Nov 5 2011

In praise of muted lighting

You know when you stay in that hotel? Yeah, that one — with the designer lobby featuring the funky purple chairs that you’d love to take home (if only “home” were a 2,000-square-foot Manhattan loft?) …The hotel that’s only accessible when you’re traveling on someone else’s expense account?

But never mind the furniture, it’s the bathroom you really appreciate, and not just because it’s spacious and understated (although, of course, it is).

And there you are, leaning over the sink, about to wash the minor vestiges of mascara and blush that still remain on your face 16 hours after you first applied them, and you glance up into the mirror and are stunned by your reflection: because the lighting has taken 20 years off the mug that’s staring back at you, and it now no longer features wrinkles, age spots or, in fact, pores.

But you’re not paying that much attention, not yet. You’re merely noticing that you don’t actually look like you’ve just delivered an all-day workshop in an airless university classroom, during which you consumed not one but two cinnamon swirl Danish pastries and a Nanaimo bar (because all of the supplied sandwiches contained meat, which you don’t eat – and no, you realize this rationale doesn’t make sense).

You think it’s because you’re having a good hair day (you always think it’s your hair – your husband is convinced that’s all you can see when you look in the mirror), and it’s true, you are having a good hair day. But it’s not your hair; not even a good hair day can eliminate the bags under your tired eyes.

No, it’s the lighting. The lighting is muted, gentle. It’s diffused. It eases out from behind the perimeter of the mirror, casting a soft halo of warmth and… generosity – yes, there’s no better way to explain it: The lighting is generous.

And suddenly you feel good. You could look in that mirror all day. In fact, your husband is even now knocking on the bathroom door because you’ve been in there quite some time already. He wants to know if you’re all right.

All right? You wish he’d join you in the bathroom with the camera. The one he occasionally flashes when you’re convinced you’re not having a good hair day, and the light is harsh and punishing, not generous and angelic.

But you won’t fully appreciate what a gift muted lighting can be until the next day when you’re dashing past a department store window in the cold light of an October morning and you catch sight of yourself in its reflective glass – and shudder at the contrast from the night before… and then again later that evening when you repeat the face-washing experience illuminated by the unforgiving bulbs that surround your own bathroom mirror.

It’s at this moment that you mentally abandon all plans to invest in new art supplies and instead start stalking high end bathroom and lighting stores in search of the magical mirror/light fixture, or what you’re now referring to as your “new best friend”…