Our Bathroom Light-Hunting Safari Part 2
Lighting our half-bath presented a Gordian knot of design challenges: limited space, basic functional requirements, and poor choices at our initial price point. We can’t expand the bathroom and I don’t intend to give up hope of grooming in there, so price had to give. We would find a specialty store, thereby resigning ourselves to paying for good materials, thoughtful design and an expert staff. In this case, it was well worth it.
We went to Sun Lighting, a large showroom with locations in Tucson and Phoenix. Before we entered, I was skeptically fixated on the extra cost (also, briefly, on using the front sidewalk to demonstrate to Ken how to wrap in Trikonasana, which felt urgent at the time). I muttered darkly about how in Colonial days people would have three or four treasured possessions that would last a lifetime — say, a copper pot, a mechanical watch, and a really nice broom — and how mass-production is both a curse and a precondition of middle-class consumer capitalism. I can afford a houseful of crappy things, but this kind of lighting will need to last and appreciate in value, or at least give us daily pleasure.
The wonderland of Sun Lighting silenced my inner critic — struck her dead, apparently. Instead of hanging back, suspicious and sour-faced, I frisked from light to light chortling, “Look, look!” Not every lamp or chandelier there was beautiful, but while some did demonstrate the old saw that money doesn’t confer taste, many others illustrated the equally valid principle that you get what you pay for.
Presently a saleswoman found us, and somehow she and Ken steered me away from large displays of elegant things we don’t need and towards the bathroom fixtures. We tried earnestly to explain our fears and needs, and she provided appropriate background patter while we scanned the display.
On the whole, going to the lighting store reminded me of our timid forays into wine-buying. What previously seemed like clear, pragmatic requirements and preferences vaporize in a flash when exposed to the probing light of true expertise. Many concerns simply vanish as you leave behind your original price point. The question, “Will this cast a sickly light or a stark one?” has no meaning here. Startlingly, I was called upon to recall a series of distinctions drawn in a Times article I read eight months about promising advances in green home technology. By pursuing quality, we found ourselves hastily concealing our ignorance and demolishing our scant, flimsy ideas — all under the benevolent gaze of a good-humored professional who took considerable pains not to startle or offend us while we bleated anxiously about what we thought we might need or like.
Unlike sommeliers, who are selling a habit or set of religious practices and therefore cannot help but shame the tippler on a modest budget, people in the home-improvement industry realize that you won’t be buying a lighting arrangement a week, and therefore don’t necessarily expect to cultivate your taste or enlist your support in an ideological struggle pitting terroir against varietal. People selling home improvement items want to know your budget and hope you will see something you like. They will answer your questions with patience, and dispel whatever ignorance you’re willing to admit to. In short, they are there to solve problems, not to recruit or reject you.
In this case, Ken and I quickly fixated on an elegant arrangement of four cubes on stems. The price was roughly three times what we would have paid at a big box, but very moderate indeed by home improvement standards, inspiring Ken to point out later that it was half the price of an ugly, barely functional set of blinds we examined and rejected six months ago.
We ordered it, and I returned to skipping around the store and hooting with pleasure. We saw a lovely track lighting arrangement that could be adapted to the gallery wall in our entryway, and a chandelier-confection that appeared to be made of soap bubbles. On the way home, we reviewed the reasons why we’re comfortable spending more:
- We can’t afford the best of everything, but we can spend more than the minimum on some things;
- In this case, it matters;
- We will use and look at this fixture every day, not drink it in a single convivial evening.