Lighting is one thing we had really left along while we finished the construction. The electricians just fitted basic fittings and whatever bulbs they had to hand – basically whatever enabled the electrical work to pass the inspection – and we didn’t really touch anything until recently.
The exceptions were the bathrooms where we got the electricians to fit water-safe Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights and places where we had already bought fittings from Ikea that were code-compliant (Francis’s bedroom, the kitchen, pantry and outside). We also replaced most of the bulbs with LED bulbs, and now the whole house now has LED lighting. LED-based lights should last for 25-30 years without needing to be replaced and will use a tenth of the electricity of conventional filament bulbs, without the levels of mercury in Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) – which also don’t last anyway near as long and are nowhere near as energy efficient as LEDs. People used to be worried – some still are – that LEDs give a ‘harsh’ of overly blue light. That might have been true several years ago, but now LEDs can be found from this bluer end all the way through to warm yellow-orange that looks and feels like filament bulbs (and there are even LED bulbs that physically look like vintage bulbs too). Of course the great thing about LEDs is that they don’t have to look like bulbs at all. They can come in strings, or flat, or almost any shape.
However, there remained the question of proper fittings, in the main parts of the house and other rooms. Our friend in the island built a house a few years ago, and she struggled for months to find light fittings she liked. The truth is that contemporary lighting in Canada, and not just at the more affordable end of spectrum, is really bad. Terrible design, cheap materials and poor manufacturing in mostly in uncertain conditions in China, are the order of the day. Most of the lights are poor imitations of ‘antique’ designs or fake art deco. None of the lessons of the modernist movement in terms of functional and good design for everyone, appears to have been learned. Certainly there is a wide range of affordable lighting but it’s all, without exception, bad. Ikea has offered some options – and we taken a few of them – but even theirs isn’t that good and they appear to have almost given up on doing simply things well in terms of lighting.
Added to this is the fact that Kayo and I don’t have exactly the same tastes. I tend to like a greater range of modern lighting, and particularly the more colourful. Kayo is more minimal. But we have enough overlap! We particularly wanted a couple of pendants to go over our dining table and some kind of modern triple, descending pendant for the stairwell, as well as something interesting for the lounge area, and something actually Japanese for the tatami room upstairs.
Unsurprisingly we got the latter from Japan, a simple washi paper shade, and found the interesting light for the lounge from the same maker, Toshiyuki Tani, this one made from shaved birch-bark laminated with clear plastic on a metal frame.
For the others (and also for furniture, about which there will be another post in future), I had been spending some time lurking on eBay, etsy and European vintage sales sites like vintg.com (formerly RetroStart) for the last couple of years, trying to pick up some bargains from the era when lighting really was well-designed, namely the mid-20th century, particularly in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy. I picked up a few NOS (new old stock) Danish pendant shade kits, which were quite common at the time, but it doesn’t look like we’re actually going to use more than one so we’ll probably sell the others on. But we managed to find what we wanted for both the stairwell and dining room.
For the dining table, we were lucky to find a pair of genuine ‘as-new’ Louis Poulsen PH 4/3 lights for less than half the new price. I love Poul Henningsen’s designs, and it doesn’t matter how many of them you see, the simple PH 4/3 still works in almost any setting. It’s an almost perfect design.
For the stairs, we had a lot more trouble as it’s difficult to agree on one piece for such an important setting and difficult to find anything affordable that’s so big. Because the stair rail is steel, I really wanted something that echoed this and provided further contrast to all the wood. We eventually settled on a triple Star pendant designed by Dutch architect and designer, J.J.M. (‘Jan’) Hoogervorst for Anvia. It’s got an industrial feel but also creates a really beautiful light and works very well in the space. The black and white enamel finish is a little battered but it’s even better for that and rather than restore it, we’re going to leave it that way.