Relight my cabinets!
January 13, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I've recently obtained some lovely 70s teak G-Plan cabinets (like these), which were wired, back in the day, for lights. I want to make them work again, but I don't know how or whether to start from scratch or use what's already there.

The bulb mountings and wiring itself are still intact, though I've no idea how to find out what kind of bulbs they need. Also, the writing terminates in very odd connectors, that I don't recognise, and that Wikipedia seems to think are obsolete. And Swiss.

I'm in the UK (220v mains), and I don't just want to go plugging things in and seeing what happens. Is there some way of telling what kind of bulb I need? Where can I find an adaptor to plug it into the main?

If I start from scratch and go buy a new light fitting, and wiring, what am I looking for? Caveat: There's a fridge-door style switch on the drinks cabinet hatch, and I'd really like to keep that involved. Mainly because the drinks cabinet would look awesome if it was lit. My whisky deserves to glow.
posted by armoured-ant to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Best answer: I suspect bulbs may still be available - maybe something like these? They come in various lengths and wattages. I've seen similar in cupboards and caravans.

That connector looks like it might just be something they used to allow you to interconnect more than one set of lights; or else there was another part to the connector with a wire going off to a standard UK plug.

I wouldn't bother with trying to find an adapter. I'd just remove the old connector and use a little junction box to attach a piece of two- or three-core mains wire and a standard plug.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:46 AM on January 13, 2012

For the light bulbs, I think you probably need a standard tube lightbulb. The connectors, I have no clue.

Alternatively, you might be better off installing Ikea bookshelf lighting.

Those are wonderful cabinets and they'll last decades. I have a G-plan nest of tables that I bought on eBay and they are far higher quality than anything I could buy new for the same price.
posted by essexjan at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2012

From the bulb mountings, looks like a fluorescent tube. On the other hand, that could be two small indancescent sockets facing each other. (on preview, I'd never seen the bulb le morte suggested, maybe that's it) What's in the sockets - holes that would fit metal pin connectors? metal threads like a screw-base lightbulb? How wide are they? How far apart (if it's not a standard distance it's not a fluorescent tube)

Fluorescents require a ballast that converts wall power to what the bulb actually wants - an old 70's cabinet is likely to have the kind that buzz and/or flicker, assuming those electronics have survived. Or that the power in you walls would match up to what the device expects (Swiss power cord?!).

If you want to find out more about what it is, your best bet is to trace the wires back. If it's a fluorescent, there's probably a ballast somewhere, maybe even buried behind a wood panel. That would have a lot of electrical information on it, essentially what it expects in and what it puts out. If there's no ballast it's got to be incandescent.

If you go for replacement, a modern fluorescent tube would be a fine idea but you'd have to replace the electronics as well. On the other hand, LEDs are a great option for something like this, because they're compact and cool (temperature) and are easy to put where you want inside a cabinet (because it's all low voltage between the electronics and the light pucks). Incandescents would be a bad idea (halogen pucks, for example) because they'd heat up your whiskey, and while it may deserve light it doesn't deserve to be cooked.
posted by aimedwander at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2012

Unless you're expressly trying to preserve the fixtures and keep the cabinetry 100% original, I would suggest carefully removing and discarding the lighting fixtures, and replacing with UK-standard fluorescent or LED lighting. New fixtures are fairly inexpensive, and the energy (and heat) savings from fluorescent or LED fixtures will more than make up for the cost in the years to come.

Beautiful cabinets, btw.
posted by xedrik at 11:59 AM on January 13, 2012

They are probably fittings that take the tube light bulb mentioned above. The sockets you have are probably S15. I have over 50 of those bulbs in a box somewhere, pity you are not in Australia... Use a tape measure to check the spacing, 284mm is quite common.

They do produce a fair bit of heat and are not remotely efficient but look quite gorgeous. Alternatively you can get something like these and use only a third of the energy. They won't look as nice but they just drop straight into what you have.

If these cabinets were mine I would cut the odd plugs off and terminate the wiring into standard 13 amp plugs and sockets. (I presume the female socket you photographed is part of a system to connect multiple cabinets together?). I would be quite comfortable using the plastic wiring you have, the photos show nothing I'd worry about in terms of safety but obviously I can't guarantee anything without being able to go over it properly. If you are not comfortable wiring a plug, do you have a techy friend that could do it for you? Non-electricians doing wiring of this kind is quite legal in the UK. If all the connectors between cabinets are in place and working you only really need to replace the one plug that goes into the wall.

That's what I'd do, it would be a real shame to modify the cabinets.
posted by deadwax at 4:08 AM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: Bought some three core cable, the right bulb and a mains plug, took a female adaptor from one of the cabinets and used it to make a new mains adaptor. Works a treat; thanks Mefites!
posted by armoured-ant at 9:48 AM on January 14, 2012

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