Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ship the light fantastic, Part II

Running a blog with a local theme and at least a bit of local readership, I sometimes experience a curious phenomenon: People will respond to some of the things I've written in personNot by blog comment, not by email, not by text message, not by any of the other social messenger services.  It's really wild!  You'd think we were all human or something, actually communicating face-to-face! 

Anyway, with that in mind, I got a bit of feedback on my pendant light obsession, which I described in a December 2, 2012 post titled "Ship the light fantastic".  In that post, I described the difficulty I had locating an over-the-dining-table light fixture that did not incinerate my eyeballs.

Whether single or multi-bulb, conventional pendant lights glared into my eyes and made me feel like I was about to have my appendix surgically removed, when all I really wanted to do was eat a relaxing meal.  This is a view of our original fixture, taken as I was lying on the operating dining table, staring up at the ceiling. 

I ended up acquiring this fascinating contraption, which my husband now refers to as The Death Star.  It fulfilled my criteria of looking really cool and contemporary while not shining light directly into my eyes, but it was ridiculously expensive and I didn't think that its construction was very robust.   
Anyway, as is often the case in life, additional options were brought to my attention, some via face-to-face interaction, only after I had resolved my initial predicament.  But I thought these additional options were interesting enough to comment on anyway, even though my primary purchase has already been made.
As it turns out, IKEA Houston does sell pendant fixtures that are specifically designed so that the hottest part of the bulb is prevented from shining directly into your eyes.  This very inexpensive example has a shield-type thing below the bulb. 
Same idea, bigger fixture, at one-tenth the price I paid for the Death Star.  But even with the shield, there's some side glare, as you can see (squint, squint). 

So why didn't I discover an option such as this in my original search?  Well, if you search the IKEA web pages for pendant lights, they only show the light fixtures straight-on sideways, perpendicular to the cord.  You don't get to see the undersides, and that's where the magic happens (or doesn't). 
View looking almost straight up from underneath (I didn't want to completely sprawl out on the table in IKEA when I took this).  The effect is not as much like an operating table, but it still reminds me a bit of a dentist's chair.  Gulp. 
Given that we were newly-educated on the whole headspace of pendant light shopping by virtue of having acquired the Death Star, we finally got around to replacing the builder-grade fixture in our daughter's room about two weeks ago.
Ah, the proverbial "secondary bedroom" light fixture installed by the builder.  My husband and I were in a big box hardware store one day, and we spied this same fixture offered for about six whole dollars.  Ever since that day, we've been systematically ripping what we call "the six-dollar fixtures" out of our house and replacing them. 

A thing like this, as tiny as it is, throws very poor light when flush-mounted way up on a ten-foot ceiling.  It's just over one foot in diameter but a full ten feet off the ground.  The rooms were depressingly dark with these installed, in my opinion.   They had to go. 
Our daughter was born in Houston and tends not to mind heat and humidity when she's sleeping.  We could not convince her to accept a ceiling fan fixture in lieu of this flush-mount foolishness.  She wanted a light fixture, not a fan.  This is what we finally found as a compromise between a fan and a crummy builder-grade fixture:
Portfolio 17-in W Chrome Pendant Light
We picked one up at Lowes for about a hundred bucks. 
This is what it looks like installed.  The bottom panel is frosted glass, not plastic, so it's a reasonably good diffuser of light.  And by dropping it down about eighteen inches from the ceiling, it becomes an up-light as well as a down-light, which illuminates the whole room very nicely. 

Design-wise, note the all-important stylistic cross-referencing here:
(1) The pendant chain is the same as the chains I used to string up this room divider curtain that conceals the bed from a direct line-of-sight down the hallway (this is a teenager's room).
(2) All metal parts are brushed nickel, except for the two white skyhooks holding the curtain, which I need to touch up with nickel-looking paint.
(3) The circle-with-dot-in-center motif appears both in the light fixture and in the pattern of the curtain.

Note also how the wall color is added to superior surfaces while the inferior surfaces are white.  I made this point in at least one other post.  If your builder has bequeathed you with ten-foot ceilings on eight-foot stud walls such that you end up with a vault at every exterior surface, there is no "ceiling" per se.  There's no "ceiling" to paint in a conventional sense.  It makes more sense to run one cohesive color up the exterior wall, across the vault, and continue it across the ceiling, with white side-caps for contrast.  This makes for a very contemporary or modern look, but there's really no way to make a drywall configuration like this look traditional, because it's very un-traditional. 
Same fixture as seen from below.  I'm not sure I'd want to hang it above my dining table, but with that diffuser, it's better than many of the eyeball-frying alternatives.  And the price was certainly right. 

OK, I saved the piece de resistance for last.

Someone emailed me pictures of this fixture which reportedly is hanging in the stairwell of a federal building here in Houston. 
WOW.  These things are PERFECT.
Actually, I'm told that there are three of them in the stairwell of this federal building, and this is them.
Not over a dining table or a conference table - in a STAIRWELL.
But what is that non-glaring mystery fixture?!

Apparently it is this fixture, designed by artist Poul Henningsen in 1924.  The description indicates how this design was meticulously crafted not to fry a person's eyeballs (emphasis mine):  "PH Snowball is a 360-degree glare-free luminaire. The geometry of the PH Snowball is designed to ensure that all the illuminated surfaces of the shades are struck by the rays of light at the same angle, creating even illumination. The tops of the shades are glossy, creating sparkling light. The undersides are matte, avoiding reflections."
Screengrab and narrative excerpt from this site
Do you see the price quoted on that screengrab above?  Excuse my French (actually Danish), but HOLY SH*T!!!  TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS?!  DO YOU WANT A LIGHT FIXTURE, OR DO YOU WANT A VACATION THIS YEAR?!

Ahem.  Pardon me.  So I said to my source, "Surely some federal bean-counter did NOT spend seventy-five hundred taxpayer dollars to hang these three extraordinary fixtures in a public stairwell, did they??  Surely these ones you photographed for me were actually cheap knock-offs?"

"They didn't look like knock-offs," source replied.  "They look like they are made of metal, like the real things."

I checked the internet.  There are indeed PH Snowball knock-offs out there, but you can pretty much tell from the posted pics which ones are fake.  The federal finery shown above appears to be the real deal.

Sigh.  And here I was worried about splurging on the Death Star.  Leave it to Uncle Sam to raise the bar of sheer extravagance to a level five times higher than my wildest dreams.

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