life in a tiny apartment.

March 4, 2015

swap the lights | reading my tea leaves

Tip #118: Swap the lights.

As you’ve probably grasped, my general approach to living in a rental apartment tends toward making as few drastic changes as possible. (In case you need a reminder about how I’m currently dealing with my bathroom: head here.)

There’s always going to be something that’s not quite right. In our last apartment, I didn’t like the kitchen cabinets. In this apartment my dislike for the kitchen cabinets is overshadowed by my dislike for the bathroom. Suffice to say that if we owned our house, we might make a few tweaks and changes to both. But it’s likely that in this place, neither bathroom nor cabinets will get any kind of overhaul. You know how it goes.

But there are other kinds of apartment improvements that require a little bit of know-how, a little bit of daring, and a little bit of time, but that are ultimately doable. That’s the kind of fix I like to focus on.

In this apartment that kind of fix has been the light fixtures. Because a bad light fixture is so bad, and a good one is so good. And with just a little bit of dedication, a swapped light fixture—or even a capped light fixture—can make all the difference.

I don’t take messing with the light fixtures lightly. It takes some skill and some gumption and a place to store the offending fixture. It might even take a call to an electrician.*
And I’m the first to admit that part of this light swapping business has come with getting older. When James and first embarked on the magical mystery tour of cohabiting, we were young—just 23 and 25. We were still figuring out how to pay our electric bills, never mind swapping out light fixtures for ones we liked better. But a real doozy of a light job changed our minds when we moved to Providence and found an apartment that came complete with yellowed track lighting in every room, including the bedroom. We took it all down and stashed it in the attic. We never replaced it, we just capped the wires and the box and dusted off our hands. We used table lamps instead and never for a minute regretted either decision.

In this apartment, for the first year, we took a similar approach. We took the shades off our ceiling fan lights and replaced the bulbs with clear, round vanity bulbs. We removed a wonky white chandelier that hung awkwardly close to a wall, and capped the place where it hung. In our bedroom, we satisfied ourselves by simply never turning on the ubiquitous boob light that hung above our bed.

But after nearly a year in this space, we got a little bold. (And a little tired of walking around in the dark.) So we replaced the boob light and the old chandelier with two simple ceramic lights from Schoolhouse Electric. And just like that, our humble abode feels more like ours. (We’re still doing our best to ignore the fan. At least it’s white.)

swap the lights | reading my tea leaves Bonus: our tiny bedroom floor plan, as reflected by our new silver-capped light bulbs. A double-bed, a dresser, and a crib in one little room. Plus three.

PS. Seriously: Please exercise caution when messing with your electricity. If you don’t know how to change a light fixture, definitely ask for help. And don’t come a knockin’ if your landlord is none too pleased with your redecorating.

PPS. Who knows how to reupholster? Our little bench needs halp!

Disclosure: Schoolhouse Electric generously gave us our two new beautiful lamps. Yes, we’ll be taking them with us when we go.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – #117, RIGHT HERE.

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  • Reply Anonymous March 4, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    that second picture.. incredible!
    lighting is everything, worth every ounce of effort it takes to make it right for you 🙂

  • Reply Rachel March 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Lighting is so important! This post was a reminder that we need to tackle our light fixtures. We have horrible lighting in our apartment :/


    • Reply Erin March 4, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Good luck!

      • Reply admin March 4, 2015 at 9:15 pm

        Burning down the studio would definitely not be a good thing, but little lamps sounds like it's working out!

    • Reply admin March 4, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Totally! (And thank you!)

  • Reply Faith Lee March 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    For me, outdated and ugly kitchen cabinets in rental is an elephant you need to learn to cope with because you know…..but the ugly and ugly light fixture I just cannot live with. But the thing is that you can do something about the light and you can slurge on the fixture you love cause you take it with when you move. I like your light on the ceiling. Very cute!

    • Reply Erin March 4, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Totally! (And thank you!)

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic March 4, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    There isn't a lot of light in my apartment; I live in a studio and the only ceiling lights are in the bathroom, the tiny kitchenette, and one that gives off a very dim light in the rest of the apartment. So I make do with lamps, because I'm not allowed to change the light fixture, unfortunately. I tried using candles for a while but that didn't make the room bright enough and it made me worry that I might accidentally burn down my studio.

    • Reply Erin March 4, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Burning down the studio would definitely not be a good thing, but little lamps sounds like it's working out!

    • Reply admin March 4, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      AMAZING work, Carmella! Now to borrow a sewing machine (and learn some sewing skills!)!

    • Reply admin March 5, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Nope, new to me! Just added to my reader!

  • Reply IDN March 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Thought you would find this article on 27 people sharing one apartment in Manhattan relevant.
    It might be interesting for your "life in a tiny apartment" series.

  • Reply Carmella March 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Love the fixture! I'm in the process of selecting lights from SE for a design project I'm working on. Your bench is a wonderful candidate for a slipcover, using painter's drop cloth – seriously. Wash and dry 3 times first to take the shrink out, then it's good to go. It's been over four years since I made ours, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, even with three boys in our 665 sq ft house! P.S. Hmm, not sure why it's calling me anonymous! Here's a link if you'd like to see:

    • Reply Erin March 4, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      AMAZING work, Carmella! Now to borrow a sewing machine (and learn some sewing skills!)!

    • Reply Doe March 4, 2015 at 11:53 pm

      When I arrive tomorrow, I'll be packin': a staple gun and some lovely linen you (sort of) asked me to store for you…surely, with pluck and vigor, we won't need skills!

    • Reply Bethany R March 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Erin, TELL ME you've read Carmella's blog before!! It's one of my favorites!

    • Reply Erin March 5, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Nope, new to me! Just added to my reader!

    • Reply Mrs. White March 5, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      Whoever Doe is is awesome and your new best friend or maybe already your best friend. Either way, Doe-you're awesome!

  • Reply Nancy Cavillones March 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    If the bench is not precious, you can reupholster with a staple gun. 🙂

  • Reply Jana | One Drawing A Day March 5, 2015 at 4:29 am

    I do..I took a reupholstery class once upon a time. It's fun. A fitted slipcover might be better.

  • Reply jessiesloan March 5, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    What oh what do we do about awful fluorescent kitchen lights?!

  • Reply Anonymous March 5, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Your bench looks sooo uncomfortable. Is that where you sit to relax???

    • Reply Erin March 5, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      No! There's a huge overstuffed sectional just out of the frame! Just kidding! It is where we sit to relax but it's much more comfortable than it apparently looks! Wool-stuffed and cozy!

  • Reply Abby March 5, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    What a stunning second photo! I'm not too handy myself and usually resort to using table/floor lamps when I don't like apartment lighting (and in my last apartment, the ceilings were too high to reach without a full ladder). I'm impressed by your approach.

  • Reply Anonymous March 5, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Is this bench the west elm Settee? Or additional seating that you've acquired? I was sure the Settee had tufted detail on the back, but maybe I'm mistaken.

    • Reply Erin March 5, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      This is a different bench. An old bench of my sister's that has since lived in two different offices before making it's way to our place.

  • Reply Hannah S March 6, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Love the light bulb reflection. What a great shot. Do you feel like these bulbs give off a natural light?

  • Reply Marissa March 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I have a reupholstery project too. When you do get around to do it, I'd love to know what fabric choice you made!

  • Reply Jessica Hartshorn April 3, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    How beautiful! Can I ask where that "Homestead" print is from? It's beautiful and so simple!

  • Reply Anne May 31, 2017 at 11:50 am

    I know this is a super old post at this point…but I’m definitely on the hunt for a similar bench! they seem hard to track down! anyone have a notion?

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