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  • Writer's pictureTim Rhodes, RA., AIA

How Natural Light in Your Home Can Transform Your Space

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

There are many different definitions of the word light.

As a noun, it’s the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible.

As a verb, it provides light or lighting; it illuminates.

As an adjective, it’s defined as having a considerable or sufficient amount of natural light; not dark.

As Seattle residential architects, we’ve made it our mission to understand how light transforms your space.

Light is essential for the obvious reasons; we need it to accomplish tasks. But if we go back to the human origin, light has another meaning.

Light is central to the circadian rhythm. Think of your circadian rhythm as the 24-hour internal clock that controls your sleep and wake cycles. It coincides with the natural rotation of the earth around the sun.

Light changes as the sun rises, becoming more brilliant as the day progresses. The pattern is reversed as the sun dips low and falls away from view for a few hours. Our biology is conditioned by this pattern. It controls our sleep-wake cycle. If you’ve ever tried to reverse this by working the night shift, you know how difficult it can be.

For centuries, humans have relied on the earth’s natural rotation to control our lives. It’s only in our modern times that we’ve tried to alter this process by incorporating artificial lights so we can get more done.

Yet studies show that people who work in windowless environments and reduce the number of hours they spend in natural light have more physical problems and poorer overall sleep qualities than others. They’re also more prone to depression.

How and where you spend your time does matter. As Seattle residential architects, we know that. It’s so important, we’ve used it as a part of our name.

Though we’ve tried as a society to manufacture lighting, nothing can brighten your home with the same intensity that natural light does. A room just feels better when natural light flows in. We’ve realized in northwest design especially that the space and materials we inhabit are only visible due to the light they reflect.

How do we use that concept in every home design we create?

Windows and Window Walls

The most obvious way to have more natural light in your home is to open your space and install larger windows. More glass means more light. Larger windows and window walls add both height and width to a space. Windows connect us to the outdoors and bring our land and gardens into our houses and lives. Even if you’re confined to a specific ceiling height, expanding your windows and opening our houses to natural light and the outdoors create the illusion of more space.

Adding Skylights

Sometimes the best place to find directional sunlight isn’t from opening the walls. Look at the ceiling instead. When sunlight shines in from a skylight, it filters the light throughout a room. It can open your room by highlighting even the darkest corners of the room.

Installing Glass Doors

While large, opaque doors can make an impressive entrance, it also will darken one of the smallest areas in your home. Installing glass doors instantly brightens even the darkest spaces. And when you combine glass doors with windows and window walls, you add natural light to your home.

Using Mirrors

Of course, sometimes the simplest way to brighten up a space is to play with light by adding mirrors. Large or small, when sunlight hits them, it can provide as much light as adding another window. In smaller, interior rooms, it can be the perfect solution to help increase the perception of space.

Playing With Color

Have you ever painted a room a particular color only to regret it from the moment you step back and take a look? That’s because the way we “see” color changes depending on where it is. How we interpret color depends on:

● Absorption; while black absorbs all color, white absorbs none.

● How the light source works. Natural light changes throughout the day, artificial light changes depending on the bulb (“lamp”) used.

● How the sun filters into your room.

● North – north-facing rooms have little natural light. The light often is cool and bluish. That means bolder colors will give your room more impact. Lighter colors will create a more subdued appearance.

● South – a south-facing room has the most amount of sunlight. Light colors will glow, while darker colors can stand out, even brighten as natural light dances across the floor.

● East – an east-facing room will have warmth in the morning and coolness in the evening. Sticking to a brighter color palette with oranges and reds will brighten your room.

● West – evening sunlight warms a west-facing room, while strong shadows can dull the color. West afternoon light also demands control and respect; western light (and heat) is intense, fading color and materials.

In many cases, evaluating the time you’ll spend in each room and selecting the right color to bring out a room’s natural qualities is important.

Artificial Lighting

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can’t rely on natural light every month of the year. In the winter, it’s dark long before you step through your front door after work. That means electric light is equally as important to create a natural look.

Thankfully, we’re making progress in the way we light our homes.

  1. Incandescent gives off warm, yellow light that will make reds and oranges more vivid while dulling blues and greens.

  2. Fluorescents create a cool, flat light, that enriches earthy colors such as blues and greens.

  3. Halogens are a white light that makes all colors more vivid.

  4. LED lighting can give you even more options, thanks to today’s “smart” features. With a touch of a button, you can control how the light changes, depending on sunlight and the time of the day. Many current energy codes also dictate the use of LED lighting because it is very efficient and uses far less energy.

Of course, it’s not just light bulbs that impact human rhythm. Technology has given us the ability to light everything in our homes. Ironically, it’s also technology that can help make our experience of space better.

Thinking deeply about and planning how your home uses light is important. The origination (the direction and time of day) of natural light is important to understand. Natural light, balanced and entering your home from several directions, creates a sense of richness and openness in your space.

We design with several levels or layers of artificial light. Ambient light provides good overall space lighting and is best reflected, indirect. Task lighting illuminates good visual surfaces for work within the home. Decorative light focuses activities in spaces, creating landmarks and visually exciting places to gather.

Need a little inspiration for your new home? Want to make your home as light and bright as it can possibly be?

As Seattle residential architects, we have ideas that will change the way you look at light.

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