Last Updated: May 11, 2020 @ 10:08 am

Try this simple hack to upgrade ugly rental lighting to sophisticated chic- without any wiring!


Your decor and furniture define much of the style of your home, but there’s one decorating challenge that haunts renters even when the furniture and decor are perfect: dated or cheap-looking overhead lights.

In Seattle, I moved into a lovely studio apartment in a 100 year old brick building located near the waterfront. It had high ceilings, hardwood floors, a clawfoot bathtub, and… early-90’s builders grade overhead lights with offensively 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 the 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 (I used standard green, but I’ve since discovered white floral wire, which would be better for this project.)
  5. Something sharp- like an awl, large gauge sewing needle, or even a drill and small drill bit
  6. (optional) Fray Check to prevent unraveling.

TIP: If you’ve got a similar light fixture with a screwed-on cap in the center,  (aka “nipple lights,” as my home-flipper friend calls them) this tutorial is even easier! With the right  shallow drum shade  and/or  a visit to the hardware store to source the right combination of bolts and coupling nuts to adapt the center screw to accommodate an alternate height shade, you can skip the floral wire and do only the parchment cover shown in this tutorial.

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 onto parchment paper (that is, the “top” of the shade if it was placed on a floor lamp, but what will actually be the bottom when mounted on the ceiling).

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.


hiding ugly lighting in a rental house


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.

diy fix for ugly rental lighting


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 I added to so the paper would fit smoothly around the shade’s metal 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 too 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, take a 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 screws as anchor points to attach the shade.  If your light doesn’t have side screws or something to attach to, you may need to get creative (like 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 a glue I had on hand, for the same effect but ended up noticeably darkening my shade in that spot, (as you can see at the bottom of the image below) so learn from my mistake and use fraycheck or leave untreated.

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. Be extra, extra careful with the hot glue in this step- you may be used to using hot glue to glue denser materials. Unlike thicker materials, the ultra-thin parchment paper offers no insulation, and touching the parchment on the opposite side of the glue will be as hot as touching the glue itself!

Place the paper on top of the shade, tuck 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 delicate 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 the shade to the light. I attached one side very loosely 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.


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


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


A Request

If this tutorial saved you the expense of having an electrician in and out to convert your light fixture, would you consider saying thanks by becoming a $1 sponsor to help keep this website operating?

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


Try this simple hack to upgrade ugly rental lighting to sophisticated chic- without any wiring!

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