Thursday, February 23, 2017

Put A Little Money Into Lighting

Seattle enjoys a pair of lamp shops that have been doing business since the Twenties. At one, I discovered the value of a silk shade. It gave me the most bang for the buck of any furnishing dollar. Decades later, the other clued me to a shortfall in local interior design training. A veteran clerk commented that the intern on the staff had told him her curriculum includes only a disproportionately short section on lighting. If I were starting over, I'd design the lighting first. I am aware that light is easily half of any visual. The technical details are beyond my scope of interest, but I have been willing to spring for rarified Edison base bulbs in a search for ways to bring my 1890 interior into viable 2017 service.

The house pre-dates electricity. Every spring I thank the wisdom of the first owner who decided that gas light had to go. It was the soot of gas illumination that generated the need for traditional spring cleaning. When I moved here in 1980, conventional wisdom about lighting wasn't much more advanced than the old notion of improving it by putting a larger bulb in the ceiling fixture.

By 1980, I had enjoyed nearly a year in low-tech interiors, where firelight, kerosene, and candles made the hours after sundown productive. It's been a hassle coming to terms with 1812-style Boston rooms that are designed to use shadow as an element of form. Conventional frosted incandescent bulbs flatten an interior, and the energy-conserving devices I have tried make things even flatter. They are better suited to new wallboard and foam upholstery than to the ancient textures of straight-grain Doug fir and veteran lath and plaster.

The designer who worked with President Carter had a gift for the country style that suited my Eighties urban farmhouse approach. He advised setting small, low sources of illumination around a room, and that trick began to bring my spaces to life. On a lark, I picked up some quartz halogen Edison base spots. Their intense, focussed light transformed the business end of the kitchen and lifted the curse of obsolescence from this noble old structure.

The Wallingford lighting outlet carries a broad range of contemporary classics that are familiar from ads in glossy design magazines. I popped for a not-cheap LED task light that illuminates (in every sense of the word) reading and writing spaces. With that light and a collection of thrift shop prizes, I can pour lumens into a space as if I were infusing it with paint. The right light bulb will do for an old wall what plastic surgery does for an old face  -30-

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