One day the overhead light in my kitchen made a loud cracking noise. Immediately thereafter, chunks of black plastic and a shower of black dust rained down on the kitchen table. Until then, I had not thought much about the kitchen lighting, except to note that it was sufficient for my needs. Was it still?
The black plastic, as it turned out, was a baffle. This is the wide plastic or metal ring you find inside a "can" light, whether it's recessed, part of a track system or attached to a semi-flush-mount ceiling fixture. Baffles reduce glare. The black ones absorb more glare than the white ones but tend to detract from the aesthetics, depending on your decor.
The nice fellow at my local home store explained that in cheap fixtures, it's not uncommon for the light bulb to heat the plastic to the point of cracking. The lack of a baffle posed no safety risks or fire hazards, but would make for less ambience while eating.
Wondering whether I should replace the baffle or the entire lighting fixture, I decided to walk around the store and see just how cheap my semi-flush-mount ceiling light fixture was. About $12.77, as it turns out. A little more digging turned up a close approximation of my hallway fixture for a mere $4.99. I'd known that my building had been quickly rehabbed and converted from apartments to condos designed for first-time homeowners, but I hadn't realized quite how cheap most of the interior finishes were.
If you live in a production-built, entry-level home, and you (or the original owners) did not pay for upgrades, I can guarantee your lighting fixtures are similarly unappealing. After a little online and in-store shopping, I soon found and purchased two new fixtures for a total of about $150; a relatively low price to pay for adding some style and personality to the kitchen.
For those of you with more cash and a vintage-era or vintage-look home, I recommend visiting a salvage store for some extraordinary finds to add serious drama. My mom and I escaped the basketball games this past weekend by browsing through Chicago's own Architectural Artifacts this past weekend. You can find anything from Arts & Crafts lanterns to French retro mod wall sconces to Argentianian wrought iron chandeliers. Wow.