Monday, February 17, 2014

Glass Insulator pendant lights

I am so happy that Retro Renovation did a little story on my painted tile kitchen backsplash project that I blogged about last time. You can check out their site here A few people seemed interested in our glass insulator pendant lights that were seen in the photos. Also, I promised in my last blog post that I would talk about how they came to be.

When we bought our house the kitchen came with some pendant lights that we really didn't care for. There were four of them, of varying lengths. They didn't seem to be that old and were in good shape but were a little too cute for us. They had white, stained glass shades with an iridescent finish in a hexagon shape. The metal piece that covered the top of the shade also had a flowery scalloped edge.  They were the only lighting in the kitchen except for some under cabinet lights.  Here they are taken down and ready for Craigslist. You can see how they looked when they were still up on my last post about the painted backsplash.

I knew that we wanted something more vintage-retro modern.  Scouting around on Pinterest I saw some pendant lights made from old glass insulators. Love at first sight! First of all, I love glass since I am a mosaic artist. Secondly, the color! The insulators usually come in a lovely shade of aqua blue.  Thirdly, my father and grandfather have collected these kinds of insulators. I remember them lined up on a window sill at my grandparents farmhouse. I'd seen some insulators for sale on Craigslist so of course I had to make some. Glass insulators were used on telegraph lines.  They used to be found on telegraph lines along railroad tracks.

I would call this an advanced DIY project. You should consult an electrician.  Have your work checked and have the electrician install the lights.  You don't want to mess around with electricity.
I bought one insulator to test out how difficult it would be to drill a hole through the glass. I purchased it at a local place that dismantles old houses instead of demolishing them and salvages and resells the materials (Urban Miners in Hamden, CT). I noticed that they had a whole bucket of insulators so I could make the rest of the lights.

I bought a diamond bit for my drill in a hold size large enough for the light cord to fit through. I had checked out the pendant light kit from a home improvement big box store already. It's messy to drill through glass and potentially hazardous.  Safety glasses are a must. You do not want to get glass dust or a shard in your eyes. I did the drilling out in our garage. I put the insulator upside down, so the open end was at the top. I poured a little water into the insulator so that it would no overheat while I was drilling through the glass. I put a piece of scrap wood under the insulator to cushion it while I drilled, too. It takes patience and a steady speed. Even with the water the glass gets pretty hot and I had to stop a few times to let everything cool off. It probably took me 10-15 minutes to drill all the way through the glass and my hands had pins and needles for a while. But, success! I had one shade done!
I've read that you can use a drill press to make the hold but I don't have one and can't comment on that.

I drilled the rest of the shades and my husband and I got to work on the wiring. Like I mentioned before, the pendant kits can be purchased at a home improvement store. The kits are for standard sized bulbs, too big for the insulators. The space inside the insulator for the bulb is quite small so a candelabra bulb is the size we want. I bought four candelabra socket kits. Now comes the advance part. Remove the standard size bulb socket off the pendant kit and attach the candelabra socket to it. I followed the directions from this blog but I confess I had to read and reread it several times to really understand what I was supposed to do.  ttp://

Now, since these four pendant lights are the main lighting for our kitchen we needed them to be bright. At first I just put in some candelabra bulbs that we had lying around the house. They were bright enough but the bulbs stuck out from the bottom of the insulator shade quite a bit. I looked and looked for tiny, bright bulbs but came up with nada. We found some halogen bulbs online that were super tiny but also very, very hot. Halogen bulbs give off a ton of heat. They were also very expensive. They seemed to work great at first but one of my insulator shades cracked due to the fact that the cord was a bit crooked and the super hot bulb was too close to one side of the shade.  *sad face*. We ended up taking out all of the halogens and went back to the regular candelabra bulbs. I've gotten used to seeing the ends of the bulbs and the overall effect of the pendant lights is nice. The blue color goes so well with my painted backsplash and at night there is a cool band of aqua light that gets spread along the ceiling.

My dad says he wants me to make him some insulator pendant lights for his kitchen. They probably remind him of his old collection.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Paint your tile backsplash!

Yup, that's what I said. I meant to write about this little project a long time ago but I wasn't sure that this was going to be more than a temporary fix. Months later, it's looking like my painted tile backsplash is going to stay.

When we bought our house my husband and I were pretty happy with the kitchen. Only 10 yrs. old and in great condition with an efficient layout and ample cupboard space. The only thing wrong was that it didn't really go with the rest of our mid century modern style house. We have an open plan in the main living spaces with high, angled walls, huge windows, brick fireplace hearth. The kitchen had cherry colored cabinets in a Shaker style and a black, matte tile backsplash. I didn't mind the laminate counters at all since they had a stone look pattern in natural colors. I seriously thought about painting the cabinets since Shaker style cabs can look more modern that way. Also, the drawer and cabinet pulls could be upgraded to something other than the blackish-chrome pulls we have now. I'm home with our 2 yr. old so I don't have much time to paint the cabinets. I've done it before and I know that it could take weeks to do all the steps and for drying time.

What really bugged me most was the black backsplash. It just sucked the light out of the counter space.  Our kitchen has a lot of light, maybe too much. We have a huge picture window over the stove. Even on cloudy days I really don't need to turn a light on in there. But the area under the upper cabinets was shadowy thanks to the black backsplash. I'm not afraid of using black in an interior. I think black can bring a sharpness into a room's design. But it has to be used correctly. Like in a fabric print, black frames on art, black and white photography. This black tile backsplash just looked wrong. As a general rule, brown (the cabinets) and black don't look great together.

So one day I thought maybe I could paint the backsplash. I had dabbled with painting tile before so I felt pretty confident that it could be done. It helped that the tiles are a matte finish but I have painted glossy tiles, too. What's key is the primer. I used a bonding primer (XIM). It stinks to high heaven but it is durable stuff. I taped off the countertop, stove, upper cabinets and anything else that touched the tile that wasn't going to get painted. I used a foam brush to paint on the bonding primer. It's very runny so a lot goes a long way. It is a good thing to do this project in warmer weather when you can open windows for ventilation. In fact, using a respirator is a good idea. I used my stove's vent, too. The primer dries very quickly, under an hour. After that I used a white water based primer, Glidden's Gripper. I did this to cover the black as the bonding primer is clear. It didn't completely cover the black but helped get rid of a lot of it.

I had an much loved McCoy vase in turquoise for inspiration. I mixed up about 5 shades of turquoise acrylic paint, from deep to light. 100% acrylic is what you want. It is stronger than latex paint but still has water wash up and little to no fumes. After the primer you will appreciate that!

I used foam brushes again to paint each tile individually. I made a random pattern because I wanted to keep it looking retro. I didn't worry about the grout lines getting sloppy, I'll cover that a little later. It took a couple of coats to make the tiles look completely solid. I liked it but it was a little overwhelming, all that turquoise. I looked into my supply of acrylic paints and pulled out copper. I randomly painted some tiles copper throughout the backsplash. The copper helped bring in the cherry wood tones. Now the kitchen made more sense in relation to the rest of the house.

I cleaned up the grout lines by using a grout colorant product. It's very easy to use, just paint it on in the grout lines and wipe off with a clean rag. After that I sealed the backsplash with a couple of coats of shellac. It's holding up very well and is washable. Our kitchen gets heavy use, too. In one of my photos you can see how the tiles looked before I used the grout colorant and the other one shows the "after".

I really thought that painting the backsplash was going to just be a temporary fix and that ultimately I would make a mosaic backsplash and paint the cabinets. But I have grown so fond of the backsplash and how it makes the cabinets look good that I'll probably keep it. Most of all, it's fun and that's what we like about this house. We've had other houses where we felt like we had to respect the age and history of the house and keep the colors historic. This house feels different. I've painted most of the walls here white because that's what the house wants but I have not been afraid to bring in some wild colors (orange front door!) to be accents.

Most people who come to our house really seem to like the backsplash and it looks pretty retro without being too kitsch, I hope. Next maybe we'll talk about the lights.

Big thanks to Retro Renovation for doing a story on my little project! You can see the story here and check them out: