5 Tips For Picking the Right Light Fixtures When Renovating Your Historic Charleston Home

When tackling a historic renovation, it’s the details that will really make you home shine. From period correct hardware to the fixtures on the wall, getting the right feel is vital.

One of the most overwhelming parts of renovating historic homes in Charleston is the process of selecting the right light fixtures. Getting it right matters. The light they cast in the room matters from a practical standpoint. The electrical work needed to install them can be complicated. And the style has to fit right to tie together the overall look and theme of each room, particularly when doing historic renovations.

To complicate matters, there are so many possible light fixture choices on the market that it’s not uncommon for arguments to break out during these discussions. To lower the stress levels, we’ve outlined five important aspects to consider when choosing light fixtures for historic renovations so that you can arrive at the most functional, beautiful solutions for your project.

1. Focus on Functionality First

The look of the light fixture will be wasted if the lighting doesn’t work for you. Think about how your light fixtures will make life easier for you, first and foremost. Having exquisite-looking light fixtures in your historic renovation is important, but if they don’t actually serve your practical living needs, you’ll grow irritated with them eventually.

So, it’s important to first understand the layered lighting approach and focus on how to get the best light in every room, for every purpose and activity. Layer your lighting with these three essential functions in mind, based on how you want to use each room:

Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting provides that overall illumination that every room should have when you first walk in. It casts a broad glow upon the largest surface area so that you can walk safely and comfortably from place to place. Some good examples of ambient lighting include flush-mounted fixtures, chandeliers, recessed lighting, wall sconces and even period-friendly torchieres.

Task lighting

Task lighting casts a more focused light upon a specific work surface, such as under-cabinet lighting to illuminate kitchen food preparation areas, lighting in the bathroom that makes applying makeup or shaving easier, lighting over a desk for working, or a light in a library that makes reading easier. The key with task lighting is that it should be situated to remove shadows and improve the visibility of the work surface. Pendants, vanity lights, angled recessed lighting and wall sconces can meet most of your task lighting objectives.

Indoor Lighting for historic homes

Accent lighting

Use accent lighting to highlight specific design elements or objects in your room. If you have a stunning piece of artwork, a piano, a bookcase with collectibles, a sculpture, or anything else you want to draw attention to in any room, you can use accent lighting to dial up the illumination by about 3 to 5 times brighter than the surrounding ambient light fixtures. Directed can lights, gas lanterns, sconces and pendants that make their own statements are wonderful options here.

Keep in mind that it’s important, as you work through your historic home renovation, not to leave these sorts of lighting decisions to the last minute, or it can negatively affect the overall functionality and look of the room.

So, as always, start with functionality and then move on to forms that fit that functionality. And include the lighting from the very beginning of the planning stages of your renovation project.

The Two Wall Light Sconce from
Carolina Lanterns and Lighting

Historic Charleston Lighting

2. Get the Period Pieces Right

Picking the right light fixtures for historic renovations in Charleston will require doing a little homework into the period when your home was originally built, and what sort of light fixtures were in style at the time. If you can find old pictures of the original home, or any old, original light fixtures, this can provide some clues, as can checking in with the Historic Charleston Foundation’s records, if they have any on your home. The renovation experts here at Renew Urban are also extremely well-versed in period light fixtures unique to the Charleston area, including gas lamps and lanterns, which continue to be very popular with people who are renovating historic properties. When you know what historical time frame your home was built in, you can narrow down your light fixture search to items that fit that period.

Keep in mind that even if you do find old, original light fixtures, it’s possible that their wiring and electronics will not meet present-day building codes. Decorative elements of the original light fixture could be used, however, and refitted with modern wiring. If it isn’t possible to salvage or reuse parts of original pieces, you can often find similar pieces in better condition that may have elements you can use. You can also have beautiful replicas made.

Old Village Wall Mount

Selecting a Style

3. Decide on Your Theme and Stick With It

Once you have included the functionality of each light fixture for each room into your design plans, and narrowed down your light fixtures to specific historical periods, try to stay true to your selected design theme.

While it is possible to mix and match more original light fixtures with modern ones, it’s important to choose ones that have similar or complementary patterns, elements, patinas and materials in order to bring each room together into a cohesive overall design. You don’t want to mix, say, Art Deco pieces with Classic Revival or Colonial pieces or the design will clash and feel disjointed. Some of the more classic style options for home renovations in Charleston include:

  • Greek Revival
  • Georgian
  • Colonial
  • Federal
  • Gothic Revival
  • Classic Revival
  • Victorian
  • Italianate
  • Art Deco

So, once you’ve settled on your style theme, make sure to keep all of your design elements, including light fixtures, within that orbit so that your renovation comes together beautifully.

Gas Lamps in southern Heat

4. What About Gas Lamps?

It’s nearly impossible to talk about light fixtures for historic renovations in Charleston without talking about gas lanterns and lamps, which are an absolute classic for this area, particularly in renovated homes. Many of the classic gas lanterns and lamps here are still powered by natural gas or propane, and it’s important to factor the gas lines into the renovation cost when choosing these options.

You can also find authentic-looking electric-powered lanterns that usually use a 60-watt bulb. The most commonly-seen lamps and lanterns for classic home renovations in Charleston include antique bronze, natural copper (that comes shiny and develops a classic, weathered patina that enhances the authenticity of the light fixture) and powder-coated black.

The Brunswick Hanging Half Yoke

Historic Light Fixtures

5. Consult a Charleston Historic Renovations Expert about Light Fixtures

With any serious historic home renovation, it’s very important not to ‘go it alone’ in the design and selection of important elements, including light fixtures. While there are many home improvement contractors in Charleston, very few of them have the level of historic renovation expertise that we’ve assembled here at Renew Urban. We have renovated numerous residential and commercial spaces in Charleston, particularly luxury and historic projects that you can look at in our portfolio sections for inspiration: Residential projects or Commercial projects.

Click through our sections for some great examples of pulling a design together with the right light fixtures for historic renovations. We’ll be happy to discuss your project with you and set you on the right path for a beautiful Charleston renovation.