Brownstone Boys: Let’s Get Lit — Blending Modern Lighting With 130-Year-Old Details

Our modern kitchen is now perfectly lit. We really love the natural light that comes in and the light in the evening

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 52nd installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

In the 1880s when our place was built it was most likely lit at night by gas lights, kerosene lamps and possibly even candles. We sometimes lose sight of what took place on these streets and between these walls so long ago: Roaring fires in the gas and wood-burning fireplaces, horses and carriages clacking down the cobblestones, and the flicker of gas lamps and candlelight. Fast forward 130 years and our modern light fixtures are hanging from the same medallions (or at least in a similar spot) where those original fixtures hung.

With that in mind we really had no intention of veering far from the original plan and adding recessed lighting to our place. We have original plaster moldings and ceilings in most rooms and we are happy to have regular light fixtures with no need or desire to have recessed lights, which would require altering them.

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The DIY pendants were installed and we think they give the kitchen the vintage touch we were looking for

On the other hand, there are a couple of areas that in any restoration most people would want to modernize: Kitchens and bathrooms. So if we were going to entertain recessed lighting anywhere those would be the places.

In the kitchen we made a game-time decision to drop the ceiling a few inches to solve a plumbing issue in the bathroom upstairs. We also installed an LVL beam in this area for support where a bearing wall was removed. The beam was drywalled and visible, so it separates the area where the ceiling would be lowered and makes it unobtrusive. Even though our house was built in the 1880s we wanted the kitchen to feel modern, inviting and, yes, well lit. The lowered ceiling would give us the opportunity to add some recessed lights. Since we were already altering the ceiling and it is in an area that is being modernized we decided to add the recessed lights. Just three, and we wanted to make sure they are as streamlined and low profile as possible.

The ceiling needed to be dropped only a few inches and we didn’t want to go any further than that. We found some great 4-inch LED low profile lights from Nadair. They can be installed with very little room and are only about a half inch thick. They also sit flush to the ceiling so we liked how they would blend into the room.

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Under-cabinet lights help the kitchen seem cozy on a winter night

The other area that we wanted to be modern is our master bath (our guest bath has a vintage feel). We redid the ceiling to level it off because the ceiling that was there (not original) was noticeably slanted. The shower of our dreams that we built has modern charcoal hex tile and is glassed up with a frameless enclosure. We needed modern and low profile lighting as well. We installed one 6-inch Nadair LED slim recessed light in the center. It really completes the shower and bathroom.

Even though we went out of our way to restore as many of the original features as we could, we modernized in places where it was needed. Although recessed lighting doesn’t always fit into a Brooklyn brownstone, we felt it was a good opportunity to bring the place up to a modern standard of lighting. We have nothing but respect for anyone who restores a 100-year-old-plus building with attention to historical detail in every place, but for us restoring our place was also about making it comfortable and livable. So we are really happy with the modern feel of the kitchen and master bath, and creating a modern lighting plan there was an important as well.

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The beam in the kitchen is now a perfect divider for the pendants and the recessed lighting

In other kitchen lighting news, some of the last things to be installed in our house are finally up. We couldn’t find the right pendants for our kitchen island that were also in our price range, so we decided to build them ourselves! For these lights we didn’t want them to have too much of a modern feel. We wanted them to blend the modern kitchen with the historic moldings and details. We bought each individual piece of the pendants, wired them, assembled the fixtures, and hung them. Our secret weapon was Antique Lamp Supply. They have thousands of different lamp and light fixtures pieces that can create pretty much any look. They also have some great how-to guides to help with the process.

Finally, the last part of our kitchen lighting plan are some simple under cabinet lights, also from Nadair. They are low profile and easy to install. They complete the modern and comfortable feel of the kitchen.

[Photos via Brownstone Boys]

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