Thursday, December 6, 2012

Night Lights

Photo courtesy Flickr

While I appreciate the shift to energy-efficient lighting, current, so to speak, technology makes my rooms look like the very devil. All of my furnishings and interior decisions are founded on incandescent color values, and I’m not going to let my careful historic restoration be degraded by a shift in technology.

But I am green, and I do worry about the load on City Light. Living in an obsolete building has been a long series of compromises finessing current standards with archaic methods.

In May, I coughed up a ridiculous amount of cash for a reproduction vintage light bulb with elaborate incandescent filaments. The story is that a stock of the bulbs was discovered by an English musician in one corner of a rehearsal loft he had rented. I hope he’s doing very well-those things are stylish at the moment.

When the house was new, such a bulb lived at the end of a brass chain that hung from the center of a ceiling. Quite a few of those fixtures survive in this place-they were part of the first round of remodeling around 1910, when filthy gas light was displaced. All I had to do with the new lightbulb was screw it in, and voila! the hall looks just like 1910. I suppose that answers the question, “How many historic preservationists does it take to screw in a light bulb.”

The light was just right over the summer, but when the hours fell back, homecoming suddenly became a shocking descent into dismal. I’ve been fiddling with ways to light the place, conserve the historic atmosphere, and consume a respectful minimum of energy.

Incandescent light is a key part of my heating system. The bulbs give off just enough warmth to keep the air circulating and prevent condensation in this minimally heated interior. I stepped up the housekeeping, polishing all the visible metal, dusting bare floors every day, and keeping all the glass clean. Simple basic maintenance is all it has taken to refresh the atmosphere.

I discovered that pear-shaped appliance indicator lights set into night light bases are satisfactory background lighting for rooms not being used at the moment. The six-watt bulbs give off enough heat to circulate the air at the same time they reflect off polished surfaces and, in one case, highlight a wall hanging to good effect.

I’m getting good service from the fifty-four watts that burn overnight. I can fill in task lighting with solar desk lights from the Great Big Northern European Furnishings Chain and with solar-charged battery tent lanterns from the Great Big Local Hiking Co-op. The rooms have overhead fixtures I can flick on for major projects.

The gains overall are interesting and not obvious. This architecture is meant to be a series of shadows and lighted areas, so the space feels larger at night as we move from room to room. My eyes get some rest from a relentless load of foot-candles without having to use a fireplace or burn tapers. Damp is better controlled without burning heating oil. Daylight seems more valuable than ever, and I feel more connected to the outdoors. Most importantly, the cordless task lighting simplifies housekeeping and has restored the original low-tech amenities of kerosene reading lights and candlesticks. Cordless lighting is important for emergency preparedness, so the household is more resilient, and it’s easy to contemplate setting up in the field with familiar accessories. Digital communications and video don’t require the level of general background lighting that reading print does.

If I lived in a contemporary space, I’d go for contemporary light management, but it’s a hoot to have period options for period architecture, especially when I can supplement them with solar. I just park the chargers on a dim, gray Northwest windowsill and experience stored sunlight as something other than vegetables or firewood.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Small Towels

Photo courtesy Flickr

A wise elder told me she preferred thin, cheap towels for her family of six. She could have bought anything she wanted, but she liked the texture of the bargains. Such towels are simpler to wash and dry than massive luxury models.

Last Olympics, a commentator noted that the divers dried off with small towels, having learned that they are faster to handle. What my gym calls towels I call washcloths, but something about the size of a bar wipe would be just right.

Sometimes it’s helpful to redefine luxury

-30- More after the jump.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Steward

Photo courtesy Flickr

Casual reading in the history of the stately home taught me that the Elizabethan steward would light the family to bed at the end of the day. My recollection is from the history of Hardwick. The old domestic rituals make sense in an environment that is off the grid. I have been lighted to bed in a low-tech beach house, and most of us have experienced a trail and a flashlight.

Besides a candlestick, the steward carried a box of snacks, called livery, for the family to graze on overnight. The steward’s ritual has come alive for me since I rearranged the house with production areas on the main floor and leisure spaces on the upper. The change was an experimental copy of the layout of an historic California hacienda.

It’s pleasantly formal to end the day knowing I won’t have to climb the stairs yet again, subject my eyeballs to the assault of cool white watts, or shiver in the pantry looking for something to tide me over. Once again, the field amenities of the Great Big Hiking Co-op enrich daily life, in this case with a dimmable battery tent lantern, water bottle, and athlete’s snack bar.

-30- More after the jump.