before and afterDIYdiy projects

Before & After: A Quick, Easy, and Beautiful Upgrade for a Standard Ceiling Light

by Maxwell Tielman

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If you’ve ever rented an apartment, you have likely encountered it. The thing that, throughout my years as an apartment renter in New York City has become the bane of my entire existence*. I’m not talking about cockroaches or noisy roommates (although, those things can be pretty bad, too). I’m talking about the Rental-Apartment-Standard-Light-Fixture-of-DOOM. You know it when you see it: an outdated glass shade balanced precariously beneath two partially exposed bulbs, probably filled with dead insects, dust, and god-knows-what. Not only is the Rental-Apartment-Standard-Light-Fixture-of-DOOM objectively hideous, insult is added to abject injury with the fact that nobody seems to sell replacement parts for it. It has seemingly materialized from thin air into low-rent apartments for the sole purpose of driving people totally insane.

If you know anything about electrical rewiring, this problem is an easy fix (just pop in a new fixture)—but who knows anything about electrical rewiring these days, aside from electricians and wizards? If electrical skill isn’t your thing and the finances to hire an electrician are non-existent, you might get the feeling that you are stuck with the RASLFD for life. This, dear reader, is not the case! Luckily, the talented blogger Courtney Kennedy (of Always Rooney) has crafted up an easy, affordable, and delightfully attractive shade that can be fit around the RASLFD. This new shade, made from ribbon and an embroidery hoop, makes the previously intolerable light fixture completely tolerable and —dare I say it— actually kind of beautiful! For Courtney’s complete tutorial and more photos of the finished project, continue after the jump! —Max

*I am prone to exaggeration, in case you couldn’t tell.


  • Embroidery Hoop
  • 3-inch decorative floral ribbon (Courtney used The Robert Stanley Collection ribbon)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Colorful & white embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needle


Start by loosening your embroidery hoop and only use one of the circles, save the other circle for another project.  Hot glue the ribbon in place around hoop. When you glue it around the full circle, take your embroidery floss and needle, thread the beginning and end together in an X formation. Make sure you cut off the excess ribbon. Now connect the first row of ribbon with the next by threading your needle and floss through both rows. Repeat your X formation when you get around the hoop. Repeat this process until you reach the length you like. I made four rows of 3 inch ribbon. Tie on white embroidery floss strings around hoop about 5 inches long to attach to ceiling with small nails or push pins.

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Budget Breakdown

Embroidery Hoop – $1

Ribbon – $6.40 (a 40% off coupon was used)

Embroidery Floss – 60¢


Total: $7

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  • It really calls attention to the poor condition of the ceiling, though. I think even spray-painting a design on the existing fixture would be an improvement, since at least it obscures the ill-fitting piece and doesn’t require extra holes in the ceiling for mounting.

  • This looks so bad. Seriously, you can get a replacement fixture for not so expensive and it would look nicer and be safe. This thing looks like it could possibly be a fire hazard.

  • Take it one step further and add a ceiling medallion. I think the juxtaposition on the two would look great while hiding the ceiling’s faults.

  • The new shade is interesting, but push pins and string attached to the ceiling? Surely there is a better way to loop some wire around the fixture and attach the shade in a more elegant way. Other than the dust/bugs factor, the glass shade was better.

  • Isn’t the light going to be pretty harsh when it’s turned on? The ribbon is not going to be very effective at diffusing the bulbs, or hiding them. Might as well just take the fixture off and leave it plain.

  • I’ve tried many variations on this in my college and subsequent first-apartment days, but the fact always remains: you’re staring up at an overly bright bulb dangling from an (often) substandard socket surrounded by ribbons. It just doesn’t work!

  • excited for the great apartment ideas! I love gorgeous old homes with awesome architecture, but I don’t think I’ll be living in one anytime soon.

  • Really? This is dreadful. Two words: college dorm. The original fixture was better as it covers the bulbs, obscures the ceiling cracks and would diffuse the light. SO many better options.

  • I know the pain of coming into an apartment with hideous lighting! Excellent creativity. For the commenter who worried about a fire hazard, I’m sure this could be helped by using a slightly bigger embroidery hoop. And using solid ribbon might diffuse the light better than the woven ribbon pictured, if that’s more what you’re looking for.

  • I’m all for cheap, easy, and elegant, but a paper lantern would hide the bad ceiling better, diffuse the light, and look a lot more sophisticated.

  • I think the thought and intention were there and I am all for creatively working on a budget, but this is really unfortunate. Without diffusing the light the room will look and feel like an interrogation space, and the push pins connecting to the ceiling cheapen all the effort and work that went into making the shade. I would remove it from the embroidery hoop unroll the texture and put it into a frame with a large white mat (would look great on that empty white wall). I think the author is better off going to a thrift store and buying a fixture with good bones and doing some sort of treatment to it (i.e., paint, finish, removing the parts that don’t look good or serve a purpose, etc.). The grand total could still be under ten dollars. Either way the pre-existing fixture (as terrible as it is) is miles ahead of the after, in terms of function and execution.

  • Wonder if there’s anything else like this, I’m not a fan of the material or shape.

  • Oy, proofreader on vacation? Here’s how an acronym should work in this context: state the full title once, with the acronym in parenthesis. After that, use only the acronym. The full title doesn’t need hyphens; simply capitalize the first letter of each word in the title, and those become the acronym. Before you zing me for being a stuffy, critical old bag, remember that following the rules in written communication is important, because it’s one-way and static, and therefore a dangerous path to tread. The rules!

    End of soapbox.

    Iffy DIY, while I’m deflating a cute kid’s balloon. Get some etching cream and painter’s tape (or contact paper) and etch yourself some trendy chevrons, arrows, or anchors in that boring old glass. Booyah. For added punch, run over the etched patterns with a dry-erase marker, then wipe off the excess from the smooth glass. Spray with clear varnish. Oh yeah, you just scrimshawed yourself a light cover. I do this to every glass object in my house that holds still.

    Wonder if it’ll work on the oven door?

  • “RASLFD” could definitely be the name of an Ikea product, ha.

    So many DIYs of mine never come out right the first time. I’d love to see what happens with a second iteration of this project. Great idea, but needs some help on the execution. Keep going! You’re close to getting somewhere awesome!

  • Now THIS is a budget makeover (not the $4k dining room) that packs a punch! love it.

  • I’m looking to change out the fixtures in my apartment, too. Can anyone provide links to another budget replacement?

  • My daughter has just replaced her student room nasty lightshade with a BIG round paper ball lantern, and it looks gorgeous, with such a lovely quality of light. It covers the ugly harsh bulb and have to say is way better than this (sorry to be mean…). It is like having a full moon hanging out in your room, and all for under 5 english pounds !

  • I agree with @Diane: paper ball lamp fom Chinatown: cheap, light diffusing, hides the bad ceiling and terrible fixture, and if you buy a really HUGE one, now that’s cool. Think low-rent Noguchi.

  • This is the worst post I have ever seen on Design Sponge. I am having a hard time believing this made it through whatever editorial decision making process you guys have.

  • I’m from the Netherlands and wonder what is going on with the electrical wires in the USA. You need a professional to hang a new light fixture? How many wires come out of the ceiling and go into the lamp? 25 and they are all color coded? Over here nobody but maybe the very rich uses an electrician to change a light fixture. Maybe if it needs re-wiring or part are broken. But even I can hang my own light fixtures. And I know nothing about anything electrical.
    Just connect the two wires coming out of the ceiling with the two wires that come out of the lamp with a plastic connector and you are done.
    Just make sure the power is off.

    As for this lamp. A nice attempt. I like ribbon and the use of wood with the embroidery hoop. But the sewing with dental floss and the seem is terrible. I agree with others that the strings and and push pins make things worse.

    Try again but with thread that matches the ribbon and is invisible and make a nice seem!

  • @EVA, I just watched the video you recommended and it’s fantastic! Can’t wait to make a couple shades for my kitchen. Thank you so much!

  • My, what a big fuss over a little light! I like the idea of this, the simplicity, and anything is better than that old ugly fixture. I suggest a really big hoop so it clears bulbs by a long shot, and be sure to put in low watt bulbs, too. Hang the hoop closer to the ceiling and instead of ribbon for the shade , use fabric. Make it long enough so you cannot see the bulbs. You can also use a flame retardant spray on the fabric just to be safe. Screw a couple eye hooks into ceiling so it won’t fall down – tie onto the hooks with anything you like.

  • Just to add – you can get huge “Quilting Hoops” on ebay for less than 15.00 – like 24″ – even a oval shape – very big!

  • Im sad to see all of the negative comments left here.
    This is a great solution to an unsightly fixture.
    Sure, it is not for everyone but for the cost associated, it is wonderful.
    Also, it is doubtful she is going to sit and stare at this one DIY project, without end. Its the little things that come together, making something wonderful.
    Save the extra money for a big statement piece of furniture, art, etc.
    I say kudos to the creator. I also say kudos and thanks to Design Sponge for allowing us all to be unique in our home decor, DIY projects, etc. and showing us there really is an option for every budget. Inspiration is everywhere and thanks to you showcasing so many wonderful things, we are free to find our source from where we are best suited; districted by our own taste, wants and needs and of course, our ever bleeding pocketbooks. I hope next time, many of you who were so negative could at least find and compliment the good, instead of really tearing down the person who created this and also the editorial guidelines for Design Sponge. Cant we all just appreciate the beauty in home decor and the journey?

  • My apt situation is worse: I’m stuck with the Rental Apartment Ugly Ceiling Fan of Doom. Now that’s a problem. My solution has been to pretend it’s not there.

  • Sorry, do not care for…Looks too cheap and worse than the original light. Spend $25 and buy a larger light that will cover the original base and then do some spackle on the ceiling to cover the gouges. A little more $ and effort would pay off.

  • I’ll be positive and “compliment the good”: The quilt on the bed is beautiful!

  • For $7, it doesn’t get much better! This is unique, offers so many variations depending on the taste and decor in the rest of the room, and it is cheap enough for someone who is living in an apartment. I’m very impressed!

  • The condition of the ceiling unfortunately does detract at the attempt of the upgrade. B for effort though! And overall there is some improvement!

  • Dont know if you have Goodwill Outlet store in your area – different from the regular Goodwill retail thrift store as you pay for the item by weight, pennies on the pound. Tables and tables of stuff. Fun for the person who likes to do cross-application of materials and Frankenstein their own on a low budget. I hit that place when ever I can. i have also hit dumpsters and trash heaps for choice items. Think about using toys, an old snare drum, an upside down umbrella… whatever catches your fancy and disassemble it. Get the metal frame from an old lamp shade and make it work as your base attachment to the light fixture. Have fun. Its your room. If that light is too bright, get a sheet of paper you like, plain or patterned, and line the inside of your shade. Really, have fun. Get creative. Haters are gonna hate anyway.

  • I just have to say..the comments are just as entertaining as was viewing the photos for this amazing before and after diy project!