(Literal) can lighting

Once you’ve lived with low spotlighting over a kitchen counter it’s impossible to go back to anything else. Under-cabinet or under-shelf LED strips work well but when you have a big window like we do pendant lighting is the better choice.

I would gladly buy something pre-wired and pre-fabricated for this but it seemed like nothing we looked at was quite right. After two days of staring at stupidly expensive metal can/shades that just felt a little too plain, I happened to glance into the recycling bin and realized that exactly what I wanted was staring me in the face the entire time. The cylinder feels modern, the ridges add a touch of elegance, and the fact that it’s still obviously a soup can grounds the fixture in with a gritty, industrial vibe.

Liz was skeptical but I knew I was onto something so we headed down to the lighting store and ended up back home with dozens of different lamp making bits and bobbles, then out to the grocery store to buy every size of can imaginable which definitely changed our meal planning for the next week. After that we attacked the cans with every type of corrosive chemical and paint we could find. The 3 finalist patinas were two coats of straight toilet bowl cleaner for a rust look, matte black spray paint, and the winner: five minutes with a blow torch and then five minutes scrubbing in the kitchen sink for a mottled black chrome look.

After that it was a variety of lightbulbs in lamp sockets, working to get the color temperature the light level and the depth inside the can to cast the right beam. 2700 K is a good color temperature for this application, and buying high CRI (90+) bulbs really does make a big difference in light quality.

We vented the fixtures with a can opener and hung them on two-strand twist a cloth covered lamp cord. Liz furnished some old vintage pulleys to run the cord over, and I drilled a metal cover plate to accept two strain reliefs.

The trick with over-the-counter pendants is to mount the lights low enough so you just barely start to see the bulb inside the can. Any higher and the visible bulb will constrict your pupils lessening the apparent light.


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