Kay Newell – Spreading Light In The Community

Kay Newell is brightening up the area in more ways than one. The owner of Sunlan Lighting (3901 N. Mississippi Ave.) who is known as “The Lightbulb Lady”,played a significant role in improving the Mississippi neighborhood a long time before it was the charming district it is today. She believes strongly in the importance of small business, but has a synergistic relationship with big box stores, supplying specialty items it wouldn’t make sense for them to stock in quantity.

If you visit Sunland Lighting to acquire lighting supplies for your home or business, you will also gain a wealth of knowledge from Kay about the role that effective light- ing plays in our health, our happiness and the beauty of our surroundings. And Sunlan Lighting is so much fun to explore!

Sunlan Lighting has been in Portland’s Mississippi neighbor- hood for 25 years, yes?

That’s right. When I came to the Mississippi neighborhood there were 43 businesses. Many were industrial businesses located in old storefronts that were owned by the original families who had built here a hundred years before. There weren’t shops—they had closed many years before due to a lack of regular customers. If a community doesn’t support their small local businesses they die, creating an area of blight. It invites negative activities. There was a lot of drug dealing and gangs when I bought my warehouse. I didn’t pay it much mind. I was looking just for a warehouse. The gang members told me they were going to run me out of the neighborhood. I heard one youth tell another boy that they were to smash my windows and graffiti the place on the orders of one of the gang leaders. I marched out and told the boy that if I got a broken window I was going to hold him personally responsible. He took off like a shot! I boarded up my windows and painted murals.

Every night I would go up and down Mississippi St. removing graffiti. I used to call 911 so often that they recognized my voice. The neighbors were also fed up with the criminal activity and reported drug dealing. As a result of all these calls, the neighborhood started to improve. The City and Housing our Families contacted me and asked me to become a signing member representing businesses to create a Target Area, the Historical Mississippi Business Association [HMBA].

I donated office space and asked that the rent money help fund a full-time program coordinator. The HMBA created community programs to teach maintenance skills to young men by doing repairs for senior citizens who lived in homes with deferred maintenance! We also had a Ready to Rent program to help people learn to be good renters. I am rather proud of what we did with the Mississippi target area. It wasn’t just about fixing up the Mississippi neighborhood, it was also about creating a better, stronger community.

How did you learn so much about lighting?

Most people know how to switch on a light bulb and how to change a light bulb and that is pretty much it! That was the extent of my knowledge when I began working in this business. I got my hands on a bunch of catalogs and I read and read. I also ran across two gentlemen who had been in the business for many years and they became my men- tors. I would call them up and they would be willing to answer any questions I had because they knew that I only had to ask them once. I am not afraid of research. My paper on Full Spectrum Lighting (available at the shop) was the result of a great deal of research.

How would you define well-designed lighting?

Full Spectrum has no defined meaning that has been agreed upon. For instance, Dr. Ott defines Full Spectrum at 5,000 Kelvin. Verilux uses 6,500 Kelvin as their Full Spectrum color. Kelvin is a color rating – it comes from temperatures. As you heat iron, the color changes. As the colors occur, they are matched to natural light at various times of day. 5,000 Kelvin is the color of a day in July at high noon. It is a crisp, clean, neutral white light. It is the standard used by people in the print world.

I define Full Spectrum in all of the information I share as, “a bulb of any color that is very close to natural sunshine.” Halogen is extremely close to natural sunshine with a color rendering similar to early morning light, which has a yellow glow. By noon the color has changed, and in the evening it has a lot more blue and red. But it’s all still natural light. Artificial light can only capture a moment of that time. There are several lights that are very close to the color of natural sunshine. I call that Full Spectrum. Poor quality light, like compact fluorescent, is like a cloudy day. They are only 82% of natural light. The colors are more muted, not crisp and clean.

You say on your web site that light is a nutrient. What does that mean for our well-being?

We need light to thrive. Our entire skin absorbs light, not just our eyes. Different types of light affect us differently. Bright morning sunshine helps you get up and go to start your day. At night, different chemical processes occur in your body as a result of the dimmer light, causing you to prepare for sleep. The atmosphere, the cloud cover and the pollution in the air all affect the color of the light, telling our bodies what to do in response. For people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I would recommend any light bulb that mimics the color of natural sunshine.

What advice do you give new customers?

Choose the appropriate lighting before you purchase the fixture. How you feel when you walk into a space has a great deal to do with the lighting. Each area should reflect the different activities at each time of day. I like having two or preferably three lighting sources to provide for that. A soft, relaxing light is better for evening, whereas a brighter, crisper light is better for getting ready in the morning. So, you should design the lighting based on the task at hand. There is no right or wrong, just the light that is right for you and your application.

Sunlan Lighting
3901 N. Mississippi Avenue
Portland,OR 97217

About The Author: Merlin Varaday