of the old ones, you really can’t tell it’s not original; its curve is a little more dramatic, but only a little.
Once I got it home, though, I discovered that the ferrule, the metal and part on the glass arms, was different; it didn’t have holes drilled in it to hang extra swags of crystals like the others did. Crap. But the ferrules on the broken arm were fine; all I had to do was figure out how to switch them out. With some research, I found out that the ferrules are usually cemented in using plaster; a few days soaking in water should soften it enough to remove the ferrules, scrub off the plaster, and put on new ones. Naturally, one of the ferrules on my new arm had been put in place using something… not plaster. There was cotton and glue and some other nonsense going on, but it pulled off easily enough and nail polish remover took care of the rest. Resetting the ferrules wasn’t too bad, and now all of my arms matched!
I found crystals online pretty easily, and purchased some used drops that were lightly chipped, and new swags, because they were easier to find in the quantities I needed. Assembly was remarkably easy, though the wiring was challenging to fit into the base because it was kind of bulky.
The only thing left now is to hang it from the ceiling. Not too terrible for something I found hanging in a tree.