simple hack for upgrading ugly rental lighting

So much in an rental home or apartment is defined by your decor and furniture, but there’s one decorating challenge that haunts renters even when the furniture and decor are perfect: dated or cheap-looking overhead lights.

In my Seattle apartment, I moved into a studio with high ceilings, hardwood floors, a clawfoot bathtub, and… dated overhead lights with bright polished brass bases. Although I imagine few guests noticed, the antique gold highlights in my decorating scheme felt dissonant next to the polished brass of the light fixture. Thankfully, I had an idea for how to conceal the ugly light fixture without removing or dismantling the light.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental
My apartment’s standard lighting: not ideal

Today I’m demonstrating step by step how I covered my rental apartment’s lighting with a drum shade modified to provide full coverage and transform an ugly rental’s lighting into a sleek modern fixture with NO tools required. The shade also softens the light in the room, and works well combined with lamps or, my personal go-to, a chandelier converted to a plug in lamp attached to the ceiling, cord swagged, and connected to a remote switch.

Supplies Needed to Upgrade Rental Lighting:

  1. drum shade, larger than existing light fixture.
  2. 1 roll of parchment paper – as wide as your shade’s smaller opening (you may have to get extra wide parchment paper)
  3. hot glue & glue gun
  4. floral wire ( used standard green, but I’ve since discovered white floral wire, which would be better for this project.)
  5. Something sharp- awl, large gauge sewing needle, or even a drill and small drill bit
  6. (optional) Fray Check to prevent unraveling.

 

Step by Step Instructions for Upgrading your Ceiling Light with a Drum Shade:

1. The first step is to trace the outline of the smaller opening of your drum shade (the “top” if it was placed on a floor lamp, but will become the bottom when we flip the shade to mount on the ceiling) lightly onto your parchment paper. Next, use scissors to carefully cut a circle, about 1/2″ larger than the circle you just drew. This extra paper will be how we attach the paper to the inside of the shade.
diy fix for ugly rental lighting

2. Next, lay the paper on the top of your shade. Mark where the metal supports for the shade are. Remove the excess overhang in these spots, being careful not to cut past the pencil line. This paper cover will need to conceal the lamp’s metal supports.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental house

3. Hand fold the edges of your paper inward- working along the pencil line, folding any excess upward, as shown below. Note the three notches for navigating the paper smoothly around the shade’s structure.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental_2

4. Lay the paper on top of your shade. Does it fit? It should fit smoothly. If it’s too big or to small, you might need to start over. If it’s just right, proceed.

DIY upgrade a light fixture without cutting power
Some crinkles are ok. Most will smooth out during the gluing process and none will be visible when lit.

5. Now, look at your light fixture. Most flush fixtures have 3 screws on the sides, designed to hold the glass globe cover in place.We’ll use these as anchor points.  If your light doesn’t have side screws or something to attach to, you may need to get creative- attaching clear command hooks to the ceiling around the light, for example. My light fixture had 3 screws equally spaced, so my next step was to pierce three holes in my drum shade, equally spaced.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental_3
Puncture three small holes in the shade near the rim of the base of the shade. We’ll use these to attach the shade to the ceiling.

 

6. Depending on how sturdy your shade is, you might want to treat the fabric around the holes with Fray Check to prevent unraveling. I thought I could use what I had on hand, superglue, for the same effect but ended up noticeably darkening my shade in that spot, as you can see below:

change a light fixture without eletrical wiring

7. Now that the holes are punched, we’ll do the most delicate part: gluing the paper cover onto the drum shade. Heat up your glue gun, locate a stable place to work, and put on gloves to protect your hands from the glue if you need to.

Place the paper on top of the shade, tick the folded excess into the shade, then flip the lampshade over while holding the paper in place. Once upside down, you can go around the rim of the lampshade gluing the paper in place as shown.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental
paper placed and ready to glue

The easiest gluing method is to pull a section of paper back, add glue directly to the interior of the shade, then replace the paper. Use a gloved hand to gently press the paper into place- being sure not to touch the paper directly touching hot glue.

cover light fixture in apartment

8. Almost ready to hang! Before you climb up the ladder, go ahead and place sections of floral wire in the holes you punched- leaving plenty of excess for attachment to screws.

hiding ugly lighting without change fixture

 

9. Ready to hang. Climb your ladder and carefully attach shade to light. I attached one side very loosely and haphazardly just to hold it in place, then proceeded around the fixture securing and adjusting wiring to the other two screws, before returning to the first to fix it. In this photos, my friend is helping me reattach after taking the shade down to change a lightbulb.

hiding ugly lighting in a rental house

hiding ugly lighting in a rented house
Once tightened, the brass will be completely concealed. (You can see why I’m recommending white wire for my tutorial!)

 

drum shade over an ugly rental light fixture
The soft light coming from the pretty drum shade totally transforms the room, adding style and softening the lighting.

 

apartment lighting to fix ugly light fixtures
Once lit, any crinkles in your parchment paper appear to disappear.

 

bright studio apartment and linens
Cozy light can make rental housing feel like a true home

 

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