Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lights for the Heights

We bought our house in the Heights shortly after we got married. While there were certainly a million things we could have done to make it our own, as they say, we were short on cash from throwing one hell of a party and needed to pretty much take it as we found it. It was painted in your basic tan in most rooms, cream in the living room. There was a pink bedroom but we knew it was going to be holding boxes of who knows what for a couple years, so that we kept the same until we were pregnant, expecting a boy. We could live with the Corian and sink with seperate hot and cold faucets. We could even live with the imitation wood blinds and absurdly scroll-y ceiling fan in our bedroom. There was one thing, though, that we absolutely refused to live with: above the living room fireplace were two sconces of the worst type. You know them. You've seen them- bright gold-toned brass with a frosted kind of tulip shaped glass, etched with something like grapes or vines.

Can we all say "Ew"?

We dedicated a small budget to finding something more period appropriate which also pleased our more modern personal style. Someone told us that Lighting, Inc on Richmond had the best selection in town, so we took a Saturday to start with the big box stores and eventually reach Lighting, Inc to see what they had. The selection was huge but there were 3 problems: they had little to no customer service for people with our budget, they had little to no options within said budget and they had nothing in a simple, Craftsman style to view on the showroom floor.

The "simple" shopping excursion took all day and was very discouraging. Hubby and I were losing steam, contemplating a life with the abominable brass light fixtures. It was just luck that we spotted Heights Lights & Things on Heights Blvd and decided to stop in. Honestly, we expected the prices to be astronomical after our experience on Richmond, especially at a little neighborhood spot. We were pleasantly surprised. Heights Lights had a huge variety of sconces at all kinds of price points. We worked with the salesman to find something in stock, but it wasn't there. Still, he was very knowledable about the Craftsman style and the kind of sconce we were looking for. We left without buying anything, gun shy about ordering without seeing in person. In the end, we just didn't want to look any further and were content to order from a cute place in our new neighborhood. We ended up with something well within our budget that perfectly complimented the history of our home and our more modern furniture. What more could we ask for?

Heights Lights & Things was one of our 1st great neighborhood finds- local but affordable with the kind of customer service I appreciate from a small business. Unfortunately the nature of the business didn't cause us to stop in again after our original purchase. You can imagine my dismay when a couple years later I drove down Heights Blvd to see the lot empty; the cute bungalow and the great neighborhood business both gone. What went up in its place- parking for the law firm next door.

Fast forward 2 years and a good friend of mine had just bought a home in Woodland Heights. She was shopping for the various things you often shop for when you buy a new home- window treatments, paint colors, lights. One day this friend asks me if I know about Heights Lights & Things. I tell her I do but it's gone. No, she tells me, it's not gone. It's somewhere in the Heights and she was hoping I knew where. I did not but told her to let me know when she found it.

Craftsman style scones for outside or in. Prices range from $33.95, with a solid brass option at $183.95, to an extra large outdoor sconce for $415.95

Sure enough, Heights Lights & Things had not gone the way of the Dodo! It's alive and well, in a new space on Harvard. I was able to corner Don Keck, HL&T's owner, for a brief chat to discuss the move and what's been going on since my sconce hunt oh so long ago.

My first question to Don was "Why the move?" It wasn't something he had planned, he told me. Sure, he needed more space, a bigger showroom, a store front with more visibility and a better parking situation. It wasn't until a partner at the law firm next door offered him a more than fair price for the little bungalow that he realized moving was in his immediate future. It wasn't easy- not only had Don had a business on Heights Blvd for many years, he also lived in the back of that bungalow while his business was getting off the ground. It was his home and his business and he was attached to it. But his business is also his life line and it needed a boost. That was his primary concern at the time and some offers are too good to refuse.

I asked Don what his most popular style was and he said he would be hard pressed to pin point one. However, he did point to this Craftsman style chandelier as one of the more popular among the Heights crowd.

Of course, while the logic makes sense, it can be disheartening to someone like me who loves bungalows. I couldn't help put Don on the spot and see if he was sad to see that bungalow get torn down. "Oh, it wasn't torn down," he told me. "The lawyer who bought the lot moved the house out to Brenham to use as a country home." Well, I'll be I thought. That is just excellent news and a great way to kick off the visit!

Don moved to Houston in the late 70s and opened his store here in the early 80s, mostly because this was also where he lived. When he moved to Houston from Nashville, he needed something affordable. The Heights was rough, especially around his home on 23rd but something about it reminded him of his childhood in Albany, Ohio. He had an elderly neighbor who very much reminded him of the older generation from his youth. She was probably the original homeowner, not wanting to lose her sense of place, but was afraid of what the area had become. She pretty much begged Don to buy the house next door and he couldn't refuse. Sentimentality got the best of him! Don soon joined with a group of like-minded neighbors and worked on projects to make the area safer, like organizing and getting together funds to tear down an old, abandoned grocery which had become a drug den. All of us who enjoy life here now can thank people like Don who loved the Heights before it was cool (or even safe).

These days Don doesn't live in the Heights anymore, but he is close by in a little enclave of bungalows just across 45. Heights Lights & Things has a new home in a commercial building. While it is missing the charm of his old Blvd location, the new building offers more space for more sample inventory as well as ample parking. He was also able to build in a special "light lab" where builders and home owners can see all kinds of recessed or built in lighting in use.

The "Light Lab" where you can sit and work out your lighting needs...

...and see all kinds of lighting in action

Recently these mini-chandeliers have been a huge seller, the trend being using them to dress up bathrooms.

In addition to lights, Don has things. From door bells to ceiling fans, there is a huge selection of hardware for your home. And the prices can't be beat! I was honestly shocked at how affordable some options were and how much less others were than big retailers like Home Depot. Don says there are 2 main misconceptions about his business. Being in the Heights, he says people often think he is an antique dealer. Being a small business, people often think he is going to be very expensive as well. Don says he just can't do it. He's not a "gouger" and he doesn't believe in it. Frankly, he admits, it gets to be too much trouble dealing with "I'll give you this percentage off of these if you also buy these or that much off of those if you buy so many" and so on. It's just easier to offer the fair price so everyone knows what they are getting up front. This has made his shop popular for a couple of area builders, who also appreciate his good selection, high level of customer service and knowledge of the area and the period appropriate lighting (should someone want that, like Hubby and I did).

Heights Lights & Things has around 2 dozen ceiling fan samples on the floor. Prices start at around $68.95 for a basic and go up to $216 for a super modern style with solid walnut blades.

Like most small business owners, Don is dedicated to going the extra mile to please his customers. "Small businesses are solvers," he said. A small business owner will take extra steps to make it work for every customer- from a builder filling a house to a newly married couple with a small budget. Custom orders for 2 lights get the same treatment as 200 lights. And if you need 200 lights, Don will be happy to help walk through your home and create a lighting plan, making sure you get what you need. He can help with scale, style and price. He can recommend trusted electricians and do special orders. Having trouble making it during normal store hours? If you know you are willing to buy from him, Don will stay late or come early to help. There are so many reasons to shop local and when the service, selection and price are there, I can't see why anyone wouldn't?

Heights Lights & Things has 100s of lights, walls of sconces, a ceiling packed with options. However, if you don't see what you are looking for, they have access to 1000s of styles from dozens of manufacturers in these books. While there is usually a minimum order, you are always welcome to make a small order for a fee charged by the manufacturer.

Heights Lights & Things
2515 Harvard St. (between 25th and 26th)
Houston, TX 77008
(713) 861-0607


  1. Thanks for posting this. I have never heard of this store, but my wife has been begging for a chandelier in the dining room and I bet he has what we are looking for!

  2. I am so glad to know about this place. I'm doing some renovation work, and I'll be visiting Heights Lights and Things for lights and a fan. Thanks.