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.