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Add Natural Light to Dim Interiors

A room filled with natural light featuring Marvin's Ultimate Sliding French Doors.

“A room is not a room without natural light.”

– Louis Kahn, American architect


Anyone who has spent time in a windowless room surely appreciates the importance of natural light in interior spaces—particularly during the dark winter months. The beneficial effects of sunlight on human health and well-being are well documented. Natural light is full of vitamin D, a mood elevator, which can help stave off seasonal affective disorder. Occupants of a home rich in natural light see better, think better and generally feel better.

Elyse Parkhurst of North Fork Design Co. (northforkdesignco.com) notes how people gravitate toward rooms with more daylight. She suggests maximizing whatever light is available by first making sure nothing is blocking it from coming in—whether tree branches, furniture or grimy windows.

Distinguishing between direct sunlight and ambient light, Parkhurst votes for a balance of the two.“I think having a combination of daylight and ambient light with a good color temperature from table lamps or recessed lighting [is ideal].” When installing new fixtures, she recommends choosing cooler or warmer light bulbs to complement the natural light in the space. “Everyone perceives light differently. I encourage people to do their research to determine what they react well to.”

Other tips include removing heavy window treatments in favor of sheer fabrics or translucent shades, which block direct sunlight and turn it into soft ambient light. Parkhurst sometimes uses a Hunter Douglas louver-style product that can both block and maximize light. She also favors Venetian blinds for their ability to control light; by tilting them upward, you can direct incoming sunlight toward the ceiling, turning it into ambient light.

It’s key to avoid dark colors, which absorb light. Use fabrics, materials, and paints in neutral tones. For paint, choose products with a high light reflectance value (LRV).

Adding shiny materials and accents make a room appear lighter. Satin finishes; polished tiles; and glass, brass, gold, or silver hardware have that effect.

To bounce light around a room, Parkhurst recommends adding mirrors. “Mirrors can double the amount of light in a space,” she says, noting that they should be located on a wall opposite a window (or place two mirrors across from each other).

With respect to artificial lighting, Parkhurst notes that a standard incandescent bulb’s color temperature is about 2700K, daylight is between 4600 and 5600K, and high noon sunlight is around 5500. She advises using bulbs with a high K rating.

More significant projects include the installation of skylights, which provide roughly 30 percent more light than similarly sized windows. Another option is to add solar tubes, which collect light inside a rooftop dome and channel it down to the ceiling, where a light fixture will diffuse it to create ambient light.

A few simple additions (or subtractions) can turn the winter blues into a feel-good glow.