LED lighting – One year later

It’s been almost a year since we did some math and bit the bullet to light the studio with LEDs. Aesthetics were a driving factor, but the potential savings ultimately pushed us over the edge.


The savings can only be realized if all of the LEDs live up to their guarantee to work longer than their incandescent counterparts. (More on that math here) I’m happy to report that all 50 bulbs in the studio are going strong. If our math is right (which I assume it is because Aaron did it) we should start seeing an ROI on our investment of the bulbs before the end of this year!



We’re so in love with LEDs that we even used them outside. Those have been in service almost as long as the ones in the studio and they’re still going strong even after the polar vortex.

So far, we’re giving LightKiwi LEDs a huge thumbs up! (They also make Cree bulbs, which you may have seen advertisements for. Does anyone else laugh out loud at those commercials or is that just me?)

How to: Make an organic, industrial light fixture

The lighting in the living room was seriously depressing. Some holes in the ceiling  and a defunct fluorescent fixture led us to believe that this space was primarily lit by fluorescents at one point. When we moved in, we inherited a sad bunch of single bulb sockets. Even with high-watt incandescent bulbs, these “fixtures” did little to illuminate the room because they were tucked up among the duct work. I’ve circled them below because they are easy to miss.


Single bulb and an old hole…


As a temporary fix, we added a DIY fixture that used to hang in Aaron’s office at the studio. This gave us a little more light over the couch.


Aforementioned dead fluorescent fixture. Now removed. RIP.


I didn’t have a hand in coming up with this particular fixture, but Aaron has lots of ideas in this realm. (It’s also not the first time he’s made a light fixture for the firehouse.) He has a pretty extensive Pinterest board for lighting inspiration. For the living room. he honed on this gem (originally from Petite Passport):


There wasn’t enough room in the original ceiling boxes for all of the pendant wire and he thought it would look more finished if the wires weren’t coming directly out of the ceiling.


So for each drop (we have 4 total) he spray painted an electrical box, ceiling box plate with center knock out (not pictured) and an electrical conduit coupling. They got a flat black treatment to match the cord.



The new box is screwed right into the existing box.


Next it’s a good idea to lay out your pendants. We just spread the sockets on the floor to give us a good idea how the lights would be spaced. This also helped ensure there wouldn’t be too many wires going into a box. The conduit connector can only hold 4. Once they were laid out, we strung fabric-wrapped cord from the box to the approximate location where a bulb would hang. This allowed us to eyeball the amount of swag each wire would have.


Then we needed something to loop the wire through. In a normal ceiling, you can just screw in a hook or an eye bolt. Because we have old plaster ceilings, Aaron grabbed some toggle bolts to give everything extra staying power.


He removed the screw and replaced it with an eye bolt and washer (both painted white) in the same size as the screw.


Then it’s just a matter of drilling and adding the bolt. The cord is looped through and we decided to hold the two pieces together with some thin metal wire (the same stuff we used for our DIY decanter tags.)


Determine how low you want the bulb to sit. We opted for varying lengths, which adds to the organic feel.

Then it’s time to attach the socket. This seems like a good time to mention that we are not certified electricians. This is relatively easy, but if you have any doubts, please consult a professional.



Here’s what you need – a socket, a standard cable grip (also called a strain relief) and the end of your fabric wrapped cord.


Slide the standard cable grip and top of the socket over the end of the wire.


Push them up a few inches to give yourself some room to work.


Cut the cord wrap to expose the wires and remove the excess insulation.



Strip the wires.



Take the inner part of the socket and loosen the screws on each side.


Make a hook in each strand of wire and wrap one around each screw.


Tighten the screws


Pull the top of the socket down.


Screw on the bottom of the socket.



Push the standard cable grip into the top of the socket. This will lock the wires in place.



Repeat for each pendant and wire the other ends into the box. Then add a bulb. We opted for 40W incandescent bulbs. This gives us a ton of light in the space, and the whole system is on a dimmer so we can set the mood for movie watching.



Viola! This is a really adaptable project. If you don’t have this many boxes on your ceiling (most residential spaces don’t), you could simply hang the ceiling box and wire a cord to a plug. Swag the cord to the wall and down to an outlet for an even more draped effect. You could also wire each pendant cord to a plug and plug them into a 4-gang outlet in the ceiling box (a la the inspiration photo).


This simple fixture has made a huge impact in the space. We love that it adds some interest and softness to the ceiling. But most importantly it gave us much needed LIGHT!

Has anyone else created a custom light fixture? We have several more brewing for other areas of the firehouse. Oh, what about lamps? Let’s not talk about the number of things we’re hoarding to be turned into awesome lamps.

A clean slate

Where were we? Oh, right, the living room was in ruins. Let’s take a step back and look at the space before the project started. Awful red, awful tan, half-painted duct work on the ceiling, a lovely green border at the base of the wall, negligible lighting… basically nothing good going on.


Ba Bam!


It’s amazing what a coat of paint can do. The space is so different, so much cleaner. I usually photograph this room without the lights on. The single bulbs stuck between the duct work didn’t do much for the space. For the sake of comparison, here’s the room with the lights out.

But you probably noticed that we added a lot more bulbs and a cool fixture to the space.


It literally floods this room with light, which is a very dramatic (and welcome) change, especially in the evening.


Everything is looking a bit more fresh. Before:


Lovely, lovely after:






Oh! Did you notice the rug? Can we stop and talk about how amazing this rug is?

Once this room was in progress, we started to think about what we wanted to make it a bit more liveable. A rug was high on the list. Initially, we were leaning toward something with a pop of color, but those plans were derailed when we realized the non-white couch would have to go! We have some fun plans to inject color with a new-to-us sofa (We JUST picked out fabric and I’m so excited! More to come!)


We casually kept an eye out for a neutral rug and found this one (Tahoe Sunset by Loloi) on Gilt. We fell, and we fell hard. We love that it runs from dark to light and back again. It also gives us a chance to inject some brown into the space, which can be hard with a black and white palette. We even like that it makes the floor feel a bit more intentional.

It’s a nice natural element in the space thanks to the cowhide material. We even love the rectangular blocks and the stitching that becomes more evident in the lighter squares. I’ve never loved a rug more.



Overall, we are in love with the space. (Ugh. I need to stop saying “love.”) This may be one of those times where pictures don’t do it justice. What used to be a slightly depressing cave is now a light-filled sanctuary.



Now that the bones are good, we’re already planning more changes. The tan couch (could it look any worse in this space?) and coffee table (Ditto. The green in the glass, the fact that it’s blocking THE RUG! Boo!) are definitely on the chopping block. The media unit might not be safe either…

We’re also looking for art to add some interest to the walls. We definitely want to bring in some color and use the space to print some of our photographs. The stairwell is still in progress.

In the meantime, I’ll be back with a tutorial for the light fixture and more details on the new couch.


The front gets a little brighter

In line with all of the other lighting at the firehouse, the front lights flanking the garage door were in need of a serious upgrade.


You can barely see them in the image above, so let’s take a closer look.

The one on the left was dull, faded and not working.



Oh and just for good measure, it’s held together by tape.


The right side featured the same faded housing and a red (??) CFL. Basically, it’s super classy. But at least it worked.


A key part of Operation Make the Front of the Firehouse Look Presentable called for replacing these sad, sad fixtures with something shiny, new and functional. We took to the internet and and now have an unhealthy obsession with Barn Light Electric. “Where Vintage and Modern Collide” – Umm, hello! Can we be best friends FOREVER?

There were a handful of options that would have looked great, but we feel in love with the Comanche Commercial Gooseneck Warehouse Shade. The light peeking through the top sold us.

When the lights arrived we were very impressed by the quality. Installation was easy*: cut the power, remove old lights, hang new lights.

Hello beautiful!


We opted for LEDs so we could see how they perform in an exterior application. And because duh.



This would have been the end of our mini update, but we had to add an item to the list. Womp, womp.

  • Give the garage door a new coat of red paint so the new panels blend in with the old
  • Replace the flags
  • Replace the light fixtures on either side of the garage door
  • Upgrade the bulbs in all the fixtures to LEDs
  • Touch up the garage door


*Ok, so there was one major hiccup with the light installation. Back when Aaron built the new floors for the pole closets (was that really just in May??), he had a bit of a scare on the last hole. It’s buried a bit in this post, so let me give you a quick refresher.

Whilst using the hammer drill to create holes for concrete anchors, he inadvertently drilled through a piece of conduit holding live electrical wires. Sparks flew (literally) and we thanked a higher being for insulated tools and circuit breakers. One of the strips of lights in the studio also died. Thankfully Aaron is well on his way to a Master Electrician Badge (does an Eagle Scout ever really stop earning badges?). What could have been a disastrous day became an annoying bump in the road when he rerouted the circuit before the accidental puncture. Lights (and order) were restored.

So, why this electrifying (har, har) flashback? Well, once Aaron got the new exterior light installed on the left side we couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. We assumed the broken circuit was to blame. Aaron fixed the rest of the broken circuits, but with the light still refusing to work he decided a pro was needed.

When I got home from work that day, we veered from marveling at the paint job on the viewing room (OMG you guys it looks so good! Post forthcoming) to standing near the front of the studio discussing the bit of raw luck that electrical was doling out. At which point Aaron noticed a switch near the garage door that he had never traced. He flipped it and BINGO! The front light turned on, the electrician service call was canceled and our small family celebrated! (ok, really just us. Mojo seemed unimpressed)

Moral of the story: When buying a firehouse, don’t call an electrician until you try every switch (or something like that).

Lighting the studio

The lighting in the entire firehouse was in serious need of an upgrade when we took over. The former owner clearly had a penchant for awful, makes-me-want-to-scratch-my-eyes-out fluorescent. That kind of nauseating, non-directional light just wasn’t going to fly in our dream studio.


I mean, seriously?


We knew we wanted suspended white track lighting:

  • Suspended so it didn’t interfere with any of the other systems hanging out on the ceiling and so we could reach it with a ladder
  • Track with adjustable heads so we can control the light and spotlight our art
  • White because duh (do you not know us yet?) and so the lighting would blend into the ceiling

We purchased the system from TotalTrackLighting.com, partially because of the company’s great customer service. Aaron submitted our room layout, and the company created a design and a shopping cart filled with everything we needed. Aaron made a few modifications due to our unique architectural elements. For instance, we couldn’t use their square layout suggestion because we need space for the garage door to open in front. Instead he opted for three parallel tracks, mimicking the layout of the current fixtures. It also meant that each line of track would be on it’s own switch.

A few weeks later we had our 200+ piece order of “white” components. Sadly, their white is closer to our beige and all the track and heads had to be painted. Spray paint, you are our best friend. Here’s everything looking much more REAL white.


Each track has 2 wire hangers. Aaron drilled an anchor for each into the ceiling and ran power lines from the boxes powering the ugly fluorescent fixtures. Then he connected the track and leveled each. Then it’s as easy as adding track heads and bulbs.


Once everything was up, the room didn’t feel as ‘white’ thanks to the incandescent bulbs, which produce rather warm light. Fluorescent were (obviously) out so we looked into LED bulbs, which offer a color temperature that’s closer to daylight. When we popped in an LED bulb the difference was pretty clear.


So we liked the color, but we still needed to rationalize the sticker shock of $35 per bulb (at Home Depot). Thanks to the interwebs we found Cree LED bulbs through LightKiwi for just $20 each. Considering we needed 50 bulbs that still racked up to a hefty $1,000… just for LIGHT BULBS. So we (Aaron) turned to math and found that the energy savings from the LEDs would nearly cover the cost of the bulbs in just one year. Ready for math (don’t be scared, Aaron did it for you):


The numbers get even crazier when you look at the lifespan of the bulbs:

  • LEDs ~30,000 hours (about 12 years)
  • Incandescent 2,600 hours (less than a year)

Assuming the LED bulbs last the full 12 years and we have to replace the incandescent bulbs every year, here’s the breakdown:


So we’ll save more than $8,000 over the lifespan of the LED bulbs and we get the color temperature we want? Clearly a no brainer, right? LEDs win.

Enough math, let’s look at more pretty pictures.





Has anyone else done the math and opted for LED bulbs? Does anyone else hate fluorescent light as much as we do?