An Expert Guide to Buying Vintage Lighting

a guide to buying vintage lighting by Loomlight, specialisits in restoring vintage industrial lighting

July 04, 2023

­­­­­­Loomlight are British vintage lighting restoration specialists, set up in 2014 by Victoria & Andy Iliffe. Having stumbled upon some vintage industrial lamps in a salvage yard back in 2012, Andy set about restoring and rewiring them. This initial passion for restoring quality light fixtures coupled with Andy’s 20 years experience working in lighting design and electrical engineering gave birth to Loomlight as a full-time business.

Victoria & Andy reclaim light fixtures originating from all sorts of industrial settings around the world. Everywhere from old factories, decommissioned ships, mines and airports. Their vintage lights are used in TV & film productions, hotels, bars, restaurants and homes all over the world. 

In this guide, Andy answers questions about what to look for when buying vintage lighting.

Is it safe to buy Vintage Lighting?

Generally buying vintage lighting from a reputable or trusted seller means there shouldn’t be any problems. However there are things of which you should be aware to protect yourself from buying a money pit or something unsafe. Below I’ve outlined areas to think about.   

What is classed as vintage?

If it between 20-100 years old, then it is classed as vintage. Anything older than this is then classed an antique. At Loomlight, most of our lighting is mid-century, manufactured between 1930-1970.

Green Enamel Vintage lighting in a retro living room

What to look out for when buying vintage lights?

There are so many different vintage design eras to explore from Art Deco, Mid-century Modern or Industrial, so pick something that suits your aesthetic or personality. We reclaim vintage industrial lights because we love them! They are high quality fixtures which were designed and built for harsh conditions so their life cycle is very long and because they are manufactured from metal they are easily recyclable. Some industrial features we like in light fixtures are:-

  1. Protective cages
  2. Prismatic glass cover can soften illumination and give the fixture a more decorative look
  3. Manufacturer details in the form of the original plates or branding cast into the metal which gives the lamp character
  4. A vitreous enamel finish is very hard wearing
  5. Flameproof or explosion proof technology is a sign of a lamp engineered to a high standard Visible nuts, bolts or clips for accessing the light bulb also adds industrial charm

Determine the functionality you need from your lighting. Are you looking for ambient lighting, task lighting or decorative accent pieces? Consider the type of light emitted, whether it's adjustable, and if it meets your specific lighting needs. There’s no reason you can’t use LED light bulbs with a vintage light. Nowadays there is a fantastic range of LED light bulbs with a range of colour temperatures and light outputs to suit. Check out our blog on LED light bulbs for more information. We use Edison filament LED light bulbs because not only are they very efficient, but they have a vintage aesthetic about them which suits the style of our light fixtures.

vintage industrial lighting in a kitchen diner over a large kitchen island

Has the light fixture been restored & rewired?

With anything electrical it is always best to buy from a reputable or trusted seller. Some vintage & antique sellers don’t restore their items. Always check with the seller whether it has been restored & rewired, so you know what you are taking on. It is expensive to restore lighting and if you can’t do this yourself, you will need to find an electrician willing to take on this specialist project. Consider the cost implications of purchasing a light that needs restoration & rewiring.

At Loomlight, we strip all the old electrical components out of our lights and replace everything with CE approved or UL listed components so they meet modern safety standards and are ready to use.

Assess the condition of the light fixture. Vintage items often show signs of wear, but it's crucial to determine if any damage is reparable or if it significantly affects the functionality or aesthetics of the piece. Scratches and dents can add character and charm to the light. But missing parts may decrease usability and increase the cost of the restoration. We love some of the scuffs that come with old lights. It makes each light fixture individual and adds a layer of authenticity to a room.

Vintage lighting over a rustic dining table in an industrial style kitchen diner

Can I just change the plug?

Any desk light with a plug must undergo an Electrical Safety Test or PAT test. If the light is not from the UK then the wiring and plug would need to replaced. We always recommend using a qualified electrician to undertake any rewiring.

We factory test all our fixtures prior to them leaving our workshop and wire our fixtures correctly for UK, USA and the rest of the world.

When to walk away from vintage lighting?

As professional restorers with pride in selling high quality items, we have our reputation to uphold so only offer the very best to our customers. However, for a personal purchase you may be more flexible on some of these points. But be aware of the cost implications if you want to get your light restored. Below are some of the things that make us walk away from buying vintage light fixtures.

  • holes in the surface; holes are very difficult if not impossible to repair.
  • rusty lights can be problematic because the rust will continue to degrade the metal over time. We steer clear of buying rusted lighting. But we really like the natural patina of rust, so we now produce a range of rusty lights which achieves the aesthetic without any of the negative consequences. It is a hand applied bespoke rust finish which can be added to any of our lights. The rusted finish is achieved using a powder coat of iron which is then oxidised to create a rust finish.
  • rubber seals & gaskets – check for erosion or cracking. If either of things have occurred, then they will need to be replaced.
  • check old industrial lighting for asbestos.
Rusted vintage lighting over a dining table

For us buying vintage is all about the quality of the item and the character that comes with age. The metal vintage lights that we find, have been designed and built with such high quality that it would be a crime for them to be scrapped. We actively move away from items that have been made from cheap materials and quickly disposable and strive to keep well designed vintage items in circulation for as long as possible.