Mid-Century Modern(ization)

Redefining modern for a family-friendly home

Shock Trauma

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Let’s talk electric. I’m a little shocked (figuratively, not literally) and a lot traumatized by the cost and complexity of the GE low voltage switch plates that we would need to even begin updating our current light switch situation.  $211 (with tax + shipping because heaven forbid The Home of Depots carry such things) for light switch covers?  Boo.


At least the price includes gift wrapping!

Here’s what we’ve got going on now.  All of them are covered in dirt and grime and varying layers of peeling paint.  I once tried to clean them with a little Lysol, but I think I may have only gotten as far as this one for a terribly sad before and after photo.  Then I got discouraged.  Or maybe just bored.


Actually we have 10 of these bad boys, plus 7 with two switches and 5 more with three switches.  Here’s a peek at a “3 gang-style” switch plate for you.  This is what the above switch would look like all cleaned up (this one is actually from a different manufacturer — ours are so rare I couldn’t find a photo — but it looks just like ours except ours don’t say Bryant).  It’s pretty, right? …joking.


It would be simple enough (in theory) to unscrew all these plates and soak them in a stripping agent (or boil them because apparently that works, too?), but underneath they’re beige and still ugly which doesn’t really solve any of my problems. Except maybe the dirt, but a little dirt never hurt.

Replacement switch plates run from $8-10 depending on how many switches they have.  And that’s not even counting the money it would cost to replace the actual switch — that ridged, brown rocking button in the middle.  Not only would replacing those be an additional PITA, but it would also be expensive.  Why?  Because they don’t make them anymore, that’s why.  Of course.


The new switches, which run about $12 a pop, don’t look all that much better IMO because while the buttons are a bright and shiny white they are encased in a black plastic surround. Functional?  Sure.  Aesthetically pleasing?  I’d say “not in a million years” but clearly whomever designed and installed my original switches (merely a half a century ago) thought they were pretty bad-ass at the time so I will refrain from further commentary.


If you’re keeping count we’re talking another $468 for some ugly switches that do the exact same thing as the ugly switches that we already have.  That thing being turning the lights on and off.

BUT WAIT.  Because there is more good news to be had here.  The new switches won’t work with the new (old style) switch plate covers because they are a completely different size!   They now manufacture new (new style) covers to pair with the new switches.  At least they’re the same price as the old ones — finally, a silver lining.

Untitled2 replacement_ge_low_voltage_switches_older_homes_1950s_1960s

If you didn’t follow that, it’s ok because it took me a solid hour of clicking around the internet with a furrowed brow and cartoon question marks floating over my head before I reached my “Aha!” moment.  Which was quickly followed by my “Eff you, GE!  Why must you make my life so hard and inflict such torture on my bank account?!” moment. 

Luckily, and as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, the folks at Kyle Switch Plates realize that I’m new here and have no qualms speaking to me in short sentences and an abundance of reiteration.  This flow chart helped it all make sense.  A little.  Not really at all.


Simply put, if we were to replace the switch plates with the vintage style covers now, and then decide to update the switches themselves at a later date, we would then have to purchase all new covers AGAIN because the new switches are a hairbreadth difference in size from the vintage switches.

In summary we can either spend:

$19 — for a pot of boiling water and some spray primer, spray paint, and spray varathane to re-paint/seal everything white.

$230 — for 22 new (old style) switch plates + the 3 cans of spray paint to repaint/seal the existing switches.

$705 — for 22 new (new style) switch plates + 39 new switches + someone craftier than I to install them*.

*The going hourly rate for electricians in my area is about $65 an hour.  How many hours would it take to swap out 39 low voltage light switches?  The world may never know.

At this point I’m still patting my own back for even figuring out that our switches were manufactured by GE seeing as they have no maker’s mark like those Bryants photographed above.  It’s amazing how far Googling “ugly-ass light switches” will get ya.

Need help identifying your vintage lighting system?  The folks at Kyle Switch Plates have your back.

Note, that the people at Kyle Switch Plates don’t know me from Adam.  I’m not trying to sound like a salesman here (although that is my day job) I’m just thankful for them for taking pity on the electrically-clueless like myself.  All photos are courtesy of these fine folks.


Author: Olivia @ Mid-Century Modern(ization)

I am a wife, mother, and writer. I am also a crafting, furniture-refinishing, home-designing nut.

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