Working with natural light
Most people value natural light. Our bodies have evolved to respond to changing light levels and natural light instils a feeling of wellbeing. However, simply opening the curtains or blinds and expecting natural light to create an inviting atmosphere will not work in many cases. This is because the amount of natural light a room receives depends on its orientation. South-facing rooms receive plenty of natural light throughout the day and so are usually reserved for everyday activities such as cooking, eating and relaxing. It is common for a south-facing room to be designated as a kitchen. You should be aware that the sun will be at its strongest around noon and that strong sunlight can cause a room to look washed-out. If the room faces north, it will receive little direct sunlight. Therefore, north-facing rooms will feel somewhat cooler. However, some carefully selected lamps and bulbs, together with a colour scheme that encourages feelings of warmth, can compensate for this effect.
As the sun rises in the east, an east-facing room will be well-lit by natural light for the first half of the day, but become dingier in the afternoon and evening. To maintain a balance, variable levels of artificial lighting should be used to create a pleasant atmosphere. Dimmer switches can work well in rooms that see light fluctuations throughout the day. West-facing rooms can become overwhelmingly bright during the middle of the day and in the early afternoon, but typically become much cooler as afternoon transitions into evening. However, the light is usually soft and this can create a soothing environment.
There are a few easy ways by which you can amplify the effects of natural light in a space. The first is to ensure that curtains and blinds only touch the very edges of the windows, so as not to block incoming light. The second is to choose a pale colour scheme and light-coloured furniture, which will reflect light around a room, giving it a warm but airy feel. If you want to make a space look larger, hang mirrors strategically so that they catch the light and cause it to bounce around the room. Assess the size and health of any bushes, trees and shrubs growing near the building and reduce their size if they are blocking the light. If a room receives strong sunlight during certain times of the day, consider installing blackout blinds that can be easily adjusted as lighting levels change throughout the day. If you are designing multiple spaces that flow into one another, replace regular, opaque doors with transparent or translucent panels. This also helps to create a feeling of unity between two or more rooms.
Fact: Moving an object just two to three feet away from a window lessens its exposure to strong sunlight by over 50%.
Source: The Spruce (thespruce.com)
If a client is willing to make more drastic changes in order to maximise the amount of natural light into a space, begin by rethinking the size of the windows. The easiest way of increasing window size is to remove a few inches of the wall directly beneath the window. This requires the services of a professional glazier, but is the most effective way of enhancing natural light levels. If you are both willing and able to work with a builder, consider installing a skylight, adding in an extra window, or transforming a sash window into a set of French doors. You could also turn a regular, opaque wall into a glass partition, provided that it isn’t required to bear much weight.
What to think about when choosing lighting options within a space
When designing an interior, the amount of natural light should be a determining factor in your choice of colours, furniture and layout. For example, if a room receives a lot of strong sunlight during the summer, it would not make sense to place a reading chair near the window, because anyone sitting in it risks overheating. If a room does not receive much natural light, a minimalist look with no lamps or other light-emitting fixtures will likely result in a cold, stark environment. You also need to think about the space as a whole, even if various subspaces within it require distinct approaches to lighting. This is particularly important in private homes.
When someone moves from room to room, they should feel as though they are moving through one coherent space, as opposed to a collection of rooms that each have their own distinct “feel”. Lighting should also be simple to use and understand. For example, more switches and circuits may offer more options when it comes to adjusting lighting levels within a room, but too many switches and buttons are confusing. Too many light sources can also be distracting and an excess of fixtures can be impractical to maintain. Light fixtures must fit in with the colour scheme and décor. Even if you or a client happen to love a light fixture, there is little point installing it if it will clash with other elements within a space. If you wish to use delicate or expensive fittings, ensure that they are installed well beyond the reach of children and pets.
If you want to emphasise a particular feature, but do not want to invest time or money installing fixtures and fittings, use small and easily moved lighting options such as candles and fairy lights. Both are relatively inexpensive and their portability means that you can experiment with several arrangements until you find one that works. They also lend a warm glow to a space, which is useful if you want to make it appear smaller and cosier. If fire safety is a concern, choose candles that burn with an artificial flame. An added advantage of this option is that they never require replacing and the bulbs can last a long time. However, you should always test them in low lighting before purchasing, as they vary in terms of quality and realism. Candles and small lights can also create a welcoming atmosphere when placed outside a room, as long as light can come through the window. For example, a few strings of lights hung just outside a dining room will give a nice background glow, whether or not people actually venture outside. Finally, always think about the appearance of a light when it is not in use. A client may not have a light switched on at all times, yet they may still be using a room. It is important that lights – and even bulbs, if they are exposed – fit into the room’s overall design.
Activity: Lighting a Dining Room
(Time: 5+ Minutes)
Imagine that a client has asked you to redesign their dining room. The client and their family eat most of their meals in the kitchen, but they entertain guests a couple of times a month. The room is large and faces to the south. The client would like you to create a clean, minimal interior that is still inviting. What bulbs and fixtures would you recommend? Where would you place them and why?