Saturday, October 23, 2021

How can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it? (living room lighting)

Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods is truly delightful. It's filled with ingenious lyrics, interesting music, and rich characters. In the show, characters from various familiar fairy tales pursue their heart's desires, and by the end of the first act, they have all reached their storybook state of "happily ever after," only for it all to fall apart and come crashing down (literally) in the second act. The musical's main theme is about how everybody wants something, but as soon as they get it, they inevitably want something else.

Living room ceiling before new lighting
So I wanted to improve the lighting in my living room...

I've been living in this house for 8 years now and making do with a single fan-attached light fixture in the living room that is glary and shadowy and frustrating. The unpleasantness of this light fixture became more apparent during the pandemic when I was spending so much time at home, and I started to think about how I could improve the situation. I wanted even, ambient lighting that wouldn't be glary and cause big shadows. I wanted it to be dimmable so I could set it according to the light levels coming through the windows and the activity I was doing.

I started looking at light fixtures online, and I thought I knew what I wanted. I wanted a couple of inconspicuous flush-mounted LED lights that sit evenly with the ceiling and spread light nice and evenly. But there were tons of fixtures available, and I wasn't sure how many lumens (a measure of brightness) my fixtures should have, what color temperature they should be, and what the optimal number and spacing of the fixtures should be. And who do you even get to advise you on such a thing? An electrician? A professional lighting designer? An interior decorator?

I asked around and did some research, but I didn't have much luck. Eventually, I allowed myself to be convinced that a typical electrician could advise on this, so I started calling some to both a) get advice on the fixtures and placement and b) get a quote for installation. This did not go well. I called several electricians and never got a call back. The ones I did talk to did not seem able to give me the type of advice I really wanted. They didn't take measurements and do calculations of lumens, just eyeballed it and said "this is usually what we do." They didn't know what the word "lumen" even meant. I eventually decided I needed to just figure it out myself, and I did the best I could using an online lumen calculation tool.

I hired an electrician who actually answered his phone. He was able to squeeze in my project unexpectedly at the last minute right before starting a much larger project. He did really good work, and I was very pleased with the care he took with my crumbly old lathe-and-plaster ceilings, his thorough use of safety equipment, and the way he tidied up afterwards. He did a very, very nice job, although he did have to come back to replace the dimmer switch because something was wrong with it. The main issue was that he was always running late, which would have been annoying if I wasn't still working from home.

But all in all, the electrician did and excellent job with the installation and did exactly what I thought I wanted...but in the words of Cinderella from Into the Woods, "How can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it?" Um, right...

The new lights are glary. My ceilings aren't very high, and the light fixtures still fall within my peripheral vision if I'm sitting here working or reading or something. It's better if I wear a hat to shade my eyes. I certainly have more light than I had before, and I like them during the day time when I have them on fairly dimly to just supplement the light coming from the windows. But I'm afraid the fixtures and placement may not really have been the right choice after all. that the wiring is set up, could I replace the fixtures with something that hangs down a little and reflects upwards? Or should I give up and just live with it? Blargh, I don't know.

In the words of Cinderella again, "What I want most of all is to know what I want!"

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