New Life for an Old Chandelier

I love auctions. Well, I love the idea of auctions. Every so often I’ll preview the wares at the upcoming Skinner events in Boston, and I’ll make tentative plans to go bid on antique rugs and other storied items I discover there. In reality, the likelihood of me hiring a babysitter to watch the kids on a weekend so I can go raise my paddle for an antique Bergere chair—oh, and the likelihood of me having, say, $1K extra cash laying around to spend on a whim—is next to zero.

Luckily, I know people who actually do go to auctions. Which is how I became the proud owner of this brass-and-crystal chandelier, purchased by my neighbor Rosann at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She stopped me on the sidewalk one day and asked if I needed a chandelier. “I bought this thing and have no idea where I can put it,” she explained. “My husband told me, ‘I don’t know why you keep buying these things—there’s nowhere for them to go!’”

My inherited fixture. Source: Northeast Auctions 

My inherited fixture. Source: Northeast Auctions 

I went to check it out at her home a few weeks later. Dusty and crammed in a box, it was definitely in need of some TLC. But the size, shape, and (imagined) sparkle were just right.

It sat in that box under my desk for another year, getting dustier by the day. But now that our kitchen renovation is well underway, I had good reason to finally clean and hang the fixture: I needed to swap it in for a pendant in my hallway, because I was moving that pendant to the new first-floor powder room.

The basket of the chandelier before cleaning.

The basket of the chandelier before cleaning.

It turns out there are two methods for cleaning a chandelier—removing all the parts and reassembling it, or cleaning the parts while they’re still hanging on the fixture. While the ex-Martha-employee in me felt compelled (for two seconds) to go whole-hog and disassemble it, the same part of my brain that compels me to turn any recipe into a one-pot meal won out. I also considered using a diluted ammonia solution for cleaning, but found that plain water and light scrubbing made the crystals sparkle just fine. I also opted not to polish the brass frame, as I rather liked the patina it had developed over the years. 

Armed with a damp rag and a 4-year-old daughter who was more than happy to sort the mixed bag of loose crystals into “piles of diamonds” for me, I set to work. I placed the top half of the chandelier on a small basket, both for support and to allow me to get underneath the fixture with a rag. 

One by one, I worked my way down the long upper strands and around the outer crown of larger prisms. I quickly realized that the terrycloth rag I was using was a bad choice; the loops of the towel kept snagging on the brass connectors. I switched to a damp scrap of an old T-shirt and continued. 

A few of the strands and crystals had broken, and a few of the brass connectors had snapped, so I set those aside as I worked. I combined a few partial strands, loose crystals, and intact connectors together to make complete chains, figuring I could fill the complete gaps with replacement strands.

The cleaned upper portion of the chandelier, resting on top of a basket of Magna-Tiles, of course. (Best toy ever!)

The cleaned upper portion of the chandelier, resting on top of a basket of Magna-Tiles, of course. (Best toy ever!)

The lower portion of the chandelier, the basket of hanging prisms, posed another challenge: How to clean underneath without hanging the fixture from great heights. After several misguided attempts to hang it from a stair railing with rope and slicing my hand on a broken crystal, I came up with a better solution: strapping it to the underside of a Lucite chair with the removable strap of a handbag. By knotting the strap, I was able to get the basket of crystals to hang a few inches off the ground, and the Lucite seat allowed enough light in that I could work without a flashlight. Bingo.  

One by one I wiped down the dangling prisms, adding any broken ones I found to my daughter’s “diamond pile.” Those would need to get replaced. Check out the difference between the cleaned crystals on the left and the and dirty ones on the right:

Cleaning the crystals
The basket of the chandelier after cleaning. You can see my jury-rigged chair setup here as well. 

The basket of the chandelier after cleaning. You can see my jury-rigged chair setup here as well. 

On to replacement parts. I ordered inexpensive chains of octagonal crystals and a handful of dangling strass crystals from chandelierparts.com. They came in about a week, and I added them to the missing gaps. I used brass wire from the craft store to attach the ball prism to a short length of chain.

Replacement parts. 

Replacement parts. 

 Finally it was ready to install. First, we had our electricians remove this pendant from the hallway and place it in our new powder room, which we added when we built the new kitchen...

Pendant by Arteriors in its new home.

Pendant by Arteriors in its new home.

...at which point I began harassing Dave daily about hanging my restoration project in the second-floor hall. I had to sit tight for a week, but it finally went up last night. Dave had to A) stand precariously on a ladder above a 2-floor drop, B) try not to get electrocuted, and C) try not to drop the top half of the chandelier, which was a bit terrifying. My only contribution was sitting on the above staircase and guiding the basket onto the frame once he had the top half set. But LOOK HOW AWESOME IT IS!

Bling bling bling bling bling. 

Bling bling bling bling bling. 

Not bad for a hand-me down, eh? I'm enchanted. It sparkles like crazy. The ball prism hangs quite a bit lower than in the auction photo now, but since the chandelier is just a hair undersized for the space, I like the increased length.

Now, to find a chandelier for the bedroom, so I can move that fixture to the new family room. Any favorite (non-auction) sources for vintage? Do tell...