Illuminating art of indoor lighting

Wednesday March 18 2020

The element of basic household illumination has evolved into a pivotal aspect of interior decor and design. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH


I am writing from a coffee house today. I do this often — leave my office desk and go write from elsewhere. Working from the office day after day can sometimes get sorely boring. It leaves me drained of creative energy. Coffee houses such as this offer an immediate remedy to get those juices flowing again. It is fun. It makes the work fun. Heck, it is built for such fun.

The din here is a mix of urban chatter, music covers and the clink of cutlery against crockery. It comforts me. The whiff of coffee and confectionery wafts above like a helium balloon.

They have happy hour every day from 4pm, where they serve in tall, silly glasses, colourful cocktails that have ice cubes, fruit slices and tots of liquor.

Sitting in this coffee house has drawn me to the trendy craft of sexy lighting. I notice them whenever I look up from banging at my laptop. The chap who styled the interiors here went gung-ho with the lighting.


He selected a dizzying mix of rustic and contemporary styles, industrial and vintage, geometric lines and curved meshwork in matt brass and black, and playful primary colours. Chandeliers dominate the main sitting area.

The lighting fixtures are suspended across the eatery’s entire ceiling, tipping on the fine boundary between tacky and tasteful.

I recently pulled one of the waiters aside and asked, “The lighting here is really good. Might you know who did the interiors?” He looked up at the lighting fixtures as though noticing them for the first time. I could see him thinking. He shrugged his shoulders, defeated, as if I had asked him whether a hive has more than one queen bee. He said, “Sorry, I don’t know.”

The more I run away from my office desk and sit in this eatery, the more I am drawn to its lighting fixtures. This element of basic household illumination has evolved into a pivotal aspect of interior decor and design.

Thing is, dear readers, it is 2019 — lights are not just lights. You do not just screw a bulb into an outlet and turn the switch on. That is what we did when Simeon Nyachae was the minister of finance. Now you have to put more thought into how dressed-up the lighting looks — whether it is cohesive with the bulb it houses. And whether the entire ensemble accurately translates your design language to everyone experiencing the styling of that space.

My curiosities drive me to Pinterest and to nip into some outlets that sell these modern lighting fixtures. Turns out there is not just lighting but general lighting, area lighting and task lighting. Digest that. Then there is indoor lighting and outdoor lighting. I know. What I have been seeing in the coffee house are pendants for all the above lighting.


Hang on. Then there is a whole other subcategory of the types of pendant lights. I will not get into the nitty-gritty of these types — I can already feel a migraine coming as I attempt to wrap my head around all this lighting mumbo jumbo. I think you can feel a migraine, too.

That is not all. They suggest you set aside your energy-saving bulbs when using your pendant lights. They suggest — quite strongly — that you use the Edison bulb. The Edison is a beautiful bulb whose exposed filament burns in a static orange. The colour of progressive decor trends. The Edison bulb is too pretty to worry about how much energy it can save.

I WhatsApp a local craftsman who handmakes bespoke furniture and accessories for the home. I first send some images of the pendants then ask, “Wambui, can you make these for me?” She says, “Yes, we can. They’re fabricated from steel wire.” She sends me images of some of the lamps she has made before for her clients. They are an appealing intertwine of art and craft. When I ask, she says, “Starting price is Sh6,000.”

Later in the week, I walk around the streets of Instagram, the Nairobi CBD and Westlands nipping into these lighting showrooms. It fascinates me, what I call The Subaru Analogy: Only when you begin to pay attention to a Subaru do you see them at every corner and notice how popular they really are. And because everyone has a Subaru, now you want a Subaru.


Anyway, the showrooms I nip into are cluttered with varieties of lighting. It is an unexpected smorgasbord. Browsing gives me a migraine, the price tags intensify the migraine. The pendants I want for my home are pricier than what Wambui quoted. Chandeliers cost four times as much.

You also have to consider the cost of hiring an electrician to install the lighting in your home. So now the bigger question is, do I really want a Subaru or do I want one because everyone has one? Go figure.