November Dark

My mother, in spite of living in some very odd homes including a 27-foot trailer and a log cabin, had a couple of definite ideas about houses. Every house should have a fireplace (no, the trailer didn’t, nor did several places we lived), and overhead lights shouldn’t be used, period. That rule she obeyed and embedded in me – I still hear her voice, “Please turn out that overhead light!”

My mother referred to the really awful middle-of-the room 50s overheads – the ones that don’t cast enough light anyway, fixtures often dim with dust and a few fly carcasses. Recently I read a designer describing why one should avoid overhead lights – because they make us look bad. Even when overheads are intended to be nice, even beautiful – if the light comes from above it isn’t cheerful or cozy or flattering.

Luckily light that does provide those attributes is easy – lamps set on tables, ordinary lamps with shades designed to cast the light down – and task lights that get the light exactly where it’s needed.

It does take some figuring out, some imagining how to make better. We need the light, and this time of year I notice burned out bulbs and dark corners ignored during a summer of long days. Overnight, the end of daylight-saving time shifted the dark and delivered winter evenings. By late afternoon, it’s time to shut the shades and light the lamps.

When we began to think about building our house here, a friend recommended a hopeful book from 1977 – “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.” Recently I got it out, curious to see how it seemed to me now, and wanting to think and maybe write about houses in these darker months.

In spite of multiple authors, the book has a very particular voice, and it counsels a way of living in structures and in communities. In bold text are statements of the authors’ beliefs – and its fun to measure against them – their voice is as adamant as my mother’s.

In the section titled “Pools of Light” there are two bolded sections to consider: “Uniform illumination – the sweetheart of the lighting engineers – serves no useful purpose whatsoever. In fact, it destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.”

The authors advise: “Place the lights low, and apart, to form individual pools of light which encompass chairs and tables like bubbles which they form. Remember that you can’t have pools of light without the darker places in between.”

We certainly have the darker places in between – and I’m energized to make sure each chair has a nearby reading light, that twinkle lights outside are ready to glow, and to hang my paper-covered lights in my studio.

Lights to raise spirits!